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.
November 12, 2003 - From Print to AV
I need some advice.
For over a century, libraries have mostly focused on the purchase of print. And indeed, in libraries all across the country, we have stocked our shelves mainly with books and magazines.
These continue, of course, to be a significant part of our business. Adding up all the categories of things we check out, in 2002 a full 75 percent of what people took was print. Forty-one percent of our checkouts were children's and Young Adult books, which I find comforting.
But all that does is reflect what we offer. That is, about 75 percent of our collection is print. People check out the things we have, in roughly the percentage we supply them. (Actually, that's not quite accurate. Forty-one percent of our collection is not children's materials. I'm simplifying things by emphasizing the difference between print and non-.)
My aim is not to bat about statistics, however. My question is this: what's the RIGHT percentage of print versus "audiovisual" materials? Here, audiovisual means Books on Tape, Books on CD, music CDs, and VHS videos and DVDs.
To be even more pointed, what do YOU, the library patron, actually want from us as far as preferred formats for bestsellers? Here's what we'd like to know from you:
1. In general, with respect to your personal use of library materials, do you read printed library materials (limit your responses to fiction and non-fiction books - don't count periodicals) or do you listen to recorded materials (again, limited to fiction and non-fiction tapes and/or CDs)?
2. Can you quantify your response (such as for example 95% audio v. 5% print)?
3. If you are a listener, do you prefer CDs or tapes, or doesn't it matter?
The answers to these questions could have some big consequences for the future of your local library. The first consequence concerns our buying decisions.
Right now, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the cost of books on tape and CDs is significantly greater than books. (The cost for producing CD's has to be cheaper, but there we have the mysterious forces of the marketplace.)
For example, consider "The Da Vinci Code." These are the retail costs of this book in the four different formats we bought:
Large Print: $26.95
Book on tape: $80.00
But the Douglas County Libraries has negotiated some remarkable discounts. For most hardbacks, we get a 43 percent discount (although that doesn't include our costs for cataloging and processing). But for audiotapes and CD's, the best we can do is about a 10 percent discount. That's true for all libraries. Again, we see the wisdom of the marketplace, meaning that so far the producers can get away with charging more.
Right now, when we get four requests for something (reserves or "holds"), we buy an extra copy. But we don't necessarily do that for the books on tape or CD. Why? Because of the difference in cost. (And also because we've noticed a pattern -- some people put holds on both the audiotape and CD versions to see which one they get first, which skews the demand.)
I've already directed staff to head in the direction of building a collection that is one third print children\'s materials, one third adult print, and one third audiovisual. But it will take us awhile to get there. Meanwhile, we'd like to know if the public would like us to apply similar standards for reserves to non-print materials as we do to print.
To weigh in on this issue, just leave me a message at 303-688-7654 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!