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 28, 2007

March 29, 2007 - Librarians Should be Like Diogenes

Why do people rob banks? Because that's where the money is.

That old joke provoked some interesting thinking for me.

Right now, our staff handles a lot of reference calls. Some come to us by telephone. Some come to us over the Internet. Many questions we handle in person, face to face.

But there's a flaw. Do you see it?

On the one hand, yes, the library is the place where the answers are.

But it's not where the questions are.

Last year, we responded to over 300,000 questions. So that's over one per county resident. But please. Tell me that each of us had only one question. I have more questions than that in an hour!

I have questions about politics and public finance. I have questions about history. I have questions about biochemistry and physics. I have questions about child rearing and aging and brain development. I have questions about matters large and small.

Some of those questions can be answered in seconds, maybe. Others could entangle me for the rest of my life.

In some ways, the truly dedicated reference librarian would wander the streets like Diogenes with his lantern. Such a librarian would interview passersby on their deepest quandaries, then produce, on the spot, either the right fact, or, at least, some promising leads for those who seek, not just an answer, but knowledge. (Instead of a lantern, these wandering librarians would be armed with professional training and some kind of wireless communication device back to the mothership of the library.)

But as I've noted before, it's not just individuals who have questions. Groups do, too. And the plain truth of the matter is this: groups tend not to approach the library for answers. Even when they meet in our rooms, it simply never occurs to them to take their big questions out to one of our reference people.

So either the library has to be content with a tiny slice of the potential demand for our services, or we have to do the unthinkable: leave the library. Go out among you. Listen. Ask questions. Then dig out the answers, and take them back to you.

Recently, the Parker Library has begun to try some approaches that will do just that. An effort involving local businesspeople, elected officials, library patrons, and arts and cultural fans is getting organized around the idea of "downtown development."

They have a lot of questions: what makes for a successful, pedestrian friendly area? What have we learned about the necessary market area for a performing arts center? And so on.

Patt Paul, the manager of the Parker Library, is working with her staff to try to develop a schedule that will allow the library to keep track of community meetings, interview key players, gather, organize and publish (perhaps on a website) information that will not only be of use to the people in Parker, but also be helpful to the other communities in our county that are dealing with these issues.

Can we add value to the information-seeking of the people who pay us?

You can bank on it.

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