Libraries Serving 105,000 Plus

As promised, this run of commentary on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) is alternating between the ends: October 8, 2012 discussed libraries serving the fewest patrons, this installment discusses libraries (mostly systems) serving the largest; the next of this set will discuss libraries serving second fewest, etc.

The 513 libraries in these tables (one extremely large library system was omitted for failing to report adequately) are, of course, quite diverse, and most of them are systems rather than single libraries. Relatively few are very well funded; relatively few are very poorly funded.

Have your (or your library) purchased your copy of the book yet? It’s only $11.99 as a PDF (no DRM), $21.95 as a paperback or $31.50 as a casebound hardcover book. I believe most public libraries would find it useful to help tell your story to maintain or improve funding, and I believe many librarians (and library schools) will find it valuable as a close-up look of public library funding and performance in FY2010. These commentaries make a lot more sense when used in conjunction with the book, which is mostly tables.

Open hours

Three-quarters of these libraries and systems are open at least 10,000 hours a year and all but 6% are open at least 4,000 hours. Astonishingly, two libraries are open 1,500 to 1,820 hours—and two others are open less than 1,040 hours a year (that is, 20 hours a week to cover at least 105,000 patrons).

Given that most of these libraries are in the largest benchmark bracket, the budget table is useful for additional detail. The numbers don’t rise entirely smoothly (once again, libraries spending $31 to $35.99 seem to be overachievers, with a median of 24,897 open hours, the highest median of any spending bracket), but for libraries spending at least $31 per capita, more than half the libraries are open at least 21,800 hours a year (419 hours a week divided among outlets)—and one-quarter are open at least 35,420 hours (681 hours per week).

Computers for patron use with internet access

You’d expect most of these large library systems to have lots of computers—and they do. Nearly two-thirds have 100 or more, and 95% have at least 40. (Still, three of these large libraries and systems have fewer than four available personal computers, although none has four to 12).

The overall median is 140 computers, with one-quarter of the libraries having 257 or more—and this time, the median does rise consistently with improved spending. Half of the worst funded libraries have 59 computers or fewer; half of the best funded have 240 or more. For the top three funding brackets ($43 and up per capita), one-quarter of the libraries have at least 400 computers available for public use.

Circulation per capita

Low at the higher end—with only 16% of the libraries circulating at least 13 items per capita, compared to 25% overall—and high in the lower, but not lowest, categories: 42% of the libraries circulate two to 5.99 items per capita, compared to 31% for libraries in general. Expenditures per capita do track consistently with circulation, and—excluding the top and bottom brackets—the benefit ratio range is fairly small, from 4.15 to 5.05.

Looking at circ from a budget perspective, half of the libraries in the top two spending brackets circulate at least 14 items per capita, and median circulation does track with spending.

Reference transactions per capita

Here, the largest libraries track high, with 42% having at least 0.9 reference transactions per capita (compared to 29% overall) and 82% having at least 0.35 (compared to 62% overall). Only 20 libraries, 4%, fall into the two lowest brackets, compared with 18% overall. Expenditures track reference transactions consistently, from $11.93 as the median for the four libraries averaging less than one transaction per 20 patrons to $50.27 for the 57 libraries averaging two or more transactions per patron.

The median for libraries this size is 0.74, nearly 50% higher than the national median of 0.52—and half of the libraries spending at least $36 per capita have at least one reference transaction per capita (including three-quarters of libraries spending at least $53).

Program attendance per capita

None of these libraries and systems was able to attract 1.1 or more attendance per capita and only nine managed to reach 0.7 to 1.09. (Nationally, 21% of libraries are in those top two brackets.) Most libraries—54%—fall between 0.11 and 0.29 attendance per capita. Expenditures do track consistently with program attendance on the benchmark side, a bit less so on the budget side. Even for the best-funded libraries, only half managed more than 0.4 attendance per capita and only one-quarter managed at least 0.57. The median is 0.21, roughly one program attendance for each five patrons, less than two-thirds of the median for all libraries.

Patron visits per capita

These numbers also tend low, with only 15% of libraries having at least seven visits per capita (compared to 33% overall). There’s consistent tracking between expenditures and visits; for the three libraries in the highest bracket (13 or more visits per capita), median funding is $103 per capita. On the budget side, expenditures track consistently with median visits, from 2.34 for the most poorly funded libraries to 8.21 for the best funded.

Computers per thousand patrons

Although most of these libraries and systems have lots of computers, they also have lots of patrons. No library falls into the top two brackets and only 8% have at least 1.2 computers per thousand (compared to 54% for libraries of all sizes). Two-thirds of the libraries have less than 0.8 computers per thousand patrons. I would say expenditures track smoothly with computers per thousand patrons, but there’s one exception: The two libraries with two to 2.99 computers per thousand patrons have a median spending level of $41.12, considerably below the next lower brackets.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

Four out of ten of these large libraries circulate at least 110 items per hour across all outlets, and 93% circulate at least 320. Four libraries are quiet, circulating fewer than 14 items an hour (with one circulating fewer than 10). Looking at the budget side, you don’t see the astonishing numbers of some slightly smaller libraries: The highest median is 152.23 circs per hour or roughly 2.5 per minute, and only one 75%ile (for the best-funded libraries) exceeds 200 circs per hour.

Nearly three-quarters of the libraries have 45 or more patron visits per hour, and 96% have at least 20; there are some lightly visited libraries, but not many.

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