Archive for September, 2012

Public libraries and personal computers (1)

Posted in $4 on September 28th, 2012

Have you ordered your personal or library copy of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) yet? (That’s the $21.95 paperback; there’s also the $11.99 PDF and the $31.50 hardbound, especially suitable for LIS collections and other libraries with significant holdings about libraries.) While you’re thinking about it–and noting that the book is mostly several hundred tables, with very little of my own commentary to bias your use or judgments–here’s another bit of commentary about overall figures (I’ll start moving to libraries-by-size comments soon).

Three of the eleven metrics in the book relate to library computers with internet access available for patron use–let’s call them PCs for short. One of those might be redundant; I’m not sure. (The state-by-state tables only have one of the three.) Some comments about two of the metrics: actual number of computers in a library/system, and average reported use of such computers per capita (where, as always, the “capita” is based on legal service area population, not the usually-smaller actual registered patron count).

Number of personal computers with internet access

This raw-count metric is also likely to depend heavily on library size, and it’s one where the brackets have considerably different numbers of libraries because of the data. A mere 5% of libraries (mostly, presumably, library systems) have at least 100 PCs—as compared to 18% with 6 to 8 PCs (the largest group). I find the narrow range of median expenditures across number-of-PCs brackets a little surprising: the median for 20-39 PCs is $34.65 and the median for 0-3 PCs is $27.46, four-fifths as much.

Personal computer use per capita

Availability of personal computers with internet access is nearly (but not quite**) ubiquitous in U.S. public libraries and fairly clearly an important service for many patrons. It’s another service where the metric—frequency of reported use per patron—varies directly with library spending per capita and where median benefit ratios vary in the same manner but over a small range, unlike expenditures.

The top bracket shows at least 3.5 uses per capita; that bracket has fewer libraries than others, but still 8% of the total. At the other extreme, 16% of the libraries show less than one use for every two patrons. The median overall is 1.14 uses—and, as you’d expect given the consistency of the metric brackets, median use for each budget category consistently increases. The one-use-per-capita breakpoint is $26: That is, the median for $26-$30 budgets is 1.15 while that for $21-$25 budgets is 0.97. (The 75%ile, marking the bottom of the top quarter of libraries for a given budget category, is more than one use per capita for all but the lowest budget category—but it’s up to more than four uses for the highest.)

These are overall figures for 8,659 libraries (as always, excluding a few hundred libraries that don’t report adequately, don’t have at least a quarter-time librarian, or spend very little (less than $5 per capita) or a lot (at least $400 per capita).

A note on sales benchmarks

None of this needs to concern you, but…

In the back of my mind, I have a few informal benchmarks for how this book–and this project–is doing.

  • It’s about to reach the point at which “abject failure” ceases to apply, and given that it’s been out for less than a month, I’m happy with that. Benchmark One reached on October 1, 2012, less than a month after the book appeared. Thanks!
  • The next benchmark would be “mild success.” That one’s a ways away…
  • After that comes “successful enough to replicate next year.” Even further away, but I’ll keep hoping.
  • And after that is “successful enough to reduce the price of the PDF.” I’d be surprised if it ever does that well, frankly, but I’d love to be surprised.

The second benchmark is basically twice the first. I’m reasonably hopeful on that. The third benchmark is basically half of the fourth. There’s a hypothetical benchmark, but I’m not sure how it plays out: Is there enough demand for a year-to-year comparison (if that’s plausible to do) to do one? Since I haven’t attempted to answer the “if” part yet…

Oh: One other factor. I mentioned the possibility of state or regional custom profiles, and there’s now the possibility of doing one such profile as part of a conference speaking engagement. While I’m not likely to go on The Speaking Circuit (my wife would rather not have me gone more than a very few times a year, and I’m getting too old for too much non-vacation travel), I do love state & regional library conferences (and most library conferences), so that’s also a possibility for, say, two or three cases a year–but there’s no limit on the number of (paid) state/regional custom profiles I could do. I’d count any custom profile or speaking engagement toward the benchmarks at some reasonable level.

Hmm. Maybe in a couple of weeks I should do a clearer post about what a custom profile might involve.


**But not quite? Of the 8,659 libraries included in the tables, 28 report no (0) public computers with internet access. Two of those are large libraries (serving more than 100,000 people). Among the 649 libraries omitted from the tables, 60 report no (0) PCs and quite a few more simply didn’t report that or many other numbers. But of 8,659 libraries, 99.7% have at least one personal computer available for public use.

When you’re wrong on the message…

Posted in Libraries on September 27th, 2012

…attack the messenger, using whatever tactics are necessary.

That, apparently, is appropriate public relations, at least if you’re the American Chemical Society and the message is that your e-journal bundles are priced out of reach of smaller institutions with library directors who behave responsibly.

Background

The American Chemical Society (henceforth ACS) is, no doubt, an important professional society. It publishes 41 journals, including some highly-regarded ones. It also accredits undergrad chemistry departments at universities and colleges (one easy way to support that accreditation is to subscribe to the ACS journals, although it turns out that’s not the only way).

And it charges a lot for institutional access to the journals in electronic form, making substantial profits that support other aspects of ACS.

