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, October 24, 1990

October 24, 1990 - costs versus value

This will come as a big surprise, I'm sure, but things cost more than they used to. Even in libraries.

The last comic book I bought cost $2.00. It wasn't THAT long ago that they were twelve cents apiece. But even when comic books took up my entire childhood income, I thought it was a reasonable expense. I got hours and hours of pleasure from them. I believed then, and still believe now, that the value -- the WORTH of the comic book to me -- far exceeded the cost.

The October 5, 1990 issue of Publisher's Weekly , the book trade magazine, charts the changing costs of "real" books. For librarians, it's an alarming story.

Let's look at some popular hardback book categories. From 1977 to 1988, the cost for biographies increased by 69%, fiction by 75%, juvenile books by 77%, sports and recreation by 123%, and travel by 42%. The average cumulative retail cost for all categories of hardbacks in 1977 was $19.22. By 1988, that cost had risen to $39 -- a 102% increase in a little over a decade. Just from 1986 to 1988, the average cost for hardbacks climbed about 15%.

If you're a dedicated book-lover, or "bibliophile," you probably buy at least two books a month without quite realizing it. That could vary from about $10 for two new paperbacks, to $40 a month or more for hardbacks. But if you just gotta have a new mystery, romance, or computer book, it's worth it to you. The value is greater than the cost.

Of course, if you're a SMART bibliophile, you have another choice. You can go to the library.

In 1989, Douglas County residents checked out 324,700 items. (Incidentally, that was a jump of over 37% from 1988 -- over twelve times the national increase in library use.) Not all of our materials are hardbacks. We check out a lot of paperbacks, which are often much cheaper. On the other hand, we buy and circulate many items that cost more than books -- for instance, videotapes, audiocassettes, magazine subscriptions, and reference books.

Let's take the average hardback cost ($39) and apply that to each item checked out. By that reckoning, in 1989 Douglas County residents got $12.6 million dollars worth of value from its library system, based solely on items checked out. The library's budget in 1989 was $655,866. In other words, for every tax dollar you paid for libraries, you got $19.31 worth of service. Even if you drop the average cost to $20, you still got ten bucks back for every buck you paid.

And that doesn't include whatever a children's story time is worth to you and your kids. You might try pricing that against a morning in daycare. It doesn't include the many hundreds of reference questions we answered, at least some of which may have saved people thousands of dollars. You might compare that to various purchasing or investment services.

In 1989, the average Douglas County household paid about $16.41 for public library services. If you checked out just one book from us that year, you got your money's worth. If you read a newspaper, looked up a stock price, used a consumer guide of some kind, or, like my wife and daughter, checked out a bare minimum of fifty children's books a month, then you got many times your money back.

As the over 27,000 registered patrons in this county have discovered, libraries are a high-yield investment opportunity.

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