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.
July 9, 1997 - More Books Needed
By almost any measure, the Douglas Public Library District is doing a pretty good job. The use of our collection goes up every year (year to date, we're almost 10% over last year, which was our all-time high). Every year, we get more children at our story hours. We get more reference questions.
But my bosses, the seven Trustees of the Douglas Public Library District, expressed a concern to me. They wanted to see more new materials.
I pointed out to them that we already spent 16% of our operations costs on materials. Most libraries in Colorado spend 12% or less. I pointed out to them that over 12% of our book budget results from direct patron requests (patrons fill out a request form, and in most cases, we put it through). Our nearest competitor only spends 9% on direct patron requests; most public libraries spend less than 5 percent. I pointed out to the Board that since 1990, the number of our holdings has jumped by over 275 percent, a VERY unusual statistic.
Then I took a look at some other numbers. Here's the chart:
Holdings per capita
What does it mean? "Holdings" is the total number of items we own. Those numbers all look pretty good. "Per capita" is where the problem is. It divides the number of holdings by the number of people in the county. So sure, we have more stuff than we used to. But our population is growing faster than our collection. On a PER PERSON basis, we actually have fewer materials this year than last.
Let me put it another way. My Board was right. We need to buy more new materials.
But that's a tricky issue. The number of new materials drives a lot of things. Most obviously, if affects how many people we need to order, receive, catalog and otherwise physically prepare the items. It affects how much we spend on supplies. It affects how many boxes go through the courier. It affects how many shelves we need at each location.
On the other hand, what the Board really wanted to address was the selection of materials in the new books area. Most of our new books are checked out. If we buy more books, they may still be checked out-but the odds of your finding something new are nonetheless better.
So what are we going to do about it? We're going to dip into some of our contingency money to increase the book budget - up to 20% of our operating budget. We're experimenting with some flexible staffing patterns to try to move more books.
The downside? Books are moving a little slower. Partly that's just getting used to managing a larger work flow, and working around some space limitations in our behind-the-scenes "technical services" area. We're keeping an eye on that.
The upside? In a few weeks, we hope you'll be able to see a better selection than ever. We're going to keep at this process until we find a way to get back on top of the "per capita" problem, and stay there.
And next time you see a library board member, thank him or her for looking out for your interests.