Tangent: Brian Crawford of ACS was for years, and may still be, a prominent opponent of open access and other attempts to reform scholarly communication, misleadingly suggesting that OA would undermine peer review among other questionable statements. I’ve mentioned him several times, usually quoting others.

Also tangent: I’ve argued for years that it’s wholly unreasonable of professional societies, including ACS, to subsidize their operations at the expense of college and university libraries–and that in the long run it’s unsupportable. As a humanist, I’m acutely aware that science, technology and medicine subscriptions can and will chew up all of a library’s acquisitions budget, leaving no room for the monographs and other resources that humanists and social scientists require. While the OA situation may not be directly relevant to this discussion, the “bleeding libraries dry to support professional society operations” situation is, I think, directly relevant–but it’s still background.

SUNY Potsdam has a relatively small chemistry department. The university librarian, Jenica Rogers, has kept the chemistry faculty informed on the growing cost of the ACS bundle and the difficulties it posed for the library.

ACS has been moving to “value-based pricing,” a process that, for this year, would have SUNY Potsdam spending 10% of its entire acquisitions budget just to provide access to the ACS journals. Jenica Rogers discussed the situation with the faculty and concluded that it just wasn’t workable: That SUNY Potsdam would have to drop the bundle and support its chemistry department through other means. It was a carefully considered move, and one Rogers was reluctant to make. She knows the ACS journals offer quality resources. She also knows that state support for the university libraries has been shrinking and that it’s her professional duty to see that funds are allocated appropriately.

The chemistry department supported Rogers’ decision. So did the university administration. It was, under the circumstances, the only reasonable thing to do.

More tangent. It’s not just SUNY Potsdam and it’s not just academic libraries. Steve Kolowich wrote “Paying by the Pound for Journals” on December 2, 2010 at Inside Higher Ed, noting the ACS situation and its effects on corporate and government libraries as well as smaller academic libraries, including one where a university’s price for digital access to the ACS bundle would go up 1,861 percent in 2011. In that article, Glenn Ruskin said it was “misguided” to suggest that ACS was trying to control price increases for academic institutions by overpricing access for corporate and government subscribers. Maybe he had a point there: ACS was also ready to overprice academic access.

Foreground

Jenica Rogers explained SUNY Potsdam’s decision clearly and eloquently in “Walking away from the American Chemical Society,” posted September 13, 2012 on her first-rate blog, Attempting Elegance. If you haven’t already done so, you should read the post. Read the comments as well, to get some indication of other institutions dealing with this–and just how long ACS journal pricing policies have been problematic (one Nobel laureate apparently quit the society because of the policies). You’ll also see an anonymous comment attacking the decision and praising ACS. I’ll wait.  (You may also want to read “kittens, glitter, and unicorns,” posted September 17, 2012, about the reactions to the original post.)

Jennifer Howard of the Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed Rogers and wrote “As Chemistry Journals’ Prices Rise, a Librarian Just Says No” (published September 26, 2012: if you’re not a CHE subscriber, you may not be able to read it; Howard was kind enough to send me an accessible version). As you’d expect, Howard asked ACS for comment–and got this back:

“We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed,” Glenn S. Ruskin, the group’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. “As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.”

Say what? That was my reaction, and I suspect it held for quite a few others. Ruskin doesn’t respond to the actual decision and its background; instead, he attacks bloggers and list participants for lacking “logic, balance and common courtesy” and basically says “we’ll talk to you in private and off the record.” It’s probably worth talking about non-disclosure agreements and the damage they do to libraries in general, but that’s another discussion, and not one I’m qualified to make.

Rogers wasn’t thrilled with Ruskin’s response, and said so in “Respecting your customers,” posted September 26, 2012–I know, that’s yesterday, this has turned into a fast-moving story, one I was originally planning to ignore. Go read that one too: It’s short and to the point.

Where it all turns sour…

Ah, but it turns out Ruskin was misinterpreted–or the lack of a comma after “listservs” was vitally important. As he made clear in later email (to the blogger at ChemBark), he wasn’t writing off blogs and lists in general. Nope, he was attacking one particular notably female blogger who he chose not to name. Quoting directly from quoted material in “ACS to Bloggers: Shove It” (posted September 26, 2012 and updated to include this quote):

It was not my intention, nor the intention of ACS, to denigrate blogs or users/contributors of blogs.   My comment was directed toward the blog that was the subject of the CHE story.  Unfortunately, CHE did not use the totality of my comment as I think it would have been clear that I was speaking specifically to the blog that was the point of the story.  Here is the totality of my statement (bolded section was omitted by CHE):

“We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed.  As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.  Therefore, we will not be offering any response  to this blog posting or the conversation that has ensued.

I respect and appreciate responsible bloggers, those that thoughtfully engage on those blogs as well as those that utilize listservs.  No insult was intended, and apologies to those that interpreted the comment that way.  These outlets provide important avenues to further dialogue and collaboration and are valuable assets in the ever evolving digital age.

The individual responsible for the above cited blog certainly has the right to her opinion, but that does not excuse rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees. While not evident in the most recent postings, I won’t repeat what she has posted in the past.  But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic.

