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.
February 3, 2005 - Statistics
I realize this isn't normal, but I really looked forward to reviewing last year's library statistics.
Here's the first big number: for the first time in our history, we checked out over 4 million items. We are now very close (within a couple hundred thousand) to the levels of activity of Arapahoe and Jefferson County, both of which are larger than we are.
I have called the directors of both library systems to put them on notice. Heh heh.
Here's a broad breakdown of our checkouts in 2004:
* Adult fiction and nonfiction books - a little over 30 percent of our business.
* Audiovisual (movies and music) - a little under 30 percent.
* Kids' books (picture, fiction, non-fiction, teen): 40 percent.
That means roughly 70 percent of what people check out is print.
But AV is definitely the up and comer: it only accounts for about 13 percent of our total holdings, but generates 30 percent of our checkouts. Of course, you can watch a movie faster than you can read an adult book.
I, for one, am thrilled that our biggest crowd-pleaser is print for youth. That accounts for about a quarter of our collection, but 40 percent of our business. We have parents (you know who you are!) who check out 20 books a week per child. The books are thin, and parents and children move through them quickly.
Reading aloud, incidentally, is a wonderful way to bond with children, and may be the best investment in their developing minds a parent can make. We may be moving a lot of AV stuff, but children's books build the essential skill of literacy.
In 2004, over 2.5 million patron walked through our doors. So on average, those visits worked out to about 1.6 checkouts apiece. Of course, not everybody who comes to the library does check something out.
"Virtual visits" -- to our website -- was over half a million. The hits to our web pages were over 13 million.
While there are differences in the activity levels of our branches, there are far more commonalities. The greatest single predictor of activity is the population of the area.
That makes sense, as population drives the size of our facilities, and the facilities determine how much "stuff" we can offer.
There are some consistent ratios of activity, though. In general, most of our branches have about one reference question per 20 checkouts. (And reference transactions do tend to take longer than a checkout.)
Our programming attendance by age tends to be similar, too: an average of about 25 kids for kid programs, 11 teens for Young Adult programs, and 11 adults for adult programs.
District-wide, we now have 653,153 items, or a little over 2.6 items per capita. Over 72 percent of the households have and use at least one library card.
In general, we saw an increase in most measures of our service:
* checkouts - up 9.6 percent over last year
* reference (answering questions in person, over the phone, or online) - up 32 percent
* program attendance -- rising for adults, stabilizing for young children, and apparently falling for teens. That's a little puzzling, and we're still trying to figure that out. On the other hand, we OFFER more programs for everybody, and the number of community meetings is climbing very fast.
* volunteer and tutor hours. Volunteerism is up 7.4%, and our literacy tutors are up 43 percent!
All in all, I would say that 2004 was a winner, a milestone in the life of a library district. Thank you for your obvious interest in quality library service!