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 25, 2010 - a new deal for schools and libraries
After the 2008 election losses, followed by a recession, the Douglas County School District and the Douglas County Libraries had some cuts to make.
The school district chose to eliminate all of its subscription databases -- information resources offered over the Internet. At the same time, the library was looking at trimming its own subscriptions.
So we did something that doesn't happen very often between schools and libraries. We got together to talk about it. Library staff analyzed the cost per use of our subscriptions. Then we asked our colleagues at school libraries to tell us which resources were most useful for student assignments.
JoAnn Patterson, the DCSD Library Media Coordinator, gave us a list of the resources she believed best served elementary, middle, and high school students. We compared that with our use statistics. A team of Douglas County Libraries staff (especially Linda Sturgeon, Hutch Tibbetts, and Laurie Van Court) then went back to talk to the vendors.
That's when we discovered something interesting. The publishing world -- the folks who make money selling subscriptions to these resources -- got their start back when these resources were print. The sales people sold a copy to the schools. Then they went over to the library to sell more copies.
Over time, that developed into two distinct sales networks.
Throughout the 90s, a lot of publishers made the move from print to electronic. You have to believe that the electronic version was cheaper, right? You still have to gather the content, write up articles, package the whole thing, format it, and post it. But electronic posting can't have near the costs of print production and distribution. So the price should have gone way down, right?
Douglas County Libraries serves all the citizens of the county. The Douglas County School District is part of the county. And yet, in many cases, both of us continued to buy two "copies" of the same products.
On the one hand, you can't blame the publishers. The sales networks grew organically. Clearly, there was more profit in making two sales than one. And as I've mentioned, schools and libraries don't often compare purchases.
On the other hand, the staff of the Douglas County Libraries told our vendors the harsh truth: we do talk to each other now. Our two organizations simply can't afford to buy the same product twice anymore. Here's the deal: we want one price, and we want everybody to have access to it, not only at the library, not only at the schools, but anywhere in the county.
We learned something important. Some vendors -- and I want to call out Gale Research as one of them -- absolutely got it. It's a recession for us, too, they said. We can't do business like we used to. Neither can you. If you're going to greatly increase the number of people that use a subscription, we need a bump in the price, but we understand that you can't pay double.
So we had a new kind of conversation with the business community. How do we craft a sustainable arrangement not only for the public sector, but for the private? If you go out of business, we said, that's no good for us. But if you try to price yourself so high that we can't afford you, then you go out of business.
Now, you have a more tightly focused, aggressively negotiated list of electronic resources, paid for by the Douglas County Libraries, that is available from the library, from the schools, and from home. From the libraries and schools, you don't even have to put in your library card number.
Oh, and we saved about $100,000 for the taxpayers of Douglas County.
Meanwhile, the use of these resources has skyrocketed. The range is from 150% to almost 3,500%.
But let me underscore what may not be clear. Libraries and schools have similar missions. They're not the same.
Yet I thought county residents would appreciate knowing that both entities cast a shrewd eye on our shared environment. For you.
LaRue's Views are his own.