“Vulgarity and profanity postings”? I don’t remember any particular vulgarity or profanity in Rogers’ posts, and certainly not in the CHE article. It is, of course, true that pointing to “vulgarity and profanity postings” is a classic way to derail an actual discussion: “You used bad language so I won’t attempt to deal with your actual message.”

But Rogers didn’t use bad language in her posts.

Ah, but when Rogers-responded to Ruskin’s attack (in a list post at CHMINF-L–responding to his statement on, ahem, that same list–ah, but it’s not a Listserv, since it uses Sympa list software, not Lyris’ trademarked Listserv, so I guess it’s OK), he responded by sending Rogers a screenshot from a Friendfeed conversation.

Here’s the thing. The Library Society of the World on Friendfeed is a few hundred library folks who feel free to let our (yes, “our”) hair down and talk about a variety of things–serious library issues, earworms, whatever. Frequently including frustration over serious library issues. Freque

Rogers is a relatively young and extremely talented university librarian. She’s female. She’s young (under 50, by quite a few years). She’s a librarian. Oh, and she frequently says what she means–always eloquently, always professionally on her blog, but more casually on Friendfeed.

Yes, she used Bad Language on Friendfeed. So have I. So has almost everybody in LSW who actually contributes to discussions. Sometimes you need to let off steam.

I really should call Jenica P. Rogers “Jenica,” since I’ve met her, “chatted” with her and regard her as a valued acquaintance, but I also regard her as a valuable library director and one of many younger librarians who convince me that the future of libraries is in good hands, so I’m giving her last-name respect.

I’ve been privileged to know dozens (maybe hundreds) of library directors in my long non-career, including quite a few of the Biggies, directors of ARL libraries. I’ve been around some of them in informal settings. Guess what? Nearly all of them have been known to let off steam, using some well-chosen words they wouldn’t use in a professional setting.

Doesn’t make them less professional. Does make them more human.

Rogers is an easy target: She’s a she. She’s under 50. She’s a librarian. She says what she thinks.

She’s also a stupid target–because she’s right. She worked with her faculty. She worked with her administration. She raised serious issues.

None of which is vitiated by the fact that Rogers occasionally uses informal languagein an informal setting. As most of us who are living, breathing human beings do.

Just at a guess, if Dick Dougherty (oh, sorry, Richard Dougherty) had raised those issues when he was the University Librarian at UC Berkeley–older, male, and at a big campus that has had to cancel large numbers of serials several times because nobody’s budget can handle some price increases–you wouldn’t get a PR person pointing out that Dougherty’s a motorcycle rider who’s been known to use colorful language, and thus should be ignored or treated contemptuously.

But that’s just a guess.

Reading more…

This has already gone on too long. I’m not even the right person to be saying this. I shock easily (I’m old). I’ve never been shocked by anything Jenica Rogers has said. I was shocked by Gleen Ruskin’s behavior.

For further reading, I’ll suggest (among others):

 

 

Give Us a Dollar: A budget table in detail

Posted in $4 on September 26th, 2012

Before regaling (?) you with more commentary on the close-up picture of America’s public libraries in FY2010, as provided through several hundred tables in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–also available as a DRM-free PDF or a library-ready hardback–it might make sense to step through one or two of the tables in detail to help show how it works.

There are mostly what I call benchmark tables and budget tables (each budget table printed as a single table combining two logical tables to save space).

The benchmark tables have rows based on the measure of a certain metric–e.g., for circulation per capita, the top row is 24+, the second row is 17-23 (which means “17.00 to 23.99″) and the bottom row is 0-1 (that is, 0-1.99). Other columns show the percentage of libraries in that row, the cumulative percentage from the top down, the median benefit ratio for the libraries in that row (the number at which half the libraries are at least that high and half are no higher), and the median expenditures per capita for that row.

The budget tables have rows based on expenditures per capita, and the rows are the same in all budget tables–e.g., $73-$399[.99] as the top row, $5-$11[.99] as the bottom.

The 16 libraries with $400 or more per capita spending and the 144 with less than $5.00 were omitted. Those 16 libraries must be doing some remarkable work in their communities…

Columns show the 25%ile, median and 75%ile for a given metric–that is, respectively, the point at which one-quarter of the libraries fall at or below that number, the point at which half fall at or below and half fall at or above, and the point at which three-quarters fall at or below the number.

Let’s step through one such table–the table for circulation per capita in Chapter 11, which covers libraries serving 6,800 to 8,699 people. (This table also appears in the commentary coming in the November Cites & Insights, along with a scatterplot that shows why I rely on tables rather than graphs for this book.) If you’re wondering, 6,800 to 8,699 is, as with every chapter (3-19), roughly 510 libraries (actually 503 in this case) and roughly one-seventeenth of the full set of 8,659 libraries covered in tables. Eight chapters cover smaller libraries, eight cover larger ones–these libraries, which I think of as “larger small libraries,” are the halfway point.

