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 8, 2000

November 8, 2000 - Information as Entertainment

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with some librarians on the Western Slope. Our main topic was Amendment 21. They were very concerned that rural library funding was going to be decided by the majority of voters who lived on the Front Range.

As one of the librarians pointed out to me, folks in the Denver metropolitan area have a rich array of cultural offerings: museums, art galleries, universities, theaters, ballet companies, and more.

On the Western Slope, for many communities, the library is it. That is, the public library is often the sole cultural amenity for many miles. To have metro people decide library funding in rural areas is a little like asking the rich if they think the poor have enough.

Clearly, culture is important to people in rural areas -- they put their own money into it. There just aren't as many choices.

But here's something that gets little attention -- libraries aren't just "information" centers. They reflect the trend toward treating information as entertainment.

I've been saving a piece of data for several years, a "Fast Facts" report from the Library Research Service. It states, "The June 1997 issue of Survey of Current Business reported detailed national data on consumer spending on recreation from 1993 to 1995. By 1995, more than a third of those expenditures were for "information" -- that is, books and periodicals as well as audio and video cassettes, CD-ROMs, computer software packages, and the hardware they each require."

The report highlights several other findings, namely that Americans spend:

- four times as much on books as on tickets to movies OR sporting events;
- more on books and periodicals combined than on children's toys OR adult "toy's" such as cameras, boats, and exercise equipment;
- twice as much on electronic information and the equipment it requires as on amusement parks, bowling alleys, bus tours, dance halls, golf courses, skating rinks, and swimming pools combined.

Librarians and others often emphasize the business, civic, and research roles of the library. Information has uses.
But we overlook two key roles the library plays in today's life.

First, libraries provide a powerful cooperative purchasing agreement. We are the entity that joins all the book, CD, and magazine clubs, scouting out the best deals so you don't have to.

Second, the presence of a well-funded library is an important component of a community's quality of life. With "information" such a growing part of consumer spending, Chambers of Commerce should latch onto and boost libraries much as they have schools. Access to a library is an economic value to a town. And based on the data concerning where people actually put their money, books are of greater importance than, for instance, the presence of sport fields or movie theaters.

This isn't to say that the presence of the library completely replaces the need for all those other cultural amenities. I always think of this as the convenience store phenomenon. Ever wonder why right next to a big new grocery store, you can find at least one convenience store?

Because it does well there. A strong library fuels the consumer demand for a book store, for a video store, for theaters of both filmed and live performance -- whetting the appetite for culture even as it feeds it.

I would sum it up like this. Libraries -- now that's entertainment!

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