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.

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.

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