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 16, 2009 - DCL is number one!
Two years ago, it took an average of 48 hours for materials returned to the library to make their way back to the shelf.
That's not surprising. Over the past five years, checkouts have jumped by 98% in Douglas County. More materials means more handling.
But I work with some remarkably insightful and innovative people. Case in point: my Associate Director of Virtual Services, Bob Pasicznyuk, put together a team that eventually involved almost everybody in the library and a good many community volunteers. That team tested, selected, and installed RFID tags, self-check stations, and behind-the-scene sorting systems.
In the past TWO years, we've seen a 31% jump in checkouts. That's almost a million new transactions every year. At the same time, since January of this year we've had a hiring freeze, thus we employ fewer people than last year.
And now it takes just 2 hours to get materials back on the shelf. In some locations, we have it down to 45 minutes.
The creativity, focus, and tenacity of my staff is matched only by the openness of our Library Board of Trustees. However, their willingness to invest in cutting edge technologies was tempered by their probing questions about what we were really trying to accomplish and why.
The answer was plain: we wanted to put more library materials in more Douglas County homes, and do it more efficiently, than any library in the country.
As our internal measures show, we just might have pulled it off.
But it turns out that there are external measures of library performance. One of them is called the Hennen's American Public Library Ratings. Douglas County Libraries has appeared on the list of the ten best libraries in the country for several years.
The 2009 rankings just came out. And I am very pleased to report that Douglas County Libraries is now ranked number one in the nation for our population group (250,000 up to 500,000).
To be honest, every ranking system has its fans and critics. In my judgment, there are many fine libraries right here in Colorado that didn't make this list, and should have. But while I may quibble with a particular ranking system, I heartily endorse the use of hard data to assess performance.
The main criticism of the Hennen's rankings is simply that, like so many statistical comparisons, they're based on data that tends to be old. The 2009 rankings were based on 2006 data. That was before our failed 2007 election. Since then, our per capita measures -- for funding, library space, and materials -- have lost some ground.
On the other hand, we continue to hone our ability to move materials.
You can view the ratings for yourself at http://www.haplr-index.com/HAPLR100.htm.
Allow me a moment of quiet pride in our institution. In 1990, we were rated as one of the worst libraries in the state. Fewest hours open. Fewest books per person. Fewest story times.
Today, we are regarded, after rigorous statistical analysis, as one of the best libraries in the United States. (And just by-the-bye, in 2009 we offer an average of 10 storytimes a day -- over 3600 per year. Trust me. That makes a difference in our community.)
Our success is directly attributable to the contributions we have received not only from staff and board, but from our community, whose creation of a library district in 1990, and whose increase in a mill levy in 1996 gave us the funds to achieve national recognition.
To put it another way: support equals excellence. Thank you!
LaRue's Views are his own.