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, March 21, 2007

March 21, 2007 - Steal from the Best

"Stealing from one person is plagiarism. Stealing from many is research."

One of the jobs of leadership is to keep an eye on the competition. Librarians, as I've written before, tend to be very open about what has, and has not, worked for them. So word gets around.

Library experiments fall into a couple of broad divisions. They are interesting, or they are useful.

Into the interesting category fall things like eBooks. In theory, particularly for a tech savvy audience like the folks in Douglas County, this seemed like a shoe-in. Surely people would flock to download electronic texts to their computers, probably at 2 in the morning.

But it didn't happen. We bought several hundred e-texts, and they've hardly been touched. People don't want to read books on their computers. They want to read them on their iPods. (It hearkens all the way back to one of my favorite sentences: "Read me a story, daddy.")

Then there are things that are useful. Two experiments, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, have transformed the way we do business.

One of them was the self-check library. Particularly combined with two other innovations -- Radio Frequency ID tags (RFID) and aggressive bookstore-type displays of popular materials -- self-check has greatly expanded both the capacity and the use of public libraries. Materials move faster, allowing us to have a bigger stock. We can give more space to materials because we need less space for big desks.

A second experiment has been the reference contact center. Advances in telephony have made it far less expensive to set up a countywide central switchboard, allowing us to concentrate on answering a question quickly, with a minimum of transfers. This has allowed us, paradoxically, to put even more librarians on the floor.

I've never been interested in innovation for innovation's sake. The true base of our services remains largely untouched: the public wants and expects books from us. But not just books.

According to our most recent statistics, our checkouts break down into rough thirds. The first third is children's books, mainly picture books. The second third is books for grown-ups -- adult fiction and non-fiction. The third third lumps together things that are not books -- music and movies, mainly movies.

Reference services -- real people answering questions -- continues to grow in Douglas County. Online reference may yet take off bigtime. To try this out yourself, just click on "Ask a Librarian" from the main tabs on our website.

But right now, we still have way more traffic going to reference people face to face than via computers.

Over the past several years, we've spent a lot of time and attention growing our program offerings. All of this helps us to make libraries into places that are even more fun to go to.

We've also detected, and have tried to plan for, an increased interest in public meeting space generally.

You may have noticed that most of our libraries now function as art galleries -- bringing a much-appreciated focus to the creativity of our patrons.

I have another innovation that, as near as I can tell, very few libraries address: answering the community reference question. I'll talk about that next week.

But for this week, consider this column a call. The people who read this column travel far and wide -- and have a tendency to shop the local libraries. So I'd like to know. What library innovations have you seen that strike you not just as interesting, but as genuinely useful?

Email them to me at jlarue@jlarue.com. Or call me at 303-688-7656. Don't think of it as stealing. Think of it as research.

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