Archive for January, 2013

Minnesota public libraries

Posted in $4 on January 30th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

Minnesota has 133 profiled libraries (and five omitted), which tend to be well-supported: only 16.5% are in the bottom three spending brackets (compared to 28% overall) and 41% are in the top three brackets (compared to 30% overall). Benefit ratios are consistently very high: 5.66 or higher before adjusting for Minnesota’s 102.8% cost of living, 5.82 or higher after that adjustment.

These are well-used libraries. Nearly two-thirds (63%) circulate at least 10 items per capita and 80% circulate 8 or more (compared to 38% and 50% overall)—or, looking at it another way, only 13 libraries (10%) circulate fewer than six items per capita (compared to 36% overall). Patrons visit libraries frequently, although the differences aren’t quite as pronounced. The budgetary tables show some remarkable figures: half of the best-funded libraries circulate more than 30 items per capita, and the top quarter stays at or above 13 per capita all the way down to $26 expenditures. (Median circulation tracks perfectly with spending.) PC use is also on the high side.

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
<700 4 3.0% 2
700-1,149 12 9.0% 2
1,150-1,649 7 5.3% 1
1,650-2,249 12 9.0%
2,250-2,999 8 6.0%
3,000-3,999 12 9.0%
4,000-5,299 9 6.8%
5,300-6,799 10 7.5%
6,800-8,699 8 6.0%
8,700-11,099 5 3.8%
11,100-14,099 6 4.5%
14,100-18,499 4 3.0%
18,500-24,999 7 5.3%
25,000-34,499 4 3.0%
34,500-53,999 5 3.8%
54,000-104,999 4 3.0%
105,000-4.1 mill. 16 12.0%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates very strongly (0.74) with spending pe capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

The data you need? Musings on libraries and numbers

Posted in Books and publishing, Cites & Insights, Libraries on January 29th, 2013

One of many tweets from ALA Midwinter said something like this, apparently quoting a speaker:

We need more techies with “library values” to give libraries the data we need.

That’s a paraphrase, taken out of context. I found myself thinking about it–and deciding it was worth commenting on even if my assumed context is entirely wrong. (Which it might be. Don’t point me at streaming video for the program: That’s really not the point.)

My basic thought:

There’s no shortage of library data, and there’s no shortage of people with both technical skills and library values to massage that data. What there may be a shortage of: Libraries/librarians ready to use that data–and decide what data they actually need or can/will use.

That’s a wildly overbroad statement, and I may be dead wrong. I’m basing the statement on my own experience, what I know from a couple of colleagues, and what I see or don’t see in the library conversations and literature. (Well, I don’t see much of the library literature these days, at least not the literature that’s behind paywalls.)

The data

There’s plenty of data. IMLS does a first-rate job of gathering and reporting fairly detailed figures on some 9,000 public libraries on an annual basis. IMLS does its own reports based on that data–but it also makes the datasets freely available.

Pro tip: If you want to massage IMLS data and don’t have or know Access, download and unzip the Access version anyway: Excel can open the Access database once you tell it to do so–that is, once you use the Open file pull-down menu and select “Access databases” from the list–and once you convert the whole thing to a table, it works nicely as a humongous spreadsheet. Then you can select the columns you actually need, making it a lot more workable. Do read the documentation. Unless you’re much cleverer than I am, I wouldn’t mess with the flat file: Access-via-Excel is a lot easier. If you’re an Access guru, of course, you can ignore that.

NCES does the same for more than 3,000 academic libraries, although only once every two years. Same pro tip applies. NCES even allows you to do some “compare library X with comparable institutions” on the fly. (If the columns and documentation for the NCES academic library tables and the IMLS public library tables have some vague similarities…NCES used to do the public library tables as well.

There are other sources, to be sure, but these are the biggest. (A couple of ALA divisions produce sets of numbers for partial sets of libraries…for a price. I haven’t looked at those: See “for a price.”)

Does your library work with those numbers at all–other than to report your own stats, that is?

The data you need

There’s the rub. NCES and IMLS provide impressive, readily-operable sources of raw data. But it’s probably not the data you need.

