Public library spending and benefits: $4 to $1, an FAQ

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What is it?

Two things, ideally:

  • A tool to help public libraries, Friends of Libraries and consultants tell each public library’s story more effectively in order to retain and improve funding–by helping to show that public libraries are exceptionally good stewards of public money.
  • An overview of public library benefits and how they related to budgets, using the most recent national data (FY2011) and showing changes over two years (that is, comparing it to FY2009).

The 205-page 6″ x 9″ paperback (or PDF ebook) blends discussion with a healthy number of tables and, where appropriate and meaningful, graphs to show the picture for 9,200+ libraries as a whole and divided into ten groups (by size of legal service area). (Some graphs use five colors in the PDF ebook, but the colors and line patterns are chosen so the graphs are fully readable in the black-and-white print book.)

The book represents newer data than Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four, presented in a way that should be easier to understand and use, although it also includes fewer measures and larger (thus fewer) groups of libraries. It also discusses change over time, which the earlier book did not.

How is it available?

The paperback version is available for $19.96 plus shipping (a 20% discount from the $24.95 list price) from Lulu. The ISBN is 978-1-304-35588-1. It will eventually (in a few weeks?) be available from Amazon at $24.95 or whatever discount Amazon chooses to assign.

The PDF ebook (no DRM) costs $9.99 (no shipping) from Lulu.

A special site license PDF ebook edition costs $39.99 from Lulu. This special site license edition explicitly allows a library, library school, college, university, single-state consortium, library association or other single-state agency to make this book available on a server with multiple simultaneous downloads, including use by distance students outside the state.

Why is there a site license edition?

  1. Because it seemed like a good idea for The Big Deal and The Damage Done, so I thought I’d do it here as well, since this book should be useful not only for library schools but for groups of libraries.
  2. Because I know that most American public libraries aren’t going to spend $9.99 for this book, and I’m hoping that some library groups will find it worth making available to them for free.

Will the book get cheaper if we wait to buy it?

No.

What will happen if everybody waits: The book will disappear from the market.

The book says “Volume 1: Libraries by Size.” What about Volume 2?

