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 19, 2009 - the learning library
Douglas County Libraries has learned some things. Beginning with our experiments in Roxborough, then Lone Tree, we discovered that a combination of self-check technologies and displays meant that we could move far more books, movies, and music with the same staff and space. In fact, we have almost 7% fewer staff this year than last.
Elsewhere in the district, we learned that children's storytimes, particularly when linked to the behaviors that lead to literacy, not only help parents help their children get ready to read, but resulted in our checking out more children's materials than any library in Colorado.
On the basis of various professional standards, almost all of our libraries are too small. But after the failed elections of 2007 and 2008, building bigger libraries is out of the picture.
On the other hand, the library consistently trims its budget to allow us to build up some capital funds. While that's not enough for big new buildings, it has been enough to allow us to do some modest renovations. We've also received some crucial private and community support.
So 2009 has seen two significant projects: the opening of our 2,500 square foot storefront in Castle Pines North (just weeks after we signed the lease!), and the remodeling of our significantly stressed Parker Library.
Here's an update on a few things:
* Our new Castle Pines Library, at just the two week mark, had checked out over half of its stock. And they have some of the most clever displays in our system. From that one building, we'll check out a quarter of a million items per year -- 100 items per square foot. I've written in previous weeks about the strong financial support of the Castle Pines community, without which that library would not exist. (Recently, we reached our $50,000 fundraising goal for Castle Pines, thanks to a $10,000 gift from Dr. Robert Sullivan.)
* Our restructured Parker Library is again working the themes of high quality children's services (accounting for 48% of our business meant that we needed to give them more space), and the exposure of our very popular materials through "power wall" displays. The majority of this internal construction was paid for by the bequest of Verna Daughenbough, at some $80,000. (We contributed another $40,000 from our savings.)
Since we can't build a new building, we need to find a way to get a higher percentage of materials out of the library and into people's homes. Our goal: get more than half of the Parker Library collection checked out, too. I think we'll make it. I don't have an answer for the parking congestion, though.
* Our Lone Tree Library recently got a visit from the senior staff and Trustees of the Pueblo City County Library. It turns out that we check out more materials from that one 10,000 square foot building (over 1.2 million items annually) than they do in their entire county. They wanted to see how we did that. (See self-check and displays, above.) Lone Tree consistently checks outs more than 60% of its inventory.
Next year, we hope to make some similar improvements at Highlands Ranch and Philip S. Miller. Then we're done with what we can afford for awhile.
The Douglas County Libraries is now the third busiest library system in Colorado. After reviewing our statistics recently, I've noticed that suddenly we're about to catch up, and probably pass this year, the number 2 library: the Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs.
After that, given our consistent growth in activity each year, I think it's only another couple of years before we lap the busiest library in the state: Denver Public, with its 30+ branches.
Amid the worrisome news of recession, of private sector bailouts combined with outrageous executive bonuses, I hope Douglas County residents take some measure of pride in a public sector agency that lives within its means, plans ahead, and strives for excellence.
As I say, we've learned some things. There is an intense demand for library services in our county. The numbers suggest that we've done a thoughtful and successful job of addressing it.
LaRue's Views are his own.