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.
September 2, 2004 - Budget Time at Douglas County Libraries
It's budget time at the Douglas County Libraries.
Here's the good news. By almost any measure of our services, both demand and use are climbing sharply.
* Circulation. We've already checked out over 2 million items this year -- more than 11% over last year at the same time. In the past five years, this has risen by 120 percent.
* Number of reference questions our staff have fielded: up 44 percent over last year.
* Adult program attendance: up 39 percent.
* Number of new patrons registered: 35 percent higher than last year.
Another statistic that jumps out at me is just how many community meetings we sponsor each week. Go to our website at www.DouglasCountyLibraries.org. Click on the "Douglas County and Community" tab at the top of the page. Then click on meeting rooms by branch. We have close to a couple of HUNDRED community meetings every week.
And here's the not so good news: our resources are not growing anywhere near as fast as the demand for our services. This isn't BAD news. Many of the libraries in Colorado and the nation are looking at true reductions in revenue. Our income, deriving almost entirely from property taxes in a still-growing county, will rise by about 5.6 percent next year.
Our challenge is this: how do we manage skyrocketing use with stabilizing revenues?
We have identified 8 strategies:
1. Get more efficient. We're doing a series of internal audits of our positions and tasks, trying to find ways to accomplish more in fewer steps.
2. Adopt new technologies. Our upcoming Horizon computer system, our interlibrary loan systems, our Internet workstation management software, are all ways to have computers handle more of the workload.
3. Add self-help options. At a couple of our branches, we're allowing patrons to pick up their own holds. We've installed, and will install more, self-checkout stations. Everybody won't use them, of course. But some will, and adding that option will help us speed up the checkout lines.
4. Build partnerships. By teaming up with other organizations, we can increase our own capacity. For instance, we've been looking at closer relationships with other arts and culture groups.
5. Outsource. Are there things we can hire out more cheaply, or more quickly, than we can do them ourselves? These days, for instance, we're buying our new fiction pre-processed.
6. Recruit more volunteers. Douglas County has thousands of extraordinary people looking to get back into the workplace after a hiatus. In exchange for some assistance with our growing workload, we can provide training, contacts, and a stimulating environment.
7. Increase our revenues. We have begun to gear up the Douglas County Libraries Foundation, focusing in on some new grant opportunities.
8. Reduce the demand. And if the first seven don't work, the only alternative is to reduce the speed or quality of our response: longer lines at the circulation and reference desks; longer waits for new materials. Obviously, I think that approach, if you'll pardon the expression, sucks.
And that's a snapshot of the mind of a public administrator at budget time.