Here’s the table:

$/cap

Circulation per cap

25%

Med

75%

$73-$399

13.23

16.99

24.19

$53-$72

9.81

15.48

20.85

$43-$52

8.07

11.18

15.76

$36-$42

8.07

10.40

13.71

$31-$35

6.99

9.97

12.21

$26-$30

5.78

7.98

11.00

$21-$25

5.27

6.98

9.05

$17-$20

4.58

6.05

8.69

$12-$16

2.57

4.11

5.35

$5-$11

1.66

2.78

3.82

Overall

4.86

8.10

13.29

What does this tell us? First, half the libraries in this size category circulated 8.10 items per capita (potential borrowers, not just actual registered patrons) or more, half 8.10 or less. The lowest quarter circulated 4.86 or less; the highest, 13.29 or more.

But those are the overall numbers. In this case, it’s consistently true that the median circulation goes up as expenditures per capita rise. (That’s always true in general, but in some groups of libraries there are row pairs where it’s not, frequently because there are very few libraries in a given expenditures bracket.) So:

  • Half the worst-funded libraries ($5-$11.99 per capita) circulated 2.78 per capita or less, and half of those circulated 1.66 or less–and the busiest quarter circulated 3.82 or more.
  • Add a little money, add a little circ, but with a lot of overlap. Thus, for libraries spending $12-$16.99 per capita, the lowest quarter circulated less than the lowest half of the $5-$11 libraries, but the highest half circulated significantly more: 4.11 or more for half the libraries and 5.35 or more for the busiest quarter.
  • A little more money, a little more circ: three-quarters of the libraries spending $17-$20.99 circulated more items per capita than the halfway point for $12-$16.99 (that is, the 25%ile is 4.58, compared to 4.11 as the median on the lower row), and the halfway point is almost 50% higher than for the less-well-funded libraries.
  • And so on, step by step: Overall, when you add funding, you get more circulation per capita–probably due in part to longer hours and a fresher collection. It’s not neat: There’s always overlap, even at the top. But it’s consistent.

That’s the budget table. Because it’s dealing with percentiles, some may find it confusing, but it shows how your library fits in. In this case, if you’re in a library that serves 7,500 people, spends $165,000 (excluding capital expenses) and circulates 60,000 items, you’re in the second quarter for similarly-funded similar-size libraries: Definitely in the top half (6.98 and above), definitely not in the top quarter (9.05 and above). Your circulation level would be almost exactly average if you were spending, say, $195,000…but since you seem to be a relatively efficient library, you could reasonably aim for, say, 75,000 circulation, or even try to get to the top quartile for that better funding at 82,500 or more.

That’s one table out of hundreds in the book.

Program attendance: overall notes

Posted in $4 on September 24th, 2012

Of course big libraries will have more programs than small libraries and well-funded libraries are likely to have richer sets of diverse programs than poorly-funded ones. What’s a reasonable target for programming of all sorts (noting that the definition of a program may vary)?

Healthy and varied programs help to keep a library central to its community, if a library can communicate and plan well enough so that those programs are well-attended. I’m not sure what all is included in program attendance as reported to the IMLS; I am sure it’s valuable.

But the total program attendance for the 8,659 libraries studied in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-2013) is only 86.2 million–which is a lot, but means that, assigning a conservative $10 for the worth of each attendance, programs account for 2% of the total IMLS-reported benefits calculated in the book. (Increasing the assumed value to $15 or decreasing it to $5 would make very little difference in overall benefits–adding or subtracting 1% overall.)

By the numbers, it’s fairly clear. One-third of libraries have at least one program attendance for every two potential patrons—and nearly one-third have less than one program attendance for every five potential patrons.

Once again, median expenditures per capita goes up consistently with each increase in program attendance. Skipping the top and bottom brackets, libraries averaging 0.11 to 0.19 attendance per capita had median expenditures of $22.10, while those averaging 0.7 to 1.09 attendance spent $45.29.

The expenditures table also shows consistent bracket-by-bracket increases at all quartiles, more consistency than I’d expect for what’s a relatively small portion of library benefits.

The overall median is one program attendance for every three patrons—and only the first quartile of the highest expenditures category ($73-$399) is above the one-attendance mark, at 1.48.

But those are overall figures. Your library should compare itself to libraries serving roughly the same number of people and libraries in the same state, and here the numbers can vary widely. To pick an admittedly extreme example, while 9% of the libraries overall had at least 1.1 program attendance per capita, 29% of libraries serving fewer than 700 patrons met that mark.

Admittedly, it may seem less impressive for a very small library to achieve 770 total attendance than it would be for a library serving 54,000 patrons to achieve 59,400 total attendance–and six libraries in the 54,000-104,999 bracket did have at least 1.1 program attendance per capita, although none of the largest libraries, those serving 105,000 and up, managed.

 

Libraries that can do more, do more

Posted in $4 on September 20th, 2012

That’s not really a truism, but it’s at the heart of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13): The actual numbers strongly indicate that, at nearly all levels of funding, public libraries continue to provide excellent value as funding increases. (It’s not a truism because there’s frequently suspicion that funding institutions above a certain level leads to inefficiency and wasteful spending. That’s probably true for some institutions; I’d guess that it’s very rarely true for public libraries.)

The book as a tool is designed to help libraries see where they stand (or stood in FY10, the latest figures nationally available) compared to libraries serving similar size populations and with similar funding (or, alternatively, those in the same state) and how libraries with better funding stand on similar metrics.