What is the data you need? More to the point, what data will you pay attention to, use, pay for (that is: pay to have massaged into the form you want and written up so you find it meaningful)?

I’d love to have answers to that question, and I suspect those answers differ by type of library and subtypes within types. (For that matter, defining a subtype is tricky…)

I’ve done some work with both data sources, partly out of curiosity, partly out of contrarian stubbornness, partly pursuing ideas I thought could be broadly useful. For example:

  • I was convinced that the “public libraries are closing all over the place” meme, at least for the United States, was not only harmful as a self-fulfilling prophecy (“if everybody else is giving up on them, why should our town keep funding ours?”) but was probably false. It was and is. I proved that in the April 2012 and May 2012 Cites & Insights (with a 2010 update in September 2012). As far as I can tell, that proof has had very little impact in the profession. (A couple of blogs linked to it.)
  • I prepared the book Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13), based on the IMLS database and designed to help public libraries–specifically smaller libraries without their own research departments or big consulting contracts–prepare their cost-benefit story to help gain or at least retain budgets. I deliberately priced it modestly–it’s currently $9.99 for Kindle or PDF e-version and much cheaper than most library books in paperback or hardcover versions–so that even the smallest libraries could afford it. I made it as easy as possible for libraries to get their relevant data points from me if they didn’t have them handy. While the book hasn’t been an utter failure, it also hasn’t been the kind of success–so far–that would encourage doing a new, leaner, more graphic version next year: To date, 67 copies have sold. Of those, 6 libraries have asked for their data. (But that’s OK: Maybe every library keeps those figures handy.) It’s quite possible–even probable–that I just haven’t figured out how to make this data meaningful; unfortunately, there’s been little feedback to help.
  • To see how graphs could improve the story, I did Graphing Public Library Benefits, e-only, originally $9.99, now $4.00. Care to guess how many copies of that I’ve sold? Zero.
  • A colleague has an outstanding track record in working with library data and making it accessible. He has a PhD. He’s now working in other library areas because he couldn’t find a paying job working with library data. I would quote him on library interest in longitudinal data–time series, showing how things change–but that would just be depressing.
  • For years, Tom Hennen produced HAPLR, Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings, and offered very inexpensive “group comparison” reports for individual public libraries. For whatever reason, HAPLR seems to have ceased–the most recent report is either two or three years old.

The data you need, redux

Most national reports deal with averages over time–and while the “over time” part is vital, averages vastly oversimplify the library picture. Sometimes, I believe averages are actually harmful; mostly, I believe they’re not very useful.

That will be the underlying theme of an upcoming article in Cites & Insights, I think–one that was planned for the March issue, until I became contrarily interested in another meme, the “fact” that academic library circulation (as opposed to e-usage) has been dropping all over the place and continue to fall in all or nearly all academic libraries.

I already knew “all” was nonsense. I assumed “nearly all” was right, but began to wonder what “nearly” actually meant. Did 1% of academic libraries have steady or increasing circulation? Five percent? Ten percent–as unlikely as that seems?

So I set aside the “trouble with averages in public library data” article–which I hadn’t actually started writing yet–and spent some time looking at academic library circulation and circulation per capita, first comparing FY2008 and FY2010 (the most recent available), then going back ty FY2006.

The results will make up most of the March 2013 Cites & Insights, when I publish that issue, and without offering too many spoilers let’s just say that ten percent is wrong–but not the way you might expect.

I could rush that issue out, as early as the end of this week or early next week, if I thought it would be received well and used broadly. At this point, I have no reason to believe that’s true.

What would, I think, be interesting is to see whether there are reasonable predictors of continued healthy circulation in academic libraries–what other factors appear to correlate well with, let’s say, traditional library use. But that’s a significant project. Even at my “pretty much retired, enjoy doing this, so can charge much lower fees than any proper consultant” rates, it would almost certainly be a four-digit job.

Similarly, I’d love to do some time-based analyses of public library performance within groups: Not averages, but percentages and correlations. Not to find “stars” (LJ has that down pat) but to help libraries see where they are and where they could be. And to help tell the complex story, not of The Average Academic Library or The Average Public Library but of the thousands of real, varied, diverse, actual libraries.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know whether I’m asking the right questions. I don’t know whether there is analysis that would be worth doing. I don’t know whether I can find the ways to make those facts meaningful and useful to librarians.

