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.