It’s not complete; it can’t be, since public libraries serve individual communities and many of their services just won’t show up in the IMLS reporting. It’s also not definitive proof, to be sure. Some libraries are more efficient than others at doing certain things or in general, even those funded well enough that they’re not in dollar-squeezing survival mode. Additionally, since it’s not a longitudinal study (making comparisons over time), it’s inherently not proof.

But the tables are, I believe, compelling. I’m providing posts on a few of the more interesting stories (and, based on feedback, I shouldn’t filter what’s “interesting” too much!), but they’re a small part of the whole picture. I’ll keep doing the posts from time to time (and at least one C&I essay with even more notes). But if you can cope with tables and find the details of America’s public library usage interesting, I think you’d find the book worthwhile even if you’re not a public librarian trying to justify budget increases (or retention). (That’s also why I did the hardbound edition: Ideally, it would sell at least 40+ copies, one for each library school.)

(Is a longitudinal study worth doing? IMLS’ reports do an excellent job on the overall picture over time. Doing a much more detailed picture…well, if there was demand…)

Reference transactions, such as they are

Posted in $4 on September 18th, 2012

A quick little item based on Chapter 2 (The Overall Picture) in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13):

There’s very little question There seems to be a common assumption that reference transactions have declined over the years in public as well as academic libraries (slowly for public libraries). That may be entirely reasonable: web resources make it much easier for patrons to answer more of their own questions.

Inserted October 1: Oops. I went back and looked at the IMLS figures for 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Reference transactions per capita in public libraries may be declining, but that’s not the clear trend for raw figures.

Yes, there was a drop from FY2009 to FY2010–but the drop is only about 0.2%, 686 thousand out of 309.99 million. And that follows a more than 2% increase from FY2008 to FY2009: from 301 million to nearly 310 million. And a similar increase from FY2007 to FY2008: from 292.48 million to 301.01 million.

Ah, but there’s a 1% decline from FY2006 (294.99 million) to FY2007 (292.48 million)–and a 2.5% decline from FY2005 (303.51 million) to FY2006 (294.99 million). Jumping back to 1999, there were 294.6 million transactions.

So: Long-term trend? Unclear. What is fairly clear: Reference transactions haven’t been growing as rapidly as circulation–but they’re not disappearing either.

Back in 1995, I posited that robust public libraries averaged more than two reference transactions per capita and that strong ones averaged 1.3 to two transactions. But only 9% of public libraries averaged at least two reference transactions per capita in FY2010, and only 10% more averaged 1.25 to 1.99 transactions.

I suspect one reference question for every two (potential) patrons may be a reasonable measure of fairly strong activity; just over half of the libraries did at least that much reference.

Still, there’s a distinct correlation between expenditures per capita and reference transactions; perhaps better-funded libraries are able to staff reference desks (or combined service desks) more consistently and offer roving reference.

At one extreme, libraries averaging two or more reference transactions per capita had a median expenditure of $54.13 per capita; those averaging less than 0.06 (that is, fewer than six reference questions per hundred patrons) had a median expenditure of $18.62. The expenditures table once again shows consistent change: the more a library spends, the more reference questions it’s likely to answer.

[We'll move on to chapters 3-19, each covering roughly 510 libraries serving about the same number of people, real soon now.]

“America’s Biggest Library”

Posted in Libraries on September 18th, 2012

A colleague shared a link to an interesting story on Banoosh with this intriguing headline: “Abandoned Walmart Now America’s Biggest Library

The story is about a closed Wal-mart in McAllen, Texas being remodeled into a public library. Here’s the key paragraph:

Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle transformed an abandoned Walmart in McAllen, Texas, into a 124,500-square-foot public library, the largest single-floor public library in the United States.

Seeing the two key qualifiers in that sentence–”single-floor” and “public”–I was ready to blame the headline writer. But, oops, backing up a sentence, we get:

But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library.

No qualifiers. The nation’s largest library. Which caused my BS-meter to go straight into the red zone.

I can pretty much guarantee that there are dozens of academic libraries with more than 124,500 square feet of space, and that the Library of Congress has a whole bunch more space than that.

As for public libraries? Well, as fate other research would have it, I had a handy copy of the IMLS FY2010 Public Library Outlet dataset on hand (the Outlet dataset includes all branches and bookmobiles; I use the other report, that’s just libraries and systems, for most of my research). That dataset includes square footage.

McAllen would appear to be the 72nd largest public library building in the U.S., assuming no other huge libraries have been built since 2010. There’s a little library about 462 miles from McAllen, but still in Texas, that’s a little more than five times as large (Dallas Public at 646,753 square feet) and one 225 miles away that’s 1.9 times as large (San Antonio PL at 238,000 square feet).

Not putting down the McAllen project: That’s a great use of reclaimed space and a good-size public library. But the largest library or biggest library? Not even close, not even in Texas.

