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 18, 2010 - numbers tell a story, too
On the one hand, over the past couple of years, I've changed my whole idea of what my profession is about.
I used to think the library business was about access to "intellectual content," whether it be fiction, non-fiction, movies, or music.
But the more I've read about brain research, the more I've thought about the role of the public library in society, the more I have come to realize that we're really in another business altogether: Storytelling.
From the storytelling upon which emergent literacy is based, to the storytelling that frames the highest level of political decision-making, it's all about narrative. It's about finding a frame that makes sense of things.
Libraries gather, organize, and tell stories. Our tradition reaches all the way back to the first folks to gather 'round a fire.
So I'm not just talking about "intellectual" content. Stories speak to our emotions, too. (That's how I slip music in.)
So what's the conflict? Well, I'm also still very intrigued by numbers, even though they don't seem to persuade anybody of anything all by themselves.
I just got a look at our use statistics from 2009. I see some fascinating trends.
What was the biggest single use of the public library in Douglas County last year? Answer: people checked stuff out. We hit almost 8 million items last year. That's double digit growth over last year.
The per capita checkouts for our citizens is 27. Buy one or two books per year (with your tax contribution). Get almost 30. That's a pretty smart investment.
What's the second biggest use of the library? Answer: visiting our website. Last year, there were over two million visits. And get this: 77% of the visits were from outside the library, from people finding us through the Internet.
On the other hand, the third heaviest library use was actual visits -- people walking through the door. There were just under two million visits.
Based on just these top three numbers, what can we conclude about the public library?
Well, when you can't find a parking space at the library, when every library you've got sees an average of almost 24,000 visits a month, then you're talking about a busy place, a public institution that is also an extremely popular destination.
That's a useful statistic to challenge the notion that libraries have been replaced by the World Wide Web.
On the other hand, a lot of people clearly now "go to the library" via computer.
Why do they visit the library website? Answer (mostly): to put reserves on books. Some 8% of our patrons put their books on hold, swing by when they get the email, and check out their materials themselves.
That would seem to capture both computer and print literacy at the same time.
So what's the bottom line? The numbers tell a story, too. In fact, they speak volumes.
LaRue's Views are his own.