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, May 28, 2009

May 28, 2009 - there's a whole world of librarians

I just returned from the final "Members Council" meeting of the international library company, OCLC. Henceforth, it will move to a model based on new regional and global councils. It's the end of one era, and the beginning of another.

OCLC's main business has been the gathering, joint creation, and dissemination of cataloging records. It now has over a billion such records, in many languages. It also provides various services for the borrowing of materials across libraries, the management of digital records (whether ebooks or digitized photographs), for reaching live librarians online, and more.

But for me, there has been a great personal and professional benefit simply to hear the conversation and concerns of librarians from all around the world.

Here's one of the first lessons I've learned: we truly are a global society. At a sort of "international library roundup" we heard a consistent message. The recession has definitely hit libraries of all types very hard.

There were isolated pockets of exceptions. The leaders in a few states or countries have made strong statements about the value of higher education in the creation of skilled employees and economic growth. But most universities have seen their purchasing power significantly eroded by poor exchange rates.

Public libraries -- most attached to municipalities and funded from general revenues collected from sales taxes -- are in big trouble. From coast to coast in the United States, branches are closing, and layoffs are common. The trend may be most visible here, but that's because with perhaps the exception of Denmark, our public libraries are the best in the world. That means we have the most to lose.

School libraries seem to be faring the worst everywhere. Most nations report that few librarians are left in their schools. The positions have been replaced with technical paraprofessionals, or volunteers. Ironically, we have strong research to show the value of professionally managed library programs in academic achievement -- research that is consistently ignored by school administrators tasked with managing their own declining budgets.

Another irony of the global library picture is that the worse things get, the busier WE get. Public libraries in particular report huge upswings in use. Many of us are offering assistance in writing resumes, looking for work, and writing new business plans.

Beyond that, people who have less discretionary income tend to leverage their original investment in libraries to borrow what they can no longer buy, or to seek "free" entertainment at library programs.

But unlike businesses, libraries' increased activity doesn't mean increased revenue.

It has long been my belief that leadership has the obligation to set a positive tone. But that doesn't mean we just ignore bad news. A realistic assessment of the facts is essential to success.

One conclusion I might draw is that all around the globe, people are more aware of the keen importance of the public sector. While, clearly, its fortunes are linked to the private sector, the public sector provides a buffer to economic swings, a means through which people can prepare for and adapt to change.

Another conclusion is about my colleagues themselves. I spoke with librarians from Hong Kong, New Zealand, Serbia, and the Netherlands. I spoke with librarians from Mexico City and Montana. To a person, they were all deeply passionate about the power of literacy to build better lives, better universities, better communities, better nations, and ultimately, a better world.

Librarians are good people, thoughtful, dedicated, and deeply engaged in their communities. I am proud to be one.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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