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, February 18, 2010

February 18, 2010 - 2009 stats

I'm conflicted.

On the one hand, over the past couple of years, I've changed my whole idea of what my profession is about.

I used to think the library business was about access to "intellectual content," whether it be fiction, non-fiction, movies, or music.

But the more I've read about brain research, the more I've thought about the role of the public library in society, the more I have come to realize that we're really in another business altogether: Storytelling.

From the storytelling upon which emergent literacy is based, to the storytelling that frames the highest level of political decision-making, it's all about narrative. It's about finding a frame that makes sense of things.

Libraries gather, organize, and tell stories. Our tradition reaches all the way back to the first folks to gather 'round a fire.

So I'm not just talking about "intellectual" content.  Stories speak to our emotions, too. (That's how I slip music in.)

So what's the conflict? Well, I'm also still very intrigued by numbers, even though they don't seem to persuade anybody of anything all by themselves.

I just got a look at our use statistics from 2009. I see some fascinating trends.

What was the biggest single use of the public library in Douglas County last year? Answer: people checked stuff out. We hit almost 8 million items last year. That's double digit growth over last year.

The per capita checkouts for our citizens is 27. Buy one or two books per year (through library taxes). Get almost 30. That's a pretty smart investment.

What's the second biggest use of the library? Answer: visiting our website. Last year, there were over two million visits. And get this: 77% of the visits were from outside the library, from people finding us through the Internet.

On the other hand, the third heaviest library use was actual visits -- people walking through the door. There were just under two million visits.

Based on just these top three numbers, what can we conclude about the public library?

Well, when you can't find a parking space at the library, when every library you've got sees an average of almost 24,000 visits a month, then you're talking about a busy place, a public institution that is also an extremely popular destination.

That's a useful statistic to challenge the notion that libraries have been replaced by the World Wide Web.

On the other hand, a lot of people clearly now "go to the library" via computer.

Why do they visit the library website? Answer (mostly): to put reserves on books. Some 8% of our patrons put their books on hold, swing by when they get the email, and check out their materials themselves.

That would seem to capture both computer and print literacy at the same time.

So what's the bottom line? The numbers tell a story, too. In fact, they speak volumes.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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