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.
March 4, 2010 - business is booming at the library
Lately we've been posting little flip camera interviews of our patrons on our website. These are folks that have a library story to tell. Since libraries are in the story telling business, it makes sense to collect a few of our own.
One of those stories was from our patron Kay Romer. She talks about how when she first came to Douglas County, the library was a way for her to establish herself in the community. Now, she says, the library is her "Cheers," where everybody knows her name.
We've also been playing with the ability to turn on the "comment" feature on our website for all kinds of postings. And one patron made a comment about Kay's video that caught my attention.
He wrote, "It would be interesting to see the number of people coming into libraries compared to years past (obviously adjusting for population growth), and segmented by visitors checking out books versus using the Internet."
It happens we have those numbers, and he's right: it IS interesting.
In 2005, the population of Douglas County was 239,166. At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 290,311 people. So that's a 21% increase in people over 5 years.
Visits to the library grew from 1,374,247 in 2005 to 1,947,814 last year. That's a growth of 42%.
Finally, checkouts went from 4,512,496 in 2005 to 7,911,290 in 2009 -- a growth of 75%. Those checkouts, divided by our population, work out to about 27 per person. By contrast, the number of people who used our Internet computers last year works out to one use per person.
So what does all that mean? It means that library visits grew twice as fast as the population; library checkouts grew three and a half times faster.
Meanwhile, checking things out is 27 times more popular than the Internet.
I suspect some people will find those numbers surprising. They believe that "nobody goes to the library anymore," or "it's all online," or "nobody reads books these days." But the numbers say otherwise: at the library, business is booming. And it's still mostly about books.
Incidentally, do YOU have a library story? We're looking for those moments when a librarian or a a library service really made a difference. Maybe we helped you find a lifelong passion. Maybe we helped you start or grow your business.
If you do have such a story, let one of our librarians know, and we'll shoot a little video of you, too. It just takes a few minutes. Alternatively, you can type in your story at this website: www.lrs.org/transform/. (The Library Research Service is a part of the Colorado State Library.) The lives of our patrons are fascinating and often inspiring. They're even more interesting than numbers.
LaRue's Views are his own.