Smaller libraries: Desired but perhaps implausible audience

I’ve come to the conclusion that several of my intermittent efforts are really aimed at smaller libraries–but I’m also aware that such an aim is probably quixotic.

The aim? Give Us a Dollar... is, I believe, most likely to be useful in a public library that doesn’t already have a statistics maven or standing arrangements with a consultant. But, at least in its current form, I wonder whether it’s usable by the many-hatted librarians in such libraries (that is, librarians who of necessity wear many hats).

The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing should have a home in public libraries of all sizes (and in many academic libraries). But its approach–establishing a “makerspace for the mind” without the need for the library to invest significant sums of money, space or library-employee time–is especially relevant for smaller libraries, where the likelihood of establishing a true makerspace (with the likely need to monitor its use) is extremely low.

The book idea I’m toying with–a down-to-earth, plain-English, no-fancy-equations discussion of basic statistical number-handling concepts that apply to libraries, how to spot chartjunk and avoid doing it, and (step by step) how to use the national library statistical repositories without becoming a statistician or database expert–is, I believe, primarily useful for librarians at smaller libraries. Again, libraries unlikely to have statistical mavens or standing arrangements with a consultant, but who could benefit (as I believe every library could) from the ability to spot craptastic statistical claims and to develop appropriate results from IMLS/NCES data.

What’s a smaller library?

I’ll suggest a simple cutoff: Academic and public libraries with fewer than three librarians.

Based on the 2010 IMLS and NCES databases–the most recent available–that includes something like 1,750 academic libraries and 6,000 public libraries (not branches). (If I cut the public-library figure to fewer than two FTE of librarians, that still yields around 5,000 public libraries.)

The problem…

The big problem, I suspect, is that libraries that small have very little spare money for professional literature.

An even bigger problem: My ability to reach those librarians is extremely limited.

And maybe another big problem: I may be the wrong writer to reach them. Even if I set out to write a clear, down-to-earth, “you’re intelligent but you probably don’t love numbers” book. (I know I didn’t hit that tone, or even come close, in Give Us a Dollar…)

I think the possible book–which, if self-published, would be priced at $9.99 as a PDF and certainly less than $20 as a paperback–might strike the right tone to be useful to librarians who are a little nervous about advanced statistics. But I wonder whether enough of them would give it a try to make it worth doing.

If my guess is right, 90% of the sales of professional literature–my self-published stuff or ALA Editions, ITI, etc.–comes from bigger libraries (and a few non-library sales, e.g. consultants). But 90% of the need may be in the smaller libraries.

‘Tis a quandary.

2 Responses to “Smaller libraries: Desired but perhaps implausible audience”

  1. laura Says:

    To your problem list, I would add — and promote to top billing — lack of time. Most librarians I know, especially at smaller libraries, are so busy simply trying to keep up with the basic functioning of the library that even if they have a professional reading budget, they likely don’t have the time to order from it, much less read the results.

  2. waltcrawford Says:

    Unfortunately, I believe you’re right. (Not unfortunate that you’re right…unfortunate that I’m not sure there’s any solution to that problem.) Which means even $0 would be too high a price. So, if I do the numbers book I won’t have high expectations for huge success…


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