And I don’t know whether librarians are willing to deal with data at all–to work with the results, to go beyond the level of analysis I can do and make it effective for local use.

I wonder how many public and academic librarians really get, say, the difference between overall averages (e.g., circulation per capita for the U.S. public libraries), institutional averages (e.g., the average library circulation per capita–that is not the same figure) and median figures (e.g., the point at which half of libraries circulate more per capita and half less). I wonder how many understand at a gut level that many (maybe most) real-world statistics don’t follow the neat bell shape curve or the not-so-neat power-law curve–and why that matters.

Do LIS students get some training in real-world statistics (“statistics” may be too fancy a word; this is mostly pretty low-level stuff)? Is there a good book for them to use once they’re out in the real world? Would there be a real market for such a book if it existed? (Say a title like The Mythical Average Library: Dealing with Library Statistics)

Wish I knew the answers. Wish I knew whether I had a useful and possibly mildly remunerative role to play in providing answers. (There are certainly agencies that do yeoman work here–Colorado’s Library Research Service for one. I’m not faulting those agencies.)

Feedback invited. Please. Here or as email to waltcrawford@gmail.com


Modified later on January 29 to reduce the whininess and try to make it less about needing to be paid and more about whether this stuff’s worthwhile in general. Which may or may not help.

Schwab, on the other hand…

Posted in Stuff on January 28th, 2013

Given the grumpy tone of this post about our travails with a Panasonic plasma HDTV, I thought a little karmic balance might be appropriate. To wit, a recent encounter (begun last Thursday, completed today) with Charles Schwab, with which we have a modest account.

We have little CDs maturing. We find the current rates for CDs, thanks to the Fed’s “Punish the Savers” initiatives, absurd.

Not sure why the Fed has determined that savers are required to shove all our money into the stock market, but that appears to be the case. Maybe gambling interests have taken over behind the scenes and want to demonstrate that everything’s a gamble? Is getting 3%–or, say, 1% above inflation–on guaranteed savings such an outlandish notion?

So we were looking at possible safe havens–low-risk investments that might yield, say, 3% or 4% without losing capital and with flexibility if interest rates are ever allowed to return to levels that encourage actual savings.

One mutual fund–part of Schwab’s Select List, with no purchase or redemption fees and very low overhead–looked promising. But there was one aspect of the information card & prospectus that troubled us.

So I called last Thursday and talked to a representative about it. He didn’t have an answer, and wasn’t sure he could get one, but said he’d look into it (emailing the fund manager, since it’s a Schwab fund) and call me back. I think he forgot that he wasn’t working on Friday, since he said he’d call me back the next day.

This morning (Monday), he did, in fact, call. He read me the response from the fund management, which was in English (not Managementese or Legalese), was understandable, directly addressed our concern, and was actually a satisfactory answer. He also forwarded the response to my email, so I’d have it in writing.

Did I mention that this was free? (OK, so I do have a Schwab account…)

I think we already felt positively about Schwab. After this interaction, we feel more positively about it. Kudos for responsive customer support on a difficult question.

 

Michigan public libraries

Posted in $4 on January 28th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

The 382 libraries profiled (three libraries omitted) are distributed fairly typically in terms of expenditures, except that the highest bracket is 4.7% of libraries as compared to 9.8% overall.

Circulation is “bulgy,” with very few libraries at the top and bottom and slightly more libraries in the lower middle brackets; median expenditures consistently rise with circulation per capita. Program attendance is low, with 29% having at least 0.4 attendance per capita (compared to 42% overall).

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
<700 3 0.8%
700-1,149 6 1.6%
1,150-1,649 5 1.3%
1,650-2,249 11 2.9%
2,250-2,999 16 4.2% 1
3,000-3,999 35 9.2% 1
4,000-5,299 34 8.9%
5,300-6,799 39 10.2%
6,800-8,699 31 8.1% 1
8,700-11,099 36 9.4%
11,100-14,099 32 8.4%
14,100-18,499 27 7.1%
18,500-24,999 21 5.5%
25,000-34,499 25 6.5%
34,500-53,999 21 5.5%
54,000-104,999 22 5.8%
105,000-4.1 mill. 18 4.7%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates strongly (0.64) with spending per capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story

Posted in Movies and TV on January 27th, 2013

This is not about libraries. This is about companies standing behind their products–or not.

