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, November 10, 1999

November 10, 1999 - "Why Did You Leave Us?" Survey Results

I have certain beliefs about our library district. I have tried to build a public institution that lives up to two commitments: first, to responsive, thoughtful, and cost-effective service; and second, to the promotion of individual staff growth.

I THINK we've succeeded in growing a mostly intrigue free environment that encourages employees to make good decisions for our patrons.

But this is the sort of thing that it can be easy to fool yourself about. That's why, about a month ago, the library sent off our "Why Did You Leave Us?" survey. Was there some horrible, previously undetected problem with our services that was driving patrons away?

Well, we got over 500 responses out of a mailing of 2500. And the answer, I'm relieved to say, is "No."

That's not to say that we didn't get any complaints. But even the complaints tell a story. The LEAST amount of complaints concerned our staff. For instance, fewer than half of one percent of the survey respondents stated that our staff were "not knowledgeable." That's a credit both to our employees, and to our training effort.

The next big thing I noticed was that over 20% of the people we surveyed DIDN'T leave us. They may not have checked out any books from us these past six months, but they still made use of library services.

The primary use of the library by people who didn't check anything out was .... to pick up federal and state tax forms. This service, which can be nightmarish from our end, is clearly, for some people, the only contact they have with the library in a whole year. That's good information for me. We will keep this service.

The second way people used the library was for reference services (19%): using print based reference tools, the photocopy machine, our reference staff, and browsing the magazines and newspapers. Only then do we get to Internet access (5.7%), use of public meeting rooms (4.2%), or bringing children to a program (3.5%).

So why, then, haven't these people been checking out anything from us? Here, in David Letterman format, are the top ten reasons (and recognize that survey respondents can check more than one -- the percentage figure just tallies how many people checked this choice out of the total responses).

10. I want a longer lending period (6.7%). Most of our items go out for three weeks. Is a month checkout too long?

9. Someone else checks out my library materials for me (7.7%). For instance, the wife picks up books for the husband. If it's OK with the husband, it's OK with me.

8. I buy books online (8.4%). It may be that amazon.com is a good answer for people who have disposable income and don't want to wait for their holds to come up on the bestseller lists.

7. My children use school libraries (9.1%). Many parents see a public library card as a support for formal education. Clearly, for some parents, the school library works fine.

6. The DPLD collection is insufficient for my needs (9.1%). We probed this question further in another part of the survey, and indeed, in yet another survey we also conducted last month. About 85% of the patrons who DO come to the library say they find what they're looking for. The ones that don't are mostly looking for graduate level research materials. While DPLD is not an academic research institution, this may well indicate an unmet patron need we should address.

5. I buy my books at a bookstore (12.8%). Take THAT, amazon.com!

4. "Other" (18%). This is the perennial question on surveys, and as usual, turned up a grab bag of responses. Nine people said they hadn't come in because of the smoke damage at Highlands (OK, but we were only closed for one month, REopened months ago, and the survey was about people who hadn't checked out a book in SIX months.) Some said they'd left for college. My favorite responses were: "I'm stupid!" and "My wife says you can't fight inertia."

3. I just don't read as much as I used to (19%). This is the health club syndrome. You join up because you MEAN to be improve yourself, but somehow...

2. I have Internet access at home or work (28.9%). We know that many more people than this have Internet access in Douglas County, so these people are saying they get their library needs met through the Internet. This is significant.

And finally, the number one reason people have not checked out books in the past six months: "I am just too busy" (45.9%). It's hard to know what to do about that one. Time management classes at the library?

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