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 3, 1992

June 3, 1992 - Survey results

Ever since I came to Douglas County (March 29, 1990) I have required my staff, twice a year, to conduct a public survey.

They don't like it, especially. Copying, handing out, gathering, and tallying the forms are logistical hassles. But despite staff (and occasionally, public) grumbling, I believe that the surveys are both necessary and useful.

The first part of the survey is aimed at discovering something called the "Fill Rate." Put simply, that means we try to figure out how often the patron actually finds what he or she wants, right there on the shelf the day he or she comes in for it.

In theory, the more books we buy, the higher the fill rate should be no matter how patrons look for things. That's why the surveys are important: they provide a reality check on our purchasing. If we were to discover that despite increased spending, our fill rate was dropping, that would be a clue that we're not buying what the public really wants.

The second thing we do in each survey is to provide space for the public to comment on issues of the day. In our most recent survey, we asked two questions: 1) "Are there any subject areas or perspectives that you have found to be insufficiently represented on our shelves?" and 2) "Recently, some citizens expressed their belief that certain materials are inappropriate for the shelves of a public library. What is your view on this?"

We're still calculating the fill rates for this year. But I have had a chance to review and tabulate all the written comments--and the responses are fascinating.

In response to the first question, people asked for more books on everything from contemporary romance novels, to astrology, metaphysics, and the occult, to more videos on Christian parenting, to local college catalogs, and everything in between. I found one comment particularly touching: one respondent wanted more books for children of divorce, and for books about moving--written for young children. That says something about the pressures of our society, and indicates that many parents do look to the library to find some suggestions for talking with their children about difficult situations.

The responses to the second question were especially interesting to me.

The people of Douglas County are both articulate and opinionated. Here's one comment: "There are DEFINITELY some books that are inappropriate at EVERY library. Any books on witches, magic (such as dungeons and dragons), witchcraft. Any books leading to a cult of any kind are inappropriate. I think ALL the books (aside from certain section for adults) should be pure, clean, GOOD stories." Several other people echoed the belief that "Any books that cast Satanism or witchcraft in a good or positive light, even mentioning it in a children's book, I feel is inappropriate or wrong," mostly because it was felt that this might lead to "devil worship."

We got a good sample of comments along the lines of "Triple X porn is inappropriate," although as one person noted, "TOM JONES was considered scandalous at the time."

Despite the reservations expressed by some patrons about certain kinds of materials, however, by far the majority opinion was expressed in such comments as "Fooey!" and ""All printed materials are appropriate." For every person that expressed even a mild reservation about library materials ("Unless obscene or pornographic"), there were anywhere from 6 to 14 comments (depending on the branch) that were opposed to any restrictions whatsoever.

One respondent from this perspective wrote, "Libraries should present a complete spectrum of materials--even those books/magazines that are offensive to a minority of citizens. The danger is in having only one perspective or viewpoint on a topic available." Another respondent wrote, "I shouldn't be shocked by this, but I am. If a person can't be allowed access to the reading materials for their choice in the library, where might he/she obtain the knowledge they seek?"

Others were more blunt: "PLEASE don't knuckle under to the scary, holier-than-us-all people!" "First Amendment!" "No abridged library!" "Books should not be censored." "They don't like it, don't check it out." "They need to move to Iraq." "How dare they try to say what I can or cannot read."

What's the bottom line? The overwhelming majority of our public wants more materials, on as broad a variety of topics and points of view as possible.

If you're interested in seeing copies of the survey results, stop by the Philip S. Miller Library, and I'd be happy to show them to you.

Meanwhile, to the public and to my beleaguered staff, I would like to thank you for your interest, your honesty, and your patience.

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