Public libraries and personal computers (1)

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.

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