October 2, 2002, was a day rich in irony.
On the one hand, according to the Denver Post, the Denver Public Library was, once again, awarded first place in the Hennen's American Public Library Ratings. Hennen, a Wisconsin librarian, used 2000 data to rate public libraries in 15 categories, including circulation, staffing, materials and funding levels.
The index has a theoretical minimum of 1 and a maximum of 1,000. Denver's score was 893. Hurray for DPL, which has now won the "top rating" twice in a row.
This is like the old joke: would all those people not here, please raise their hands?
The library is looking to do a special kind of focus group. In our jargon, it is a "non-user" study. In brief, we want to pull together at least two groups of ten people (one group of adults, one of teens) that do not use the library. That is, they don't have cards, they don't use our website, they don't stop by for meetings.
Then we want to ask these people, in their separate groups, to talk about how come.
I was chatting one day with a friend in another profession who said, "I'm genuinely impressed by the quality of the library's service. Every time I come in, your staff is extraordinary. How do you do that?"
First I gave the glib answer: "We hire smart people." And so we do.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was more to it than that.
A better answer is, "We know what we're looking for, and we try to make it easy for our staff to succeed."
Public employees, as I described last week, are accountable through annual evaluations, and the general oversight of their supervisors.
Elected officials are accountable to the voters. If they prove to be unresponsive, or incompetent, they get voted out of office.
But what about appointed officials? For many members of public boards, there are few performance guidelines, and virtually no way to hold members -- or the body as a whole -- up to those guidelines even if they did exist.