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, April 12, 2007

April 12, 2007 - Shsh!

A couple of weeks ago, I called for comments from the public about successful or useful library innovations.

Thank you! Many of you took the time to submit often brilliant analyses of various trends and implementations. All of you, without exception, were kind even when making criticisms. Douglas County patrons continue to be among the savviest library users I've run across.

But your communications also pointed out two troublesome trends. They deserve a straightforward response.

Most of you felt that one of our big changes -- the move to self-pickup of holds, and self-checkouts -- was generally positive. Yet many of you also expressed a sense of loss. You like our staff, and in some of our libraries, reported that you don't see as much of them as you used to.

It's true. We adopted self-check as a strategy to keep up with the incredible jump in demand for materials. Self-check means we don't need as many people in front to handle that volume.

Our PLAN is to take the folks liberated from that work and put them out on the floor, assisting the public in finding materials. You should be seeing more of them, not less.

But in the short run, here's the problem. Our volume of business has jumped by about 23%. We don't have self-check IN (at least not everywhere, not yet). So we're using our staff in the backroom to check in those materials. See attached picture for a look at a not-uncommon morning scenario!

You don't see as many of our staff because they are digging us out behind the scenes.

We're working on it. The second piece of our productivity challenge is to install technology that check in the materials as they hit the book drop. That means we'll just have to sort and shelve, greatly speeding things up. We hope to have these changes in place by the end of the year.

I appreciate your support of staff, and trust me, they'd be happier out front, too. We'll get them there. The message you wanted me to hear, I think, was that library service means the availability of staff. I couldn't agree more.

The second issue is a library perennial, returning, I think, with the spring.The library is getting louder.

There are several factors here. A previous generation of librarians was very stern. The very stereotype of a librarian, of course, is "She Who Says Shsh!"

A lot of us who grew up in that time felt that this image actually drove many kids away from the library, never to return. We vowed to be more welcoming as professionals. And we are.

Perhaps as a consequence, today's public libraries do indeed have many more young people in them. Children's departments are larger and more active. More young families use libraries at the beginning of the 21st century than ever did even at the half way mark of the 20th.

When I was a kid, about a third of the households in my town had even one active library card. In Douglas County, 84% of the households do. More people means more noise.

But that's only half of the story. The other half, to be perfectly frank, is again about our staff. We're too loud!

It's true. A little peace and quiet is a reasonable expectation for the public library. Staff literally set the tone. We can't guarantee perfect silence; today's public libraries are gathering places, true hubs of community activity. But when you hang around in a busy place all day, your voice tends to start to escalate. Guilty as charged.

The public also expects, when somebody abuses the quiet enjoyment of our premises, that our staff will do something about it. That's fair, too.

So this is part request, and part promise. The request is that you need to remember that you share public space with people who are trying to read and study. The promise is that we'll start shshing ourselves, and reminding you to lower the volume knob when YOU forget.

And again, thanks for caring.

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