For obsessives only

Here’s the list, from largest down (click on the post title to get the sidebar out of the way, although it’s still gonna be wide…)

STABR LIBNAME CITY SQ_FEET
MA BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY BOSTON 970,000
IL CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY CHICAGO 756,000
NY STEPHEN A. SCHWARZMAN BUILDING NEW YORK 660,000
TX DALLAS PUBLIC LIBRARY DALLAS 646,733
OH CINCINNATI AND HAMILTON COUNTY, PL OF CINCINNATI 544,202
CA CENTRAL LIBRARY LOS ANGELES 538,802
CO DENVER PUBLIC LIBRARY DENVER 538,350
CA DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. LIBRARY SAN JOSE 475,000
WI MILWAUKEE PUBLIC LIBRARY MILWAUKEE 457,919
MI DETROIT PUBLIC LIBRARY DETROIT 420,000
NY BUFFALO & ERIE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM BUFFALO 403,000
DC MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MEMORIAL LIBRARY WASHINGTON 400,000
CA MAIN LIBRARY SAN FRANCISCO 376,000
IN ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY FORT WAYNE 367,000
WA CENTRAL LIBRARY SEATTLE 362,987
MN CENTRAL LIBRARY MINNEAPOLIS 353,000
MD ENOCH PRATT CENTRAL BALTIMORE 349,713
TN MEMPHIS PUBLIC LIBRARY AND INFORMATION CENTER MEMPHIS 330,000
FL ALVIN SHERMAN LIBRARY, RESEARCH & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CTR FORT LAUDERDALE 325,000
OH CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY CLEVELAND 324,450
NJ BAYONNE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY BAYONNE 307,560
OH TOLEDO-LUCAS COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY TOLEDO 302,693
FL MAIN LIBRARY JACKSONVILLE 300,000
NY BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY BROOKLYN 300,000
TN NASHVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY NASHVILLE 300,000
FL ORLANDO PUBLIC LIBRARY ORLANDO 295,000
PA FREE LIBRARY OF PHILADELPHIA PHILADELPHIA 286,556
AZ BURTON BARR CENTRAL LIBRARY PHOENIX 280,000
OH COLUMBUS METROPOLITAN LIBRARY COLUMBUS 279,200
TX HOUSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY HOUSTON 268,663
GA AFPL – CENTRAL LIBRARY ATLANTA 265,155
FL BROWARD COUNTY MAIN LIBRARY FORT LAUDERDALE 256,000
NY SCIENCE, INDUSTRY AND BUSINESS LIBRARY NEW YORK 250,000
SC RICHLAND COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY COLUMBIA 242,000
UT SALT LAKE CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY HEADQUARTERS SALT LAKE CITY 240,000
TX SAN ANTONIO PUBLIC LIBRARY SAN ANTONIO 238,000
AL BIRMINGHAM PUBLIC – CENTRAL DOWNTOWN LIBRARY BIRMINGHAM 229,800
NY QUEENS BOROUGH PUBLIC LIBRARY JAMAICA 217,750
FL MAIN LIBRARY, MIAMI-DADE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM MIAMI 200,000
NY ROCHESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY ROCHESTER 200,000
MO CENTRAL LIBRARY ST. LOUIS 190,870
KS TOPEKA AND SHAWNEE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY TOPEKA 178,600
MO CENTRAL LIBRARY KANSAS CITY 175,000
TX FORT WORTH LIBRARY FORT WORTH 175,000
KY LOUISVILLE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY LOUISVILLE 167,031
IL SCHAUMBURG TOWNSHIP DISTRICT LIBRARY SCHAUMBURG 166,501
CA SACRAMENTO CENTRAL LIBRARY SACRAMENTO 160,000
NY MID-MANHATTAN LIBRARY NEW YORK 159,880
NC CHARLOTTE MECKLENBURG LIBRARY CHARLOTTE 156,000
MI GRAND RAPIDS PUBLIC LIBRARY GRAND RAPIDS 153,000
MA WORCESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY WORCESTER 150,000
PA CARNEGIE LIBRARY OF PITTSBURGH PITTSBURGH 148,845
IN EVANSVILLE-VANDERBURGH PUBLIC LIBRARY EVANSVILLE 147,500
LA NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC LIBRARY NEW ORLEANS 146,902
FL JOHN F. GERMANY PUBLIC LIBRARY TAMPA 145,061
CA SAN DIEGO CENTRAL LIBRARY SAN DIEGO 144,560
AK Z. J. LOUSSAC LIBRARY ANCHORAGE 140,000
IL GAIL BORDEN PUBLIC LIBRARY DISTRICT ELGIN 139,980
NY NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS, NEW YORK 138,384
LA JEFFERSON PARISH LIBRARY METAIRIE 135,777
CA MAIN LIBRARY LONG BEACH 135,000
CA PASADENA CENTRAL LIBRARY PASADENA 135,000
CT HARTFORD PUBLIC LIBRARY HARTFORD 135,000
IN MONROE COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY BLOOMINGTON 135,000
OK CENTRAL LIBRARY TULSA 135,000
IL SKOKIE PUBLIC LIBRARY SKOKIE 133,190
AR CENTRAL ARKANSAS LIBRARY LITTLE ROCK 132,000
IL ARLINGTON HEIGHTS MEMORIAL LIBRARY ARLINGTON HEIGHTS 132,000
CA BEALE MEMORIAL LIBRARY BAKERSFIELD 128,165
OR CENTRAL LIBRARY PORTLAND 125,000

Corrigenda

Posted in $4 on September 18th, 2012

Doing a post-publication pass of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13), working on commentary, I’ve discovered three minor transcription errors and about half a dozen formatting infelicities.

