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, July 24, 1991

July 24, 1991 - Rural outreach

At our house, a day without mail is like a day without sunshine. And thanks to Suzanne's many hundreds of free subscriptions, most days are positively blinding.

Frankly, I'm still a little intimidated by the sheer variety of things available by post. Like most men, I suspect, I tend to walk into a store, find something that is more or less like what I want, see if I can afford it, and if I can, walk out the door with it.

Generally speaking, I don't clip coupons, I don't read ads, and the only catalog I regularly peruse at home has to do with personal computer software. Even then, I toss it out as soon as I've looked at it.

But Suzanne saves her catalogs. She rereads them. She circles things and writes cryptic messages in the margins.

Occasionally, she even orders something, which is always promptly delivered right to our door.

Just lately I've wondered just how many people in Douglas County have similar habits. In particular, I've been wondering whether people in rural areas do more shopping by mail than people who live closer to town.

This isn't just idle musing. By the end of the year, we'd like to improve our library services to the many people in the outlying part of the county -- specifically rural southern Douglas County and the Roxborough area. We'd also like to start directly serving people who are homebound.

The question is: what's the best, most satisfying, most cost-effective way to deliver those services?

In an effort to find out, we engaged the services of a company in the business of research and sales development services (in a word, polling) to call a random but statistically valid sample of people in our outlying areas and ask them what would work best for them.

These are some of the choices the Library Board will be considering:

(a) A bookmobile. This is the traditional alternative: fill up a bus with books and drive it all over the place. That way people can browse for what they want, which we know from other surveys is the way most people prefer to look for things. This is the most expensive option.

(b) A "deposit" collection. The idea here is to seek an agreement with some other agency -- an elementary school, for instance -- and beef up its collection of materials with things from elsewhere in the library district. From time to time, we could freshen up the materials by swapping them with those of another branch. We would also, in all likelihood, provide some extra staff or money to the "host" agency. But it probably wouldn't cost as much as a bookmobile.

(c) Improved services at our existing branches. Maybe the people we're wondering about travel to our branches already, and maybe they'd be happier spending their tax money to make good services better, rather than starting a new, but more restricted service.
(d) Some kind of automated service -- a way to let people with personal computers or access to one of our terminals (and maybe we would need to put some more public terminals in non-library locations) pick out items which we could then mail to them.

(e) And, finally, a mail order book business. The idea here is that we would produce a monthly catalog of our new materials, with pictures of the book covers and short descriptions of the items, and mail it out to people. Then, patrons could either phone in a request, or mail it in. In turn, we would either mail the item back to them, or otherwise arrange for its delivery. Would this be cheaper than a bookmobile? Probably -- but it would require us to develop some new in-house expertise in desktop publishing.

In addition to asking about these service options, we have also asked people some other questions: do you have a personal computer? Do you do much shopping by mail? How often do you drive to town, and which town is it?

By the time this is printed, our research company will have already spoken with about 400 people around the county.

If you were one of the people we called, we thank you for your comments and time.

But if you did not get contacted by phone about this, don't feel left out. Just give me or your local library branch a call (I'm at 688-5157) and tell us which of these choices sounds good to you. If any.

That's catalog choice (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e).

Shipping not included. Visa and Mastercard accepted.

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