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, December 11, 2002

December 11, 2002 - Libraries & Economics

The longer I'm in the library business, the more I realize how deeply the public and private sectors are interconnected.

It's clear that in 2002, Colorado libraries have taken a hit financially. In some ways, this reflects what's happening in the business world. Many commercial operations are suffering a drop in sales, thus in revenue. Those libraries that are dependent on city sales taxes (as in Denver), are also seeing a sharp decline in revenue.

But here's the contrary part: even those libraries that are losing money are at the same time experiencing a steep increase in use. Less money; more demand for service. In business, that just doesn't happen. More use means more money.

Is library use rising in Douglas County? You bet. Two years ago, we broke all our previous circulation records when we checked out 2 million items. This year, we'll check out over 3 million.

But that rise in use is happening all over Colorado. How come? There are lots of reasons.

Let's take the more negative situation first. If you've lost your job, you go to the library to retool: to learn how to write a resume, to borrow a word processor to produce it, to scour newspapers for job ads. Or possibly you use the library as a sort of temporary office, a place to meet people and investigate prospects. Or maybe you use the library as a place to look into alternate careers, to find out which careers are recession-proof.

Libraries provide resources -- already paid for by the general public -- that you can least afford when you most need them. Here we see the great investment value of cooperative purchasing agreements!

Of course, there are lots of more positive reasons to use the library. Libraries help you spend the money you do have more wisely, whether you're planning to make a significant consumer purchase, or are trying to explore investment opportunities.

In addition to all our more traditional offerings -- informational and recreational materials of all sorts, reference assistance, and children's services -- libraries also offer a rich tapestry of free family programming. You can explore everything from history to crafts, right here in your backyard.

What is the fiscal picture for the Douglas Public Library District? Well, we are not dependent on sales tax. Almost all of our revenue comes from property taxes. Property values are less volatile than sales. So when the economy slows down, library districts get enough notice to prepare themselves.

Here's how I size up our changing fiscal climate: revenues, while still growing, are flattening. Next year, we'll see a real increase of about 8.9% in tax receipts -- but balance that against over a 30% increase in use.

What does that mean? We have just about wrapped up all the capital projects we promised voters back in 1996 -- and have in fact done better than our promises. But once we open our storefront in Roxborough, and once we complete our new Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock, our capital reserves will be gone.

At this point in the library's development, our focus has begun to shift from outward expansion (capital) to internal infrastructure and productivity (operations). Incidentally, that's exactly what we said would happen when we last went back to the voters: we'd build some libraries, then have enough money to run them.

The challenge of the next several years will be how to stay focused on growing community needs, with an eye toward wringing maximum use from existing resources.

But, you know, libraries are pretty good at that.

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