Give Us A Dollar: Case Study—Part 1

Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four should be useful for almost any public library, especially those in the middle—that is, not quite starving for funds but without really good funding. I call it the Middle 6,000—6,492: public libraries with at least $12 per capita funding but less than $61 per capita. (Not that I don’t believe libraries below or above that point could find the book worthwhile, but I believe it’s most relevant in the middle.)

Let’s take a plausible but fictitious public library as an example and see what the director or staff could gain from the book. While this particular public library doesn’t exist, its profile was created by averaging two New York public libraries with very similar legal service area populations (LSA). By the way, if you’re one of the few who’s purchased the book, I propose a significantly different approach for the 2010-data version: Read through to the last portion of the essay, headed “Deeper and Different?”

Fourbuck Public Library (henceforth Fourbuck) is in New York, a largish small library that’s serving Fourbuck well but could probably do more with better funding. The director sends me email after buying the book and gets back something like this as part of a reply email shortly thereafter (each label/value pair would be on a separate line, separated by a tab rather than colon-blank):

St: NY Key: NY999X LSA: 10,768 Exp: $280,057 Hrs: 2,559
Vis: 48,019 Ref: 3,590 Circ: 94,886 ILL: 23,625 Attend: 2,922 PC: 5 PCUse: 6,189
$/Cap: $26.01 Ben/Cap: $140.21 BenR: 5.39
Circ/c: 8.81 Att/c: 0.27 Ref/c: 0.33 Vis/c: 4.46 PC/c: 0.57
Hr$: $153,540 Vis$: $240,095 Ref$: $53,850 Circ$: $983,641 Att$: $29,220
PC1$: $34,035 PCU$: $49,512 PC$: $49,512
DirBen: $1,116,223 ImpBen: $393,545 Ben: $1,509,768 DirR: 3.99 ImpR: 1.41

The labels are all spelled out in Chapter 1of the book, although not quite in that order. For most libraries, the first four lines will be directly useful (and are the elements used in the book); the last three lines are derived supporting values for the Ben/Cap and BenR. (If the book takes off, with more than 50 or so copies sold and a request coming in every day or two, I might add a third column of spelled-out labels.)

Here are the spelled-out labels for the first four lines and the values for Fourbuck: State (New York); Key (NY999X); Legal Service Area population (10,768); Total operating expenses ($280,057); Hours (2,559); Visits (48,019); Reference questions (3,590); Circulation (94,886); ILL (from and to combined) 23,625; Program attendance (2,922); available internet-connected public computers (5); counted PC uses (6,189); expenses per capita ($26.01); benefits per capita ($140.21), benefit ratio (5.39).

By the time you (the director) are through the first chapter, you’ll already know that Fourbuck gets more bang per buck than most libraries, with a 5.39 benefit ratio. That may be too high (especially in a high-cost state)—it may be a sign that Fourbuck is underfunded (and, at $26.01 per capita, it’s certainly not swimming in money).

What can you find from other chapters in terms of where you stand relative to other, similar libraries?

2. Library Size Breakdowns

Fourbuck is at the bottom edge of the LSA category with the most libraries: 10,000 to 24,999, with 1,713 libraries among the 8,506 discussed in the book (and another 47 among the outliers). Given that Fourbuck is on the cusp, you might want to look at the section on libraries serving 5,000 to 9,999 libraries as well, but for the moment let’s stick to the primary category.

Dollars

per cap

Library

Count

Median figures

Circ/cap

Att/cap

Ben/cap

BenR

$5-$11

185

2.74

0.12

$56.53

6.36

$12-$16

196

3.97

0.18

$76.97

5.39

$17-$21

174

5.08

0.26

$97.72

5.11

$22-$26

166

5.54

0.31

$108.45

4.48

$27-$31

165

7.81

0.30

$134.56

4.59

$32-$37

178

8.09

0.38

$146.78

4.20

$38-$45

189

9.52

0.38

$162.43

3.82

$46-$60

195

10.54

0.47

$182.76

3.53

$61-$81

138

12.78

0.53

$234.39

3.31

$82+

127

16.51

0.84

$296.69

2.40

Overall

1,713

7.18

0.32

$132.37

4.32

Table 2.11 Selected per-capita metrics by expenditures per capita

Fourbuck is one of the 166 libraries with $22 to $26.99 per capita funding. Among those libraries, Fourbuck has substantially higher than median circulation (8.81 compared to 5.54), but it’s a little low on program attendance (0.27 compared to 0.31). Looking at the rest of the table, there’s strong evidence that Fourbuck would continue to offer excellent value if it had a dime a day funding ($36.50 per capita) or even more (a buck a week?)—and your circulation and benefits are both close to the dime-a-day level. (There’s a very high 0.71 correlation between expenditures and benefits for libraries in this size bracket: That is, the more you spend, the more you benefit the community.)

You’re in the top third of libraries in this size category for benefit ratio—Table 2.12 shows that 5.00 to 5.99 includes 14% of the libraries for a cumulative total of 36% scoring 5 or higher. Would more funding for more hours and an expanded set of programs make your library more central to the community while retaining excellent use of money? There’s a case…

To be continued: Part 2 (Tuesday, June 12, 2012), Part 3 (Wednesday, June 13, 2012) and Part 4 (Thursday, June 14, 2012).

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