For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
January 17, 1996 - 1995 Statistics
When I first got started in libraries, I had a very narrow view of what it was all about. I stayed focused on the things I was responsible for: the number on the spine of a book to be re-shelved, the card to be stamped in the book, the card to be filed in the daily circ (circulation) drawer.
But after awhile, I began to be aware of larger patterns of use: the number of inches in the daily circ drawer that represented kid's picture books, for instance. As I started moving into the management end of things, I realized that those little clues provided valuable information for such things as staffing, or for the number of shelves needed in a particular area of the library.
Thanks to computers, gathering such data has gotten easier over the past 15 years. Everything you check out from the library has a statistical code, and every checkout equals one tally. We have a fair number of categories: from which broad kind of material it is (book, video, periodical), to what specific call number range it belongs to (640's, for instance). Together, all these numbers give librarians a remarkably comprehensive view of what walks out the door.
Now I realize this sounds strange, but library statistics can be strangely seductive. These days, I can hardly wait for the end of the year to start cranking out reports.
As you might expect, there are some differences from branch to branch both in numbers of items checked out, and kinds of items. These differences greatly assist our branch managers as we start divvying up our book budget for the next year.
But for me, the real fascination comes in trying to see how library use is changing overall.
I could list pages of numbers, and charts for all of them. Instead, I'll just offer the Big Picture from 1995 (and previous years) statistics:
1. Library use continues to climb. Despite our change from a two-week to a three-week loan period for most materials, and a longer loan period for videos, we again checked out over a million items. I had predicted a slight decline from 1994 (because of the loan period changes). In fact, we saw a modest increase of just under 1% overall. Next year, I expect us to return to our more usual, and very aggressive, jumps in annual use. In 1994, we were the fifth busiest public library in the state (and we are NOT the fifth largest in either collection or population). When other libraries start chiming in with their stats, I'll let you know how we ranked in 1995.
2. Our collection has grown. We now have about 227,000 items in our library district. Since 1990, the year the district was approved by Douglas County voters, that's an increase of over 249 percent.
3. As a result of our rapidly expanding collection, we're beginning to narrow the gap between what our patrons request from other libraries (Interlibrary Loans), and what other library patrons request from ours. In 1991, we borrowed about 6 books for every book we loaned. Now the ratio is closer to 3 to 1.
4. Use in all categories is up. I track six broad categories of library materials: Adult fiction, Adult Non-fiction, Juvenile Fiction, Juvenile Non-fiction, Audiovisual (including books on tape and video), and Other (periodicals, pamphlets, interlibrary loans, etc.). In each area, the number of items checked out has shown a sharp and consistent increase, year after year.
5. As a percentage of the total circulation, however, all of the categories have in fact declined with two exceptions: audiovisual, and juvenile non-fiction. This is a little misleading. Videos have a much shorter loan period, which means they're available sooner, which means that they go out again.
In sum: Douglas County residents are big time library supporters, and every year our library is better able to serve them. The kids who grew up in our children's rooms are moving from the easy books to the world of non-fiction, and all of us are taking out more videos and books on tape.