Errors

On page 29, in Chapter 2 (libraries serving fewer than 700 patrons), the Circulation per capita benchmark table contains an error in the bottom row (0-1 circulation per capita). It should say 20 libraries rather than 30, and 4% rather than 6%. None of the other numbers are affected.

Here’s the corrected table, with changed numbers shown in bold italic.

Circ/cap Count % Cum% BenR $/Cap
24+ 58 12% 8.50 $90.46
17-23 40 8% 20% 7.92 $61.21
13-16 51 10% 30% 7.68 $48.88
10-12 85 17% 47% 6.99 $41.49
8-9 46 9% 56% 7.47 $41.24
6-7 76 15% 71% 7.28 $37.79
4-5 64 13% 84% 7.22 $33.64
2-3 61 12% 96% 6.25 $31.73
0-1 20 4% 100% 5.53 $26.53

On page 58, in  Chapter 8 (libraries serving 3,000 to 3,999 patrons), the PCs benchmark table contains an error in the next-to-bottom row. It should say 127 libraries, 25%, and 86% cumulative rather than 117 libraries, 23%, and 84% cumulative.

Here’s the corrected table, again with changes in bold italic.

PCs Count % Cum% BenR $/Cap
100+ 0 0%
40-99 0 0% 0%
20-39 13 3% 3% 5.22 $57.77
13-19 39 8% 10% 6.46 $43.80
9-12 92 18% 28% 6.18 $33.41
6-8 167 33% 61% 6.16 $31.69
4-5 127 25% 86% 6.06 $23.73
0-3 72 14% 100% 6.06 $19.44

Finally, on page 219 (Oklahoma libraries), in the Program Attendance per Capita benchmark table, the top row should say 4 libraries rather than 5, and 3% rather than 4%. All cumulative %age figures are changed by 1%.

Here’s the corrected table with modified numbers shown in bold italics.

Att/cap Count % Cum% BenR $/Cap
1.1+ 4 3% 8.15 $36.34
0.7-1.09 12 10% 14% 5.80 $40.36
0.5-0.69 9 8% 22% 5.41 $32.41
0.4-0.49 10 9% 30% 6.61 $30.54
0.3-0.39 12 10% 41% 5.85 $30.49
0.2-0.29 21 18% 59% 5.37 $21.56
0.11-0.19 14 12% 71% 6.64 $23.71
0-0.1 33 29% 100% 6.23 $22.70

In none of the three tables are the $/cap or BenR figures wrong.

Formatting

Some half dozen benchmark tables have the figures left-aligned rather than right-aligned, but the figures are correct.

Fixes

For any copies purchased after about 11 a.m. PDT today, these errors have been corrected.

They’re all pretty minor errors, as you can see.

If you have already purchased a copy and feel the need to have a corrected version, send me email (waltcrawford@gmail.com). If you have a PDF (as almost all purchasers do), I’ll send back a verification question to make sure you really do have a copy, then email you a new and corrected version*.

If you have one of the handful of print copies sold, I’d be happy to provide a free corrected PDF (same situation: send me email. waltcrawford@gmail.com, I’ll send you a verification question, then send you the corrected PDF). If you feel strongly that you need a brand-new print version, I’ll see what I can do*.

My apologies for the errors; I don’t believe any of them would significantly affect your library’s ability to use this book to help tell your story, but I’d rather not have made them. Still, no matter how hard we try, misteaks dew gett maid.

[Added 9/23/12]:  One other minor formatting problem was fixed in this update–the chapter headings for Chapter 20 (Libraries by state) were carrying over the headings for Chapter 19.

I’m very nearly certain there are one or two other typos in the book. I’d appreciate being informed of them, and will collect them; if there are enough, I’ll do another post and maybe even another update to the book itself.

[Added 9/26/12]: After two more careful scans and some machine double-checks, I encountered three or four trivial typos (none of which should have much effect on users of this as a tool), just enough to update the book. Anybody who purchased a copy before 4:30 PDT on September 25, 2012 and desires an updated PDF should contact me; after a quick verification, I’ll email you the current PDF.


*Or, come to think of it, you could hang on to what you have: If the book does well, you’d have one of four print or 13 PDF copies of a rare flawed edition that might eventually be worth, I dunno, very little.

A dollar a week? Actual public library spending

Posted in $4 on September 17th, 2012

Most of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)* is about the effectiveness of spending money on public libraries–how various metrics relate to expenditures per capita. But there’s also the base issue of whether libraries are reasonably funded to begin with.

As with all the other metrics in this book, I based expenditure-per-capita brackets (eight to ten of them per metric) on what’s actually in the 2010 IMLS database, not what might be desirable. Given that, consider the base numbers (on page 20) for the 8,659 libraries studied–noting that a few libraries were excluded for being too well-funded ($400 or more per capita) and more than a hundred were excluded for being too poorly-funded (less than $5 per capita).