We were late to high-definition TV, because we had a magnificent 34″ Sony XBR TV: 10 years old and still working perfectly.

Finally, in September 2010, we took the plunge. We purchased a 54″ Panasonic TCP54G25 plasma TV at Video Only. We’d gone there thinking of an LED-backlit LCD TV, but the clearly more natural picture of the plasma (Video Only turns off “torch mode” in their display models and doesn’t have a super-bright showroom), and the fact that power consumption on plasmas was finally reasonable, convinced us. (My brother’s slightly older 50″ Panasonic plasma uses 540 watts; our 54″ uses 250 watts when viewing <0.5 watts in standby. What a difference a couple of years can make!) We paid $1,600 for the set (plus tax, stand, Blu-ray player, etc.)–a lot of money, but a great set. We were well aware that Panasonic plasmas have the best reliability record in the only real consumer magazine’s reader surveys–3% repair rate in first 4 years–so we didn’t buy an extended warranty.

An interruption here: The Panasonic’s picture, in THX mode (which we use all the time), in a room with reasonably dim lighting, is superb. I couldn’t ask for better–I never saw the old, discontinued, frightfully expensive Pioneer Kuro sets, and everything I’ve seen or read says that the Panasonic plasmas are the next-best displays ever.

We got the set. We loved the set. We don’t watch a lot of TV–one movie each weekend, usually Blu-ray, either one one-hour show or one 45-minute TV episode on DVD on other nights, sometimes one short movie during the week. In other words, about nine or ten hours a week, or say 470-550 hours a year.

25 months later…

Either on turning the set on or off, I’m not sure which, there was a mild bang. And the power light on the front of the set started blinking four times, then pausing, then blinking four times…

Tried a power cycle. Tried unplugging, then replugging. Same deal: The set wouldn’t go on, but the light would blink…

Did some internet searching. Got a couple of suggestions. Tried them. Net result: Sometimes it would blink 10 times rather than 4.

Called Video Only. Noted that we hadn’t purchased extended warranty (based on best advice from all parties). They said “Call Panasonic.” So I did. ["25 months" is significant: The credit card I used to buy the set might have doubled the manufacturer's 12-month warranty--but at 25 months, we were s.o.l.]

Panasonic gave me the number of a “nearby” authorized repair center and said that, if I thought I should get any break on the repair–since, after all, the set was only 25 months old, and for most circuit boards if nothing dies in the first 90 days the board should last at least 10,000 hours–I’d have to get a written evaluation and fax it to them (or scan & PDF) before getting any repair done. That slows down the repair process, but since my internet searching had suggested that this could be a few hundred dollars, I figured to do that.

The repair shop they said to call was fairly far away, and couldn’t make an immediate appointment. I looked online for authorized Panasonic service centers and found one much closer. They quoted $75 just to do an evaluation, but that would be applied against the repair. I had them come out. The technician did a little testing, talked to Panasonic on his cell phone, and wrote up an evaluation and estimate. I gasped: A flat $295 service fee (including the $75) and another $270.79 for the bad board and sales tax. Oh, and they wouldn’t repair the TV set on-site: They’d take it away, repair it in their shop, and return it. I told them I’d bet back to them…

Then I sent the PDF to Panasonic and waited. A few days later, they called and offered me something like $100 toward the repair. I said that was pretty awful–that still left us paying close to $500 to repair a two-year-old $1,600 TV, one that we knew we could replace (with a similar model) for $1,000 or so. On October 15, they upped the offer to $190–but only for that repair estimate from that shop.

We were still trying to decide whether to accept that offer or to decide it wasn’t worth it and buy a smaller, much cheaper set from Anybody But Panasonic. I called Video Only; the manager said he’d talk to Panasonic…but he also said that we should not use the repair shop that did the estimate, and explained why.

