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, June 5, 1991

June 5, 1991 - Patron comments

Only the public can say for sure just how well its library is doing. The problem, then, is discovering what the public thinks.
From May 6 though May 19, the Douglas Public Library District (and volunteers from our Friends groups) conducted patron surveys. If you came into the library during that week, we probably asked you to take the time to fill one out.

We not only wanted to hear from you how we were doing. We also wanted to gather some otherwise hard-to-get statistical data -- specifically, how often people actually found what they were looking for, and whether they searched by subject or by particular title. But we also encouraged people to make comments, and we got a lot of them: twenty pages worth.

As usual, the people of Douglas County were both generous and frank.

Let's look at the comments first. At every one of our branches, the single most frequent observation (77 times) concerned our staff. The typical comment was this: "The service is excellent. People are extremely helpful and friendly."

I have a theory that a public service institution has 30 seconds to prove itself. If you stand before a circulation desk and if in half a minute, no one greets you, smiles at you, and offers some help, the library has flat-out failed in its mission. It doesn't matter how many books or other materials it may own. It doesn't matter how fancy the building is, or how much money it has. People make service, not things.

On the other hand, if you do get a quick response -- even if it's just a smile and an "I'll be right with you" -- people will be happy with the service even if the library doesn't have everything you would like it to.

I believe our staff are very service-oriented; they enjoy their jobs, and they enjoy helping people. But again -- only you know for sue, and I'm pleased to discover that you agree with me.

Our most popular service, judging from the comments, is clearly children's story hours. That was one of the first things I noticed about Douglas County's libraries -- in every one of our branches, we have people who like to tell stories, and have gotten pretty good at it. Story hours perform an essential function in public libraries: recruitment. They make children want to read; they demonstrate in the strongest possible way the value of books.

We've been putting a lot of effort and money into buying new books this year. As a consequence, we got a lot of comments on our rapidly improving selection of materials. It's better -- but it can, and will, be better yet.

I was very interested in the most frequent suggestion for improvement: you want more audiocassettes. We have a lot of them now, but you would like more of them, and particularly, more unabridged books on tape.

There were many suggestions and even a few criticisms. Several people suggested lengthening our checkout period.

Please note too that this tells us only what our existing library users think; it still doesn't tell us what the people who don't use the library think or don't think about our services.

Do feel free to give me a call if you have some comments you didn't get a chance to make.

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