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 12, 2000

January 12, 2000 - Measuring the Library

Library use is changing.

The traditional measure of library activity is circulation -- how many books, magazines, audiotapes and videos got checked out in a year. By that measure, the Douglas Public Library District is doing exceptionally well. Final figures for last year showed that our circulation increased more than 24% from 1998 to 1999 -- over twice that of our closest Colorado competitor.

Another common measure is reference questions. In this area, at least at some of our branches, DPLD lags behind other metro libraries. While our demand for this service also is up sharply over last year (34.4%), I think many of our patrons still haven't latched on the astonishing truth: you can call up your local library and ask them ANYTHING. Who was in what movie? What's the proper way to display a flag? Who was the second man on the moon? How do you make borscht?

I urge you to call us with these and other pressing questions. Our crackerjack reference staff will astonish and delight you. It will also make their day. Few people have a better grasp of the phrase: "the thrill of the chase."

Another measure concerns library programming. Here again, we are far and away the champions of metro area libraries. All of our full service libraries (Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, Parker, and Philip S. Miller) offer at least one story time every weekday. Some of them are up to THREE a day.

We also offer programs for adults, for teens, and for seniors. A friendlier place for the family cannot be found.

What we don't provide ourselves can be found in the thousands of public meetings held at the library -- everything from home association meetings to quilting societies, from chess clubs to estate planning seminars. Library meeting rooms, incidentally, are free.

In 1999, the library conducted a "Materials Availability" study. We learned that about 85% of the time library patrons found just what they were looking for. This reflects our rapidly growing collection.

But about 38% of the people coming into the library weren't there to check out books at all. They came to the library for a host of other reasons. About 15% of these folks came to use the Internet. Most of the rest of them, whether or not they spoke to one of our librarians, came to use various reference materials.

It happens that electronic reference is one of the big areas of debate in libraries. We can count a check out. We can count a reference question. But how, exactly, do we count an Internet session?

WHAT do we count? The number of people who sign up for our terminals? The number of clicks on a particular web page? The number of searches conducted in various library search engines? The number of pages retrieved that have something other than general content, for instance, the extraordinarily popular News-Press Community Guide, or the electronic highlights of the weekly paper? The number of pages printed out at our networked printers?

This isn't just an attempt to find ways to look busy. The long term success of the library depends upon our ability to track patterns of use. That matters to me.

For instance, we routinely calculate, by broad category of library material, how many items go out the door. At this point, about 40% of our business is devoted to young people's materials. That tells us a lot about what to buy, and what kind of staff expertise to hire or develop.

But it's clear that library use is shifting away from just circulation, and toward a more diffuse pattern of in-house study, community connection, and electronic exploration.

In the past year, we've tried to match those needs.
In the year 2000, your local library aims to be not just your gateway to county-wide resources, but a thoughtful introduction to the future of reference services and family literacy: 24 hour a day, 7 day a week access to a convenient, intelligently organized WORLD of data.

That, you can count on.

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