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, September 29, 1993

September 29, 1993 - books lies and videotapes

Like people in every other profession, librarians make some bad calls.

Back about the time the phonograph record debuted, there was a lot of talk about how this would completely revolutionize our library collections. The modern librarian, pundits declared, shouldn't hesitate to sweep out the books - those musty, dusty remnants of antiquity.

In their place would be tightly packed stacks of phonograph albums, because from now on, people would read books by listening to them. Why, some day soon, there might be phonograph-playing devices in every household!

Not too many years later, we went through the same kind of thing with 16 millimeter films.

Now, as we close out the 20th century, those libraries that built up big collections of phonographs and 16 mm films are, if not exactly sweeping them out, very definitely getting rid of them. Why? Well, there are lots of reasons, but the main one is that the technology that supported them isn't around anymore. The turntable has given way to the CD player; the 16 mm film projector to the VCR. On the other hand, the technology for reading a book (at least one working hand and one working eye) is still pretty much the same as it was a couple thousand years ago.

I'm not saying that those libraries were wrong to collect albums and films. But two lessons jump out at the disinterested student of library history:

1) the book has remarkable staying power, and

2) few other formats are likely to endure so long.

By far the majority of the purchases - and the uses - of Douglas Public Library District are books. Just this year (from January through August) about 70 percent of the new materials were hardback books. Together, they accounted for almost 75 percent of what got checked out. About a third of those, by the way, were books for very young children. (Thank you, moms!)

After that, though, things start to get interesting. A little over 17 percent of our new items this year were magazines, although they accounted for only 3.61 percent of our checkouts. Does that mean we shouldn't buy so many periodicals? No, because magazines are almost always the most current source of information. Too, the numbers are deceiving: a lot of magazines are used in-house, but not necessarily checked out.

Nearly 5 percent of the items added to the collection this year have been videos. While we have tried to place a strong emphasis on educational materials, we have given more than a nod to classic films, and book-related videos for children. They're popular: videos made up over 10 percent of what people actually checked out this year.

The next biggest number for new items added (4.74%) was audiocassettes: mostly unabridged books on tape. They accounted for 5.76% of our checkouts.

A mere 3.47% of our new items were paperbacks. But they accounted for even more business than our cassettes: a tad over 6 percent.

What am I driving at with all of these numbers? Mostly, I find that I'm comforted that books are still our primary draw. And I think that the surge in audiocassettes is fine too: unlike phonographs, audiocassettes really are used as substitutes for books, mostly by people who do a lot of driving.

But about those videos ... I can't help but wonder if they will prove any more long-lived in the popular mind or public shelves than phonograph albums. It's also a caution to us: we need to take care not to duplicate what's available at your local video store. There are a lot more of them than there are of us, and we need to stay focused.

And I see I haven't even touched on music CDs. Here at the library, we're still trying to figure out how much of a commitment we want to make to that format. Buying just a few CDs doesn't really offer much to our community. But buying a lot of them undercuts our ability to keep the shelves stocked with books.

And books - those magnificent, durable, wildly popular books - are still what we're really all about.

No comments:

Post a Comment