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, December 6, 2000

December 6, 2000 - Self-Service Librarianship

Library customers -- by long tradition called "patrons" -- fall into one of several camps.

Self-helpers. At the library, whether they stop by for their own pleasure, or for research, they are happiest when they can find what they want themselves.

Here's what they appreciate: intelligent organization of space, good resources (where good means both "current" and "of some depth"), easy access (not too far a drive or walk, plenty of parking), policies that aren't too arcane to remember or abide by, and the opportunity, wherever possible, to customize operations to their own needs.

Self-helpers find their own materials (either by browsing or by searching the catalog without assistance), research their own questions, and read to their own kids. The only staff they talk to are the people at the checkout desk.

Self-helpers are also the first folks to take advantage of some of our new services. They rejoice at the chance to place their own holds from our public catalog terminals. They clamor to get into the Internet to connect to our catalog from home or from work. They sruge to renew their items the same way, or see what's on hold for them, or quickly find out about any problems that may have popped up with their accounts.

They are also the folks who will be the first to take advantage of our online reference service -- the opportunity to leave a question for our reference staff by filling out an online form. (From our home page, click on "E-reference.")

The second sort of patron has neither the time nor interest to unravel the mysteries of library organization. Such patrons ask library staff to recommend titles to read, or place holds for them. They like our reference staff to track down pertinent information on topics of interest. They deeply appreciate our children's programming people. These are the patrons who look to the library for one thing only: service.

There is, of course, the third sort of patron, which is some blending of the two. Either that patron is mostly self-service, but sometimes needs help, or mostly service oriented, but takes pleasure, on occasion, in panning some nugget of knowledge all by his or her lonesome.

Now let's look at the ways the library has to communicate with these two kinds of patrons.

We can talk to them directly. That might happen when we see them at the library (at a service desk, in the stacks, at a program). It might happen over the telephone. It might happen via e-mail.

We can talk to them indirectly. They may pick up a program calendar, or a program flier. They might see something we placed in the newspaper, or on Douglas County Television's Channel 8.

But I think the future of library-patron communication needs to allow for some kind of customization.

For instance, we are one of the few public libraries in the county now offering an electronic newsletter, which you can subscribe to (or unsubscribe from) at http://www.dpld.org/mailman/listinfo/dpldnews.

Our circulation system has the ability (which you can check out from your "patron profile" information on our catalog) to keep track of things you've placed on hold and read. This provides a handy way for you to track your own reading habits. No one else has access to this information, by the way.

What's missing from all this, what the next step in library-patron communications might look like, is something more personal. Library patrons ought to be able to request the following services:

- self-checkout (we'll be offering this in 2001);
- online interactive book groups (also coming next year);
- automatic reserves for books that fit a certain profile of subject interest, author, or format (for instance, any new Star Trek audiotapes);
- a customizable library home page, with bookmarks to your favorite sites, updates on library doings that matter to you, and a quick search form that grabs stuff from our catalog; and
- automatic e-mail or voice-mail notification of programs of interest, whether sponsored by the library, or scheduled in community meeting rooms.

Right now, unfortunately, I don't know of a way to accomplish these last three. But I'll be looking for them.

If you have any other ideas along these line, feel free to contact me by phone (303-688-8752) or e-mail (jaslarue@earthlink.net). I'd love to talk to you.

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