This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 19, 2000

January 19, 2000 - Working Circ

My first paid library job was at the Normal Public Library, in Normal, Illinois.

(This doesn't have anything to do with my point, but it's worth telling. About half a block from the library was the local newspaper, the Normalite. It was definitely a small town operation. Not far from Normal was a town called Oblong. My favorite headline of all time has to be: "Normal boy marries Oblong girl." Really.)

I worked at the Normal Public Library for 5 years. It is, of course, no more fashionable now than it was then to admit the awful truth: I liked my job.

My schedule was awful, according to some folks. I worked every Monday through Thursday night, 5 to 9 p.m. I worked every Saturday, 9-5. I worked alternate Sundays, 1-5.

I loved every minute of it. Circ work -- by which I mean "working at the Circulation desk" -- was interesting, in both purpose and process.

In the time before computers, everything was very time intensive. Every book had a card. To check it out, you had to (first) insert the patron card into the Gaylord Circulation Machine, (second) extract the card for the item, (third) slide it into the machine, (fourth) ka-CHUNK, (fifth) toss the item card into the daily bin, and (sixth) slip the date due card into the book pocket.

Then, after the library closed, everything checked out that day had to be filed. Since I lived right next door to the library (between the library and the funeral home -- I had the quietest neighbors in town) I usually stuck around to do it.

Why did I enjoy all this (and I really did)? There were three reasons.

First, I liked the people. I dealt with toddlers, mothers, students, college professors, businessmen. Each was unique. There was no such thing as a routine. It was a parade of fascinating characters.

Second, every day I realized all over again how much I relished handling books. I liked books -- the smell of them, the heft of them, the typography. They made me happy. They still do.

Third, the more I worked in libraries, the more intriguing I found the patterns of use. Every night, as I sorted the book cards by Dewey Decimal number, I would try to extract meaning from the statistics. I started to get a feel for which writers actually went out the door, what the percentages were of fiction versus nonfiction, kid's books versus adult. I got a look at the interests of a whole community. That's a rare perspective.

It happens that about 70% of the staff of the Douglas Public Library District works at the circulation desk. For probably 70% of the public, circ staff is the very definition of "library service." Circ staff are the face of the library.

I know from various surveys we conducted last year that this front line of library services is doing a fantastic job. It's a high volume business. But our circ staff pays more attention to the people than the product. That's just the way it should be.

True, our staff may not have to file cards every night. The computer does that. But all of our staff members are big readers. They're smart, funny, fast, and competent. I respect their contribution -- and their judgment -- more than I can say.

There's not a lot of money in library work. There never has been. When I started circ work, back in 1973, I made a whopping ninety cents an hour. Circ wages are much better now. But circ clerks have always worked for something more than pay.

The next time you check out a book, I suggest you take a moment to look your circ clerk in the eye and say, "Thank you!" Together, our circulation staff moved over 1.6 million items last year. Moreover, they did it with an attitude that was upbeat, cordial and extraordinarily efficient. I'm very proud of them.

There are lots of jobs in the modern 21st century library. But none of them is more important than that of the circ clerk.

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