A dime a day or a dollar a week?

Way back in 1995, Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality used “a dime a day” as an expenditure measure for robust public libraries and “a nickel a day” for good libraries, in both cases using 1990 data.

But that was then. A nickel a day–$18.25 per year–in 1990 dollars is $30.46 in 2010 dollars. A dime a day–$36.50 per year–in 1990 dollars is $60.92 in 2010 dollars.

More recently, I used “a buck a week” as a reasonable target figure. That may not be equal to robust 1990 funding, but it’s better than “good” funding.

So what do we see for FY2010?

  • Just under 20% of public libraries exceeded a buck a week–that is, 1,706 (19.75) had expenditures per capita between $53 and $399.99. Roughly half of those spent between $73 and $399.99; half spent $53 to $72.99
  • Nearly half of the libraries–4,240, or 49%–spent at least $31 per weekyear, thus exceeding the 2010 equivalent of a nickel a day.
  • I’ve informally thought of the two top brackets as being “well funded” and the next three ($43-$52.99, $36-$42.99, $31-$35.99, each with almost exactly 10% of libraries) as being “reasonably well funded.” But, of course, that doesn’t take into account state and local variations in costs.
  • Unfortunately, that leaves just over half of the libraries below $31 per week.
  • I’m inclined to think of the bottom two brackets (807 libraries spending $5 to $11.99) and 881 spending $12 to $16.99) as being badly funded, and the next three (756 libraries spending $17 to $20.99, 942 spending $21 to $25.99 and 954 spending $26 to $30.99) as having mediocre funding.

Looking at the median benefit ratio for each spending bracket, you see–as you’d expect–that benefit ratios go up as spending goes down, but certainly not in a linear fashion.

If libraries that can only spend $5 to $11.99 per capita did not have unusually high benefit ratios, they’d be in even worse shape than they are–these libraries of necessity make each dollar go absurdly far, most likely relying heavily on volunteers and hoping to keep less-adequate collections going a little further. Libraries that serve their communities very well and are funded to do so–especially those spending $73 or more per capita–should have lower benefit ratios, as more of their funding is likely to go to things that don’t show up in IMLS reports (adult literacy, ESL, makerspaces, etc., etc.)

But it’s not linear. The median benefit ratio for the best-funded libraries is 3.49, while for the worst-funded (which spend one-seventh as much per capita, roughly) is 7.26, just over twice as much. In between, the range is even narrower: from 4.45 for libraries spending $55-$72.99 to 6.29 for libraries spending $12-$16.99.

Added a little later: Maybe this will make the point more clearly:

  • The midpoint for the third lowest spending bracket ($17-$20) is $18.50 per capita spending. The median benefit ratio for that bracket is 6.17, meaning that a “typical” library with that level of funding would provide $114 per capita in countable benefits.
  • The midpoint for the third highest spending bracket ($43-$52) is $47.50 and the median benefit ratio for that bracket is 4.82, meaning that a “typical” library with that level of funding would provide $229 per capita in countable benefits. The library’s spending 2.6 times as much per capita–and yielding twice as much in IMLS-reported countable benefits. That’s a really good return for vastly improved funding.

The bottom line: Libraries that are better funded continue to yield superlative value, even as better funding reduces the strain on employees and collections and allows for special programs and other features that aren’t readily countable.

It’s not possible for all public libraries to be above average. In the real world, it’s probably not feasible for all libraries to be well-funded. But with good advocacy and improving economic conditions, more libraries should be able to move up a buck per year or even to a better bracket!

But that’s the overall national picture

The table on page 20 is interesting–but in some ways the similar tables that begin each size-of-library chapter and each state section are more interesting, as they bring things down to more comparable groups.

You’ll see those (and, of course, much more) in the book. And, after you send me an email request, you’ll have your library’s FY2010 metrics in a convenient email summary to help you make best use of those and all the other tables.


*The link is for the $21.95 trade paperback. You can also buy the $11.99 PDF or $31.50 hardbound version. The PDF–identical page images to the print versions–should be easy to read on most e-devices (pages are 6×9 with wide margins).

New category for Give Us a Dollar commentary

Posted in $4 on September 14th, 2012

I’ve added a new category, $4, for the ongoing series of posts providing commentary on public library funding and activity, as exposed in the tables in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four.

I hope to add two or three commentary posts each week. We’ll see how that goes. I’d originally planned to post essentially identical brief comments here and on Google+ and Facebook. Turns out that most comments require at least two or three paragraphs to make sense (even without the footnote I should always provide, which is that these comments all relate to 94% of America’s public libraries, since I’ve left 6% of libraries–serving 2% of patrons with 0.5% of circulation–out for various reasons). So most comments will appear here (or in Cites & Insights), with briefer notes elsewhere pointing back here.

As I just posted to PUBLIB, I’m also looking for appropriate lists on which to announce–once–the availability of the book/tool, so I can reach a broader range of public librarians (especially in smaller and rural libraries) than are on PUBLIB itself. “Appropriate”: Lists where one post by an outsider, announcing a publication, wouldn’t be considered spam. If followers here know of such lists, please send me email (waltcrawford@gmail.com) or add a comment. Thanks!


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