(Which is why I’m not naming them: I can’t vouch for what was said.)

He said I should call George at TV.A Repair–further away, but Video Only’s preferred service shop.

I called George. First thing I learned: His flat repair service charge, including estimate, was $100, not $295. And his price for the same board was about $100 less. I called Panasonic about this. They said they’d only offer to pay part of the repair they’d already had an estimate for…but if I sent them the new paperwork after it was done, they’d see what they could do.

So I scheduled the repair. By now it was the last week of October. And here’s where it gets even more interesting: His testing showed that the original estimate was wrong–the board that the other tech had identified as blown, working directly (on the phone) with Panasonic, was fine; another board was clearly, visibly short-circuited. So he went back, ordered the new board, returned on November 1, and replaced it. At our house: None of this “we’ll take it to the shop.” It cost $280 (plus, of course, the $75 we’d wasted spent on an erroneous estimate).

I sent the paper work to Panasonic. Nothing further was heard from them…

34 days later…

Five minutes after I’d turned on the TV, I heard one loud BANG, a softer Bang, and smelled ozone. A lot of ozone. And, of course, the set was dead. We opened the windows to clear out the air, made sure there wasn’t actually a fire, and swore a little. Or a lot.

Called George again, giving him the new red-light-of-doom pattern, informed Panasonic and Video Only again.

George was so certain that it was the same board blowing again that he didn’t come out; he ordered the board. And Panasonic, apparently because it was a replacement under 90-day repair warranty, took two weeks to send it to him rather than the usual week or so. And when he did bring it out…well, turns out that board was blown, but so were two smaller board. So another order, another long wait.

Finally–a full month later, on January 4, 2013–George replaced the three boards, charged us (only for the two other blown boards, not for his labor or for the replacement board: $80 total), apologized for the situation, and left.

I scanned the invoice, added cover materials, and sent it to Panasonic and Video Only.

I felt that, at the very least, Panasonic should refund the $75 wasted on evaluation by their approved shop. Ideally, the company should do more than that: This was an expensive set, Panasonic is supposed to have great reliability, we really don’t watch that much TV, and the repeat failure seems wholly unreasonable. We were without an HDTV for all but 34 days of the period from October 5, 2012 to January 4, 2013, much of that time because of the delays caused by Panasonic’s procedures. (Hey, a voucher for a really good soundbar/subwoofer might make us happier…we still haven’t gotten one.)

Since January 4, 2013

So far, the set’s working. In my Candide mode, I’m hoping that, in fact, the first blown board had degraded the two smaller boards in the process of blowing, so that maybe everything’s fine now and we’ll get the kind of lifespan you should get from a fairly expensive top-rated TV–which, I’ll suggest, is at least 10,000 hours of use. (Right now, 5,000 hours would be a huge improvement. 1,100 hours just does not cut it.)

I have not heard from Panasonic. Period. No check, no offers, no nothing. I tried calling, a couple of times, but gave up.

We’re out $355 plus loads of aggravation and doing without.

And, at this point, much as we love the picture on the Panasonic–and let there be no mistake, we do love the plasma picture at THX settings–we would certainly not buy another Panasonic if this happens again. Not with Panasonic’s lack of apparent support for their own products.

Seems a shame. By the way, if the company does belatedly come through, I’ll certainly add a postscript to this post.

Panasonic knows where we live: Thus the case # above. If not, I can be readily contacted: waltcrawford @ gmail.com

 

Public Libraries in the United States/IMLS (FY2010)

Posted in Libraries on January 24th, 2013

I’m delighted to note that the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has published Public Libraries in the United States Survey: Fiscal Year 2010, the latest in its series of reports based on its national survey of public library statistics.

This is just a quick post, but I should mention that–in my opinion–IMLS has done a particularly good job this year. The report’s split into three parts: A reasonably brief (58-page, I think) overall report, state-by-state profiles that can be individually downloaded or downloaded as a group, and a group of supplementary tables.

If you care about public libraries at all, or think you should know something about them, download and read the main report at the very least, and the state profiles for your own state (and maybe for others: they’re interesting, colorful, informative and very brief).

