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, January 25, 2007

January 25, 2007 - patrons win when libraries compete

Some of my best friends are library directors. I suppose that isn't surprising. By definition, they tend to share both my values and my interests.

Two of these friends are Douglas County neighbors. Eloise May is the director of the Arapahoe Library District. Bill Knott runs the Jefferson County Public Library.

Both have held their jobs for quite a while. Eloise has been director for over 20 years, Bill for over 30.

Both of their library systems are excellent, well above national averages in virtually every category.

I've learned a lot from them. What I especially like about my library director friends is our total candor about what did -- and did not -- work for us. Our purpose is the same: to provide the best possible service to our communities.

Arapahoe Library District is a close match to us in population (the library district's official service population is significantly less than the whole county, as the district excludes the cities of Aurora, Littleton, and Englewood, who all have their own libraries). Call it 250,000 people. So I've been comparing our numbers to theirs for some time.

In January of every year, I call Eloise to ask for her "circ" number (where "circ" stands for circulation, or total number of items checked out). Always before, Arapahoe was still ahead of us, although last year, not by much. I've been chasing them for 17 years.

Well, in 2006, we finally pulled ahead. They checked out about 4.5 million items. But we checked out 5.5 million.

We beat them by a million!

I was quietly gloating over this when Eloise mused that a 5.5 million circ had to be close to Jeffco's number. Immediately, I called Jeffco and demanded their stats.

And they told me that Jeffco checked out a little over 5,291,000 items in 2006. We beat them, too! And Jeffco has a population of roughly half a million -- about twice our size.

At the beginning of 2006, we were the fifth busiest public library in the state. At the beginning of 2007, we jumped to number three.

Who is ahead of us? Denver and Colorado Springs, in that order. But I don't think either of them is experiencing 21% growth in circ per year. We did.

Heh. They're next.

But it's reasonable to wonder: what explains our rapid rise in use from 2005?

I think there are two primary causes:

1. Merchandising. For the past two years, we've been working hard to use library space to better display our wares. We concentrate on displays and face-out shelving. As a consequence, we have to replace those displays almost hourly.

Where did we come up with the manpower for this effort? Answer: from the staff liberated from the circ desk by our RFID-based self-checkout machines. These same people help our patrons FIND those displays.

2. Supply chain. Also over the past couple of years, we've focused on centralizing purchases, building and monitoring branch profiles to closely match the demands of our patrons. Our materials get here faster than they used to, move through our system quicker, and show up on our shelves the same day they show up at bookstores. (Please note that libraries have to do way more to a book, CD, or movie than a bookstore does, including but not limited to cataloging and marking.)

Incidentally, all of this work -- from our front line staff who work directly with patrons and our stock, and our back room folks who select and MOVE those materials -- is handled by fewer people than we had last year.

Our demand is rising (21% from 2005 to 2006, as noted) -- and much faster than either our population or revenues (which climbed about 6% from 2005 to 2006). So, like any other business, we've had to find ways to streamline and improve our operations.

Of course, we'll share all of our hard-won knowledge with all the other libraries we know. So they'll be even tougher competitors.

But why not? No matter who pulls ahead in a friendly competition between libraries, there's only one winner.


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