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 15, 2004

September 15, 2004 - This Column Must Die! (?)

"Being a newspaper columnist," wrote Lewis Grizzard, "is like being married to a nymphomaniac. The first two weeks are kind of fun."

I've been writing a weekly newspaper column (sometimes more than one a week) for 17 years. For 14 years, I've been writing for the News Press. The 3 years before that, I wrote for the Greeley Tribune.

For me, it has ALWAYS been fun. This weekly essay is a meditation, a reckoning. It is a record of my concerns, my experiments, my mistakes, my lessons, my attempts to connect a public institution to a community of fascinating individuals. I have a great time.

But here's the hard question, the one that haunts every writer: does anybody ELSE find this interesting?

It is so easy to fool myself. So I thought I'd do something I've never seen any other columnist do.

In your hands, Dear Reader, rests this column's fate.

How many (or how few) readers should a columnist have before he or she says, "It's time to find another line of work!"

Here's what I think. This paper claims a distribution of 15,250. To my knowledge it has never done a reader survey.

Not all the people who get a newspaper in their driveway actually read it. And not everyone who reads the paper reads the columns. And not everyone who reads columns reads me.

But surely, a columnist can hope for a modest 1% of the claimed distribution. One percent of 15,250 is 152. If I can't get 152 responses saying "I read your column" (that being the only thing you have to say) then I think I should stop, freeing space for another writer. Don't you?

This approach, incidentally, is the cornerstone of all the library's outreach efforts these days. We're trying to track what does, and doesn't, work. That includes the bully pulpit of the director.

I promise neither to gloat nor whine about the results. I'm about to leave the country for two weeks -- my first ever trip to Europe. When I come back, I'll either continue writing, or, quietly and (I hope) gracefully relinquish my 500-600 words a week.

If you read this column, please send an email to Heidi Harden, at the News Press, at hharden@ccnewspapers.net, or call her at 303-663-7175. (You can also, if you like, send a copy to me at jlarue@jlarue.com. But only the messages sent to Heidi will count.) Multiple voting is strictly discouraged. And no voting by library employees!

Your vote must be received by September 29, 2004.

If you don't read me, or if you do, but fervently wish I would stop, don't do anything at all. YOU, of course, may vote as many times as you wish.

Either way, thank you!

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

September 8, 2004 - Volunteer Assistant Opportunity

Last week I talked about our strategies for coping with a rapidly growing workload. One of them involved a more thoughtful use of volunteers. This week, I'd like to announce our first example of that.

The district is looking to hire several volunteer administrative assistants. What does the job entail? Mainly, it will involve filing, data entry, scanning, faxing, phones, typing, and organizing. There are spreadsheets to build, databases to maintain, and community directories to update.

There are letters to write, applicants to stay in touch with. There are supplies to track, employee packets to assemble, public brochures to bundle and distribute.

And, of course, there are projects so scintillating that we haven't even thought them up yet.

The position will support the district's Community Relations, Human Resources and Volunteer Services departments. That means you'll get a look at all the public relations and marketing contacts around the county. You'll get to work with topnotch professionals in our personnel area.

What qualifications do you need to have?

Here's the big one: you must agree to work a minimum of 10 hours per week. We're also asking for a commitment of six months or more. It will take some time for the right candidates to get up to speed, and we hope to reap some of the rewards of that training before people move on and up. The position will begin in October of this year. Candidates must be 16 years old or older.

The right person should also be:

* detail-oriented;

* highly organized;

* reliable, professional and dependable.

We're also hoping to find people with at least some computer skills, who are also willing and able to learn.

The people we hire must observe strict confidentiality guidelines. We are looking for people of good judgment, who understand and respect the importance of professional confidences.

A strong interest in public libraries is a plus.

Finally, what do you get out of it? Why should you go through the trouble of a job interview, when even if you get the job, you won't get paid for it?

Well, the sort of person we're looking for might fall into several categories, among them:

* the recently retired person looking to keep his or her skills up, with a few extra hours a week and an itch to be useful.

* people who find themselves between jobs, and would welcome the opportunity to look over the operations of a successful public sector organization.

* moms who are looking to start getting back into the workforce, and are looking to brush up their skills, and make some new contacts in the community.

* students required to participate in internships or practica.

* anybody who feels underutilized, and wants to work with upbeat, interesting people doing jobs that make a difference.

If this looks like something that might appeal to you, what should you do? Mail, fax or email (PDF, StarOffice or Word equivalent attachments only) your resume and/or district volunteer application immediately (available in our libraries or on our web site at www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org) to: Patti Owen-DeLay, Douglas County Libraries, 100 S. Wilcox St., Castle Rock, CO 80104. Fax: 303-688-7655. Email: powendelay@dclibraries.org.

We look forward to working with the successful candidates!

Thursday, September 2, 2004

September 2, 2004 - Budget Time at Douglas County Libraries

It's budget time at the Douglas County Libraries.

Here's the good news. By almost any measure of our services, both demand and use are climbing sharply.

* Circulation. We've already checked out over 2 million items this year -- more than 11% over last year at the same time. In the past five years, this has risen by 120 percent.
* Number of reference questions our staff have fielded: up 44 percent over last year.
* Adult program attendance: up 39 percent.
* Number of new patrons registered: 35 percent higher than last year.

Another statistic that jumps out at me is just how many community meetings we sponsor each week. Go to our website at www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org. Click on the "Douglas County and Community" tab at the top of the page. Then click on meeting rooms by branch. We have close to a couple of HUNDRED community meetings every week.

And here's the not so good news: our resources are not growing anywhere near as fast as the demand for our services. This isn't BAD news. Many of the libraries in Colorado and the nation are looking at true reductions in revenue. Our income, deriving almost entirely from property taxes in a still-growing county, will rise by about 5.6 percent next year.

Our challenge is this: how do we manage skyrocketing use with stabilizing revenues?

We have identified 8 strategies:

1. Get more efficient. We're doing a series of internal audits of our positions and tasks, trying to find ways to accomplish more in fewer steps.

2. Adopt new technologies. Our upcoming Horizon computer system, our interlibrary loan systems, our Internet workstation management software, are all ways to have computers handle more of the workload.

3. Add self-help options. At a couple of our branches, we're allowing patrons to pick up their own holds. We've installed, and will install more, self-checkout stations. Everybody won't use them, of course. But some will, and adding that option will help us speed up the checkout lines.

4. Build partnerships. By teaming up with other organizations, we can increase our own capacity. For instance, we've been looking at closer relationships with other arts and culture groups.

5. Outsource. Are there things we can hire out more cheaply, or more quickly, than we can do them ourselves? These days, for instance, we're buying our new fiction pre-processed.

6. Recruit more volunteers. Douglas County has thousands of extraordinary people looking to get back into the workplace after a hiatus. In exchange for some assistance with our growing workload, we can provide training, contacts, and a stimulating environment.

7. Increase our revenues. We have begun to gear up the Douglas County Libraries Foundation, focusing in on some new grant opportunities.

8. Reduce the demand. And if the first seven don't work, the only alternative is to reduce the speed or quality of our response: longer lines at the circulation and reference desks; longer waits for new materials. Obviously, I think that approach, if you'll pardon the expression, sucks.

And that's a snapshot of the mind of a public administrator at budget time.