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, October 27, 2004

October 27, 2004 - rethinking the library

Suppose everything you know about libraries is wrong.

For instance, suppose we have way more than books. The books we do have aren't hidden spine-out on metal shelving. It's OK to carry around a cup of coffee or can of pop. (Yes, for those of you paying attention, we already made those changes!)

Now, suppose libraries don't need service desks. Suppose you don't have to look for staff to ask a question. We look for you.

Suppose that instead of having library staff barricaded behind those desks, we were roaming all over the place, maybe with headsets that let us instantly summon expertise from all over the organization -- including our crackerjack online reference librarians.

You don't have to ask at all for the stuff that everybody is already asking for. Books, popular music and topical information are posted on a kind of cultural billboard. You could walk in the door and SEE what's hot.

Suppose that you didn't have to wait for books to get put back out on display. Right now, much of what people want from a library is waiting to get shelved. Suppose we put the hot stuff right back out by the checkout stations. We save steps (and costs). You save time.

Suppose that when something went NOT-so-hot -- a bestselling book, for instance -- it immediately moved to the in-house library sale. You could pick it up for a song.

When you were done, you could give it back to us. We could sell it again. And again. This is, incidentally, an excellent strategy to recycle intellectual content to a community, leveraging an original purchase through many levels of use.

Suppose that our computers let you not only do email and search databases, but also request notifications of unknown but upcoming titles, or new electronic articles, on topics of interest to you. Suppose that our catalog told you about these new options by sending a message to your Palm Pilot or cell phone, just as you stepped through our doors.

Suppose your local library was THE place where teenagers came to find high-end workstations, enabling them to engage in intense multi-player computer games. (Before some of you older folks have apoplexy, riddle me this: why is it OK for you to check out books on golf or tennis or chess, or sit and read fashion magazines, or spend hours online fora discussing various personal or recreational options, but NOT OK for young people to play games?)

Suppose that library hours started to look like your own life?

Over the next year, your local library district is going to make history. We're going to take some outrageous risks, try some truly radical experiments.

Oh yes: some of them will fail. Not all of them!

Our first roll-out of some of these ideas, incidentally, will be at Roxborough, probably around March of next year. Our next big roll-out will be at Lone Tree. But you'll be seeing pieces of all this everywhere.

I have the very strong sense that our society (local, state, national, international) is on the edge of transformation. As always, we have a choice: we can be victims of change, or we can be agents of improvement.

We choose to be leaders.

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