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 8, 1999

September 8, 1999 - Why Did You Leave Us?

When I was an undergrad, I did a lot of poetry readings. Of all my poems, the one that got the most rueful response from the men in the audience went like this:

And again a woman says
"You're such a wonderful man
I can't imagine why
I left you"

On more than one occasion, I couldn't imagine why, either.

Well, everything returns. But instead of having solely a personal interest in the subject, I now have a professional interest as well. As part of our routine statistical analyses, we've noticed what seems an odd anomaly: a fair number of the patrons, all over the age of 21, got their library cards between June, 1998 and January, 1999, then never used them again -- or at least, haven't checked anything out from us after that.

I have to wonder -- was it something I said?

The question (not "what I said," but why people might sign up for a library card then never use it again) is significant. Libraries are much like businesses in that we depend upon the continuing support of our customers. Am I losing customers? Or are they still using us, but in ways that don't show up in our circulation statistics?

Of course, there are many reasons for such a drop-off. A whole family might sign up as soon as it settles in Douglas County. But after that, most materials get checked out just by one person in the family.

Or it could be that people signed up for a Douglas Public Library District, but work downtown Denver, and use a non-DPLD library somewhere closer to work.

Or it could be that people get their cards for purposes of identification, but mostly fetch what they need from the Internet, either at work or at home.

Or it could be that the library really disappointed them in some respect -- that there is some profound defect in our services, collection, staff, or parking.

Or it could be something else entirely.
But the answer matters to me. Am I looking at a trend in new kinds of library use? If so, that may have budget and planning implications. Or have we got a problem that needs a closer look?

Instead of just idly speculating, I've decided to do some market research. A good sample of these people should be receiving a short survey from the library this week, mailed direct from us. We've also enclosed a stamped, self-addressed envelope. The survey takes just a couple of minutes to fill out. We've tried to list all of the explanations we can think of -- and also provided some space for you to tell us something we haven't yet suspected.

I emphasize that the library is not watching WHAT you're checking out. Library records are still confidential -- just between the two of us. But your honesty will help us better understand the library needs of the people we serve, and help keep US honest about the quality of our services.

I need at least 300 responses to get some statistically significant data. So please, if you get such a survey, take a few minutes to fill it out, and get it back by September 30. You'll recognize the survey by its heart-rending title: "Why did you leave us?"

But please, whatever you write, do NOT let it be: "I'm not interested in seeing you anymore. Can't we just be friends?"

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