The one qualm I had on first reading–the two scatterplots in the main report seemed difficult to read–went away when I gave them a little more time. (I’ve grown fond of scatterplots for showing correlation between service metrics and spending, as these two do–although what IMLS does is much more difficult and ambitious than what I’ve been doing. While I’d love to take credit for inspiring IMLS in this regard, I’m about 99.9% certain I had nothing to do with it–they couldn’t have read Graphing Public Library Benefits, since nobody’s purchased that enormously expensive $4.99 PDF, and the examples in my state-by-state posts didn’t really start early enough to have had an influence. By the way, if anybody from IMLS reads this: Send me an email, waltcrawford at gmail dot com, and I’d be delighted to send you a link to a free copy of Graphing Public Library Benefits.)

The IMLS Report and Give Us a Dollar…

Does this report supersede Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)? Not at all: They’re complementary. The IMLS report includes some enormously useful time studies and a lot of national and state-level information, clearly stated and well worth reading. My book works at a different level, trying to offer a tool for individual public libraries to compare themselves to libraries of similar size and funding. It is, of course, based on precisely the same data as the IMLS report.

Anyway: A great report, even better–in my opinion–than the excellent reports from prior years. And the price is, as usual, right: The downloads are all free.

 

Box Office Gold Disc 13

Posted in Movies and TV on January 24th, 2013

C.C. and Company, 1970, color. Seymour Robbie (dir.), Joe Namath, Ann-Margret, William Smith, Greg Mullavey. 1:34.

We start with this oddly handsome dude strolling through a grocery store, cutting open various items to make himself a ham & cheese sandwich, eat it, have some milk, have some cupcakes, wipe his mouth and, after destroying probably $10-$15 worth of goods, buy a $0.10 candy and walk out. So: He’s a sociopath, probably the villain, right?

Nope. That’s the hero, played by Joe Namath—and, see, he’s only an everyday casual criminal (thief, possible rapist, whatever), where the motorcycle gang he hangs out with is headed up by some hard-core criminals. Just for starters: The four young women who are part of the gang are also the gang’s primary means of support through prostitution.

We get a sense of our hero’s predispositions when he and two of the really bad cases in the gang, after harassing some non-criminal motorcyclists, run upon a stranded limousine (hood open) with a very shortskirted Ann-Margret in the back seat. He starts looking at the engine, with her alongside. The other two get into the limo, start drinking the booze and watching cartoons on the TV, then grab her to join them. When she starts to resist, they’re ready to beat up on her, and only at that point does the hero make a move, saying (paraphrased) that it’s fine to rape her but don’t actually hit her.

You know how this is going to work out: Of course these two wind up together.

Sad. The print’s in great condition (better than VHS, I’d say). As an actor, Joe Namath was a great quarterback. Roger “Mr. Ann-Margret” Smith wrote the screenplay,. Ann-Margret’s always fun, there’s some good motocross racing (and a fair amount of casual nudity: this one earned its R rating. But it’s mostly trash. Being generous, $1.00.

The Concrete Cowboys, 1979, color (TV). Burt Kennedy (dir.), Jerry Reed, Tom Selleck, Morgan Fairchild, Claude Akins, Roy Acuff, Barbara Mandrell, Ray Stevens, Lucille Benson, Gene Evans. 1:40? [1:31]

This one’s a hoot—intended that way, and for me (at least) it works. Two Montana cowboys decide to head out for Hollywood on a bus—but wind up in Nashville via freight train. One thing leads quickly to another and they’re posing as private eyes trying to track down a supposedly dead young woman with a decidedly mixed recent past. There’s lots more plot and, while I won’t provide any spoilers, I will say that they wind up on another freight train, this time at least headed west.

If you like Jerry Reed circa 1979 as a good ol’ boy, you’ll love this. If you like a young (well, 34-year-old) Tom Selleck as a cowboy who wants to read everything he can get his hands on—well, you’ll love it too. If you hate country music, you probably won’t care for it: There’s a live Ray Stevens performance, some Jerry Reed songs on the soundtrack, and bit parts by some of country’s greatest stars at the time. And there’s Morgan Fairchild, as always playing a gorgeous woman of negotiable morals. Each chapter (i.e. sections between commercial interludes) begins with a painted title page, very nicely done.

