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, January 6, 1999

January 6, 1999 - Measuring Library Performance in 1998

For a long time, the best way to examine our library performance was to look at circulation statistics -- the number of items people checked out.

These stats still tell an interesting story. At all but one of our full service (7 day a week) libraries, business is up. Circulation at the Philip S. Miller Library increased about 5% over 1997. Highlands Ranch is up 15%. Parker is up a little over 8%.

The exception is Lone Tree, which went from being open in a real building for 12 hours a day, to being in a bookmobile open just a smattering of hours. Despite a strong showing in November and December, our use for that location is down some 65%.

Overall, use of the entire library district increased by just over 3 percent. Excluding Lone Tree, it's closer to 9.6%.

But 1998 is a good example of why circ stats no longer tell the WHOLE story about our library. The real victory of the year was indeed the opening of a new, more modern library building. A new building changes the dynamics of the system in much the same way that a new child changes the dynamics of a family.

Another growth area for our system in 1998 was reference services. This change was both quantitative and qualitative.

Just a couple of years ago, the only library that staffed a reference desk every hour we were open was the Philip S. Miller Library. Now all of our full service locations have reference desks, and people working them.

But it's much harder to measure the difference in staff time between a checkout and answering a question. Typically, there aren't as MANY reference questions as checkouts. But each reference question tends to be more demanding of staff and library resources. That difference affects the way we run the whole show.

The best way to measure reference services isn't by a simple count. It's by sampling the count, and following that up with interviews with the patrons. "Did we actually find what you were looking for?" This too, takes more time than tallying up checkouts. Nonetheless, our ability to answer patron questions has improved dramatically.

Last year we signed up over 15,000 new patrons. Then we purged our database of all the patrons who haven't used their cards in a couple of years. The new total was 86,430. I'll have to see the latest Douglas County population estimates to know how good that is. I'd very much like to see every single person in the county have and use a library card. I suspect we're closer to 55% these days.

But that brings me to one of our other successes last year. Our Library Assistants -- the front line of our district -- are also responsible for our children's story times. Last year I got more compliments than ever before about the warmth of our staff, the quality of their performances, the welcoming environment of our libraries. All of this translates into something else that isn't easy to measure: the kindling of a real love for literature in young minds.

That love, in turn, can lead to more articulate, thoughtful, open-minded and knowledgeable adults. And THAT is a accomplishment far more important than numbers.

To all our staff, my congratulations, and my thanks, for a job well done.

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