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 20, 2007

September 20, 2007 - why the demand?

This is a fact: the demand for library services is growing faster than our population. On the one hand, that's good: Douglas County likes its libraries. Nationwide, library checkouts are growing by about 2 or 3 percent annually. In Douglas County, they have grown by 124% over the past five years.

By contrast, our population growth, which is impressive by itself, has only jumped by 44 percent in the same period.

But why have our checkouts increased so much faster than our population? Incidentally, that discrepancy applies to the use of our Internet and computer resources, reference questions, programs, and meeting rooms, too.

It's a fair question, and deserves an honest answer.

I think there are three reasons.

1. Douglas County demographics. Our patrons are both highly educated, and, relatively speaking, have lots of children still at home.

People that have worked their way up to at least one college degree, and often on to Master's or Ph.D.'s, tend to value that investment.

Parents with small children go through a kind of awakening, too. They discover that "teaching" isn't something that only happens at school. It starts at home. It should continue there, too, if only because adult behavior sends such a strong signal to children about what matters.

Together, that explains both the remarkable use of picture books by our patrons, and the high use of non-fiction by adults. Our patrons value education.

2. Our collection. The library's computer catalog tallies a wealth of management data. We know exactly how many books, videos, and music CDs get checked out, and we can break those numbers down by subject, by date of publication, and more. Our librarians have learned to work way ahead of publication dates to order materials, and to predict demand with remarkable success. Our behind-the-scenes staff get those materials out on the same day they hit the book and discount stores. We've also gotten very good at displaying these materials so they catch your eye.

I wish I could say that I invented this insight, but I stole it from Denver Public's Schlessman Library: the right "mix" for a popular library's collection is roughly 1/3 kid's books, 1/3 adult print, and 1/3 movies and music. We've been testing that out for several years now, and it works.

Some folks worry about that last category. By carrying audiovisual materials, aren't we either (a) diluting the mission of the library as a purveyor of books, or (b) directly competing with movie and music stores?

My response: (a) libraries aren't just about books. They are about the active pursuit of knowledge, about the building and understanding of your community. Movies and music are a big part of our culture.

(b) I know of no library that put a bookstore out of business. If anything, libraries help stimulate the market for all of these things, keeping people interested when they can't afford the latest release, or helping them pick out the things most worth buying.

3. The need to belong, and to contribute. The third reason for our astonishing growth in use is that our library has consciously responded to a primal human need.

The county has grown so fast. So few people actually grew up here, that they're still trying to figure out where they live. People connect at programs and meetings. They notice each other at the Internet stations or in study rooms. They chat as they browse the new materials.

The library is a community hub, a way to explore the past, and help invent the future, of your neighborhood, town, or county.

All of these things add up to a library that enjoys remarkable use. People expect a lot of us.

It can be a challenge to keep up. But it sure is fun.

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