Decent print. I found the whole thing a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes of fluff—just as it was intended. It aired as a TV movie and returned as a series that lasted all of seven episodes in 1981—with Jerry Reed but without Selleck or Fairchild. $1.50.

Mean Johnny Barrows, 1976, color. Fred Williamson (dir.), Fred Williamson, Roddy McDowall, Stuart Whitman, Tony Caruso, Elliott Gould, Jenny Sherman. 1:30 [1:25]

I came close to giving up on this sad little movie about halfway through. That would have been a good decision. We meet Johnny Barrows (Fred Williamson) as he’s being set up—in Vietnam, I guess—by a couple of crackers who slip a live mine into his training mine field; he cold-cocks one of them. Next we see, he’s on a bus: dishonorably discharged. Next, he gets mugged and taken downtown as a drunk…silver star and all. (Elliott Gould has a two-minute part as a “retired professor of philosophy” who’s a talented bum and wants to show Johnny the soup-kitchen ropes.)

Through various plot twists we get to him offing a bunch of gangsters on behalf of another gangster—but it’s OK because the new gangsters were selling dope to “his people.” And apparently falling for a woman who, if he had a lick of sense, he would know is trying to set him up.

Williamson’s apparent strength is not talking, which frequently makes no sense. He mostly stands around being moody. The cinematography—with odd random shots here and there—is on par with the acting. We get martial arts sequences which would make more sense if we didn’t know the parties were armed. Lots of deaths. No heroes. No even plausibly likable characters. The ending is remarkably stupid, but I won’t spoil it. The theme seems to be “peace is hell.” It’s also one of those cases where a director-star manages to louse both roles up pretty badly. A lousy print makes this, even charitably and for Williamson fans, worth at most $0.75.

Mesmerized, (aka My Letter to George), 1986, color. Michael Laughlin (dir.), Jodie Foster, John Lithgow, Michael Murphy, Dan Shor, Harry Andrews, Philip Holder. 1:34 [1:30

An odd one, this, set in New Zealand and supposedly based on a true story. It begins with Jodie Foster as defendant in a courtroom, then proceeds in flashback—to an infant being dropped off at a foundling home, then not quite 18 years later to Foster at the home being asked to see a visitor. Who, it turns out, is the tall and very strange John Lithgow, who’s there to take her hand as an arranged bride…and then return her to the home until she’s of legal age a few months later.

Then…well, he runs a chains of shops, lives in a fairly remote area, is somewhat of a brute and has a much more brutish brother and a kinder younger brother. After enduring his charms, she manages to sneak off, pawn a carriage for enough money to purchase passage to America—but the brute and father catch her (and the younger brother), and in the ensuing brawl, she brains the younger brother with a candlestick or something (presumably aiming for her husband). The husband and father pronounce the brother dead, whisk her away…and a bit later assure her it’s all been covered up. Then there’s a letter, which they hide from her but which she eventually finds.

Anyway, this tale also involves mesmerizing (hypnosis), a preacher and friend of the couple, the idiot husband breathing in mercury vapors while helping to poison rats and nearly dying as a result…and his eventual death. From chloroform poisoning.

It’s all a bit much, even if there is sort of a happy ending and even if it is based on a true story. But Foster and Lithgow are both fairly effective and the print’s decent, so I’ll give it a middling $1.25.

Summing Up

So what do we have in the second “half” of this set (a bit more than half, as I included discs 7 through 13 in the second half)? Nothing worth $2 or more, and three I was unwilling to finish watching. One very good $1.75: Cold War Killers. Six good at $1.50, eight so-so $1.25, five mediocre $1.00. That adds up to $25.75. In an odd sort of symmetry, the first half (22 movies) totaled $25.25 for movies I gave $1 or more. That adds up to $51, then, if you’re reasonably generous—and the set sells for around $45 at this point. Certainly not one of the better bargains among these fifty-movie packs, and with lots of weakness—but an interesting lot. And hey, it’s all in color.

