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…)