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.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

January 13, 2005 - breaking the pattern

I have written before about the theory of the expanding universe. Now, post-holiday, I have proof: all my pants are too tight. My tentative hypothesis: living matter expands faster than cloth.

But that's just denial, isn't it? After about the age of 35, Americans tend to put on 5 pounds a year. Do the math. They'll have to bury me in a piano box.

My grandfather used to say one simple exercise could peel off the pounds. Then he would demonstrate. Carefully and deliberately, he would push himself away from the dining room table.

My wife told me about recently about another strategy. Start breaking your habits. If, when you go to the movies, you always park on the right side of the theater, park on the left. If the first thing you do in the morning is to make coffee, then get the newspaper, reverse the order: get the newspaper first.

It sounds silly, but in the study upon which this insight was based, people who started messing with their behavior patterns claimed to have changed nothing about their food consumption at all, and yet they lost weight. Why?

Well, my suspicion is that breaking their usual patterns made them more alert. Their minds and bodies interpreted these changes as a need to get ready for something. Their metabolism quickened. Their bodies unconsciously began to orient themselves toward action.

One of many conflicts in the human psyche is the one between custom and complacency, habit and harm. We know, all of us, that the key to a long life is to cut way back on our calories. But a cookie and a glass of warm milk before bed is a charming ritual (or insert your own small comfort here), and the next thing you know, you're cinching your trousers with a circus rope.

This tendency to stabilize our behavior around things that may not be altogether wise also applies to organizations. We work out a solution to some problem of materials handling or work flow, and it recedes into a known pattern. It becomes acceptable, invisible, soothing as background noise.

Then, when the organization starts to move more slowly, more ponderously, like a middle-aged man with too-tight pants, those old solutions begin to look like problems. And like stemming the creep of insulating blubber, turning around organizational complacency requires concerted action.

I don't mean to suggest anything unseemly about the library. We are still a relatively young organization, and are at least as nimble as any public library in the nation. But we, too, have our comforting approaches to things.

In 2005, the Douglas County Libraries will be bringing in some consultants to look at our handling of materials. We do a lot of it. Over 3 million items were checked out last year.

Those materials have be touched by staff many times: they are unpacked from our distributor, cataloged, labeled, checked out, checked in, placed on hold shelves, pulled off hold shelves when they don't get picked up, placed on carts to be shipped to one of our branches, pulled out of the cart, sorted, shelved, inventoried, and on and on. With all that activity, you think we'd be thin as rails (he said, bitterly).

But there are some new options out there: technologies that might help us streamline our processes if not our waistlines.

It is time for a change.

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