Maryland public libraries

Posted in $4 on January 23rd, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

With only 24 libraries (none omitted), distribution tends to be patchy. None of the libraries are badly funded (none spends less than $17 and only one spends less than $26). Most libraries fall into the upper middle on circulation, with none circulating fewer than two items per capita; 16 (two-thirds) circulate 6 to 16 items per capita (overall, half of the libraries are in that range). No library has 13 or more patron visits per capita, but half have six or more (compared to 42% overall). Relatively few libraries shine for program attendance, with only two (8%) having at least 0.7 attendance per capita (compared to 21% overall). No Maryland library has at least 3.5 PC uses per capita, but 71% have at least one (compared to 57% overall).

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count %
18,500-24,999 1 4.2%
25,000-34,499 4 16.7%
34,500-53,999 3 12.5%
54,000-104,999 5 20.8%
105,000-4.1 mill. 11 45.8%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates strongly (0.63) with spending per capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Note that the best-funded library spends just under $75 per capita, so this graph isn’t directly comparable to some others.

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

Another contestant for “silliest graph”—and do note that only circulation points with libraries are included—it’s not at all a linear scale. (Yes, there is a market at every point: note the yellow dot at “2″ above 25.)

Cites & Insights February 2013 (13:2) available

Posted in Cites & Insights on January 22nd, 2013

Cites & Insights 13:2 (February 2013) is now available for downloading at http://citesandinsights.info/civ13i2.pdf

The issue is 40 pages long. A single-column 6×9 version, optimized for online reading and intended for e-readers and reading from the screen, is 75 pages long and available at http://citesandinsights.info/civ13i2on.pdf

This issue includes:

The Front (pp. 1-3)

Doing the numbers: notes on C&I readership during 2012 and since it moved to its current website. Also a quick note on the (failed) HTML challenge.

Intersections:
Catching Up On Open Access 2  (pp. 3-40)

The rest of the megaroundup that began in January. This installment includes Upping the Anti, Controversies, Predators, Economics, Elsevier, The Future!, A Little Humor, and a closing note on progress, snipers and inquisitors.

Cites & Insights is no longer available as HTML separates.


Psst: Have you heard the ongoing common knowledge that nearly all academic libraries have had falling circulation for quite a few years now? If your own library had rising circulation, say between 2008 and 2010, did you think you were a special flower?

A March essay looks at the reality behind “nearly all” based on NCES data. Let’s just say the common knowledge is just a wee bit off. But for that, you’ll have to wait for the March 2013 issue…

Cites & Insights as HTML: Final weekly report

Posted in Cites & Insights on January 22nd, 2013

It’s been a week since the most recent update on the HTML challenge–that is, my request for people who find Cites & Insights worthwhile and want to read it in HTML form to pay a modest sum to support C&I.

Today is the deadline.

This time, I’ll offer the results in an homage to Mastercard:

Times essays from C&I 13.1 have been viewed as HTML to date:

212 and 118 respectively.

Times essays from C&I have been viewed as HTML this year:

More than 12,000.

Times essays from C&I were viewed as HTML in 2012:

132,7621 [for a total of 1,121,699 since those essays were introduced]

Apparent economic value of C&I essays as HTML:

Worthless.

That is: Nobody has been willing to pay even $10 to keep HTML essays going. Not one person. Not one payment. Not one sale of a C&I annual.

A wise librarian acquaintance recently said to me, not in these words, “Don’t do any library-related writing that you don’t find amusing unless you’re paid up front: Otherwise you’ll just be disappointed.”

The next issue of C&I will be out soon. It’s fair to assume that, barring a sudden burst of activity within the next few hours, it will not have HTML essays. Nor will any that follow.

For now, the ones that have already appeared will still be available: It’s really not worth the trouble to get rid of all the links in the C&I contents page. But I am now better informed as to the apparent economic value of this work. Thanks for the clarity of the message.

[Those few who answered both last year's C&I survey and an earlier one might have wondered why I didn't ask about willingness to pay this time around. That's because it became clear the last time that most people were disingenuous in their answers--that "willing to pay" did not, with two exceptions, translate into "will pay." So why bother to ask?]


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