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.
October 2, 1996 - Growing the Collection
How good is the collection of the Douglas Public Library District?
Well, it depends on how you measure it. One of the standards public libraries set for themselves has to do with what percentage of the collection has been published in the past 5 years. Generally speaking, a collection that approaches 80 percent is considered excellent.
By this standard, DPLD does very well, mostly because the biggest build-up of our collection took place since 1990, the founding of the library district.
Another measure looks at the collection from the perspective of the patron. How much of the time do I find what I'm looking for, right there on the shelf? Again, the higher the percentage of success, the better the library.
By this standard, DPLD doesn't always do so well. Take bestsellers. We buy one copy for every four requests. This means that for our hottest titles - anything by John Grisham, for instance - we can very quickly build up some 65 or 70 copies. But then we start to get a little stingy.
Yes, buying more copies would mean a shorter wait for the folks who follow the bestsellers. But a year from now, we'll be looking at 65 or 70 copies of a book that doesn't go out that much anymore. That's a big commitment of money and shelf space for a relatively short-term need.
Or consider audiotapes. We buy almost every audiotape published in America by all the commercial publishers, both the abridged bestsellers (which come out very close to the hardback books), and the unabridged (which tend to come out a little later.) In fact, we usually buy at least four copies: one for each of our 7-day-a- week libraries.
But people tend to browse for audiotapes. That is, they don't search the catalog for them - they just stroll over to the books- on-tape section and check out anything they haven't checked out before. The trouble is, the new stuff is never on the shelf. It's snapped up the minute it comes in.
The right answer, of course, is to buy additional copies: 4 or 5 at each location. Audiotapes tend to keep circulating in Douglas County, more so than older hardback bestsellers. On the other hand, if we do buy extra audiotapes, then we can't buy as MANY titles.
So do we buy lots and lots of what's hot right now, or just buy quite a bit of what's hot, plus a reasonable spread of other stuff?
That's an important question, because not everybody comes in looking for new titles. Sometimes what our many school age or adult patrons need just hasn't been published in the past five years. A good public library has to have depth.
A final measure has to do with number of holdings per capita. Back in 1990, the library had a tad over 1 title per person county- wide. We set a goal of 4 titles per person.
For awhile, we made impressive gains. We went from 65,000 holdings to almost 250,000. Alas, the population grew, too. We're up to about 2.5 items per capita. But for the past two or three years, we've been losing ground.
The library has been very successful in negotiating big discounts on library materials. But even with a growing population, there's more to managing a library collection than just buying everything you see, no matter how much you save on each purchase.
Librarians also REMOVE materials from the collection. Some items are old enough to have bad information in them. Some have been used to death. Some have never been used at all. What matters in a library collection is not just the count, but the relevance of the holdings.
And there's another issue. Our Oakes Mill and Louviers libraries are full right now. For every new book in, one comes out.
Our Philip S. Miller Library - assuming a collection growth roughly the same as that of our previous 6 years - will be in the same position in two years. Our Highlands Ranch Library will be full in three years - about the time our lease runs out.
Our Parker Library is in the best shape. It was built with some unfinished space we can carve out in five years.
Ultimately, the right answer to the question, "how good is the collection of the Douglas Public Library District?" is simple: not good enough. But MAKING it good enough is going to take not only more money for materials, but for more space as well.
Such capital needs, incidentally, are the primary reason the Board of Trustees decided to put a mill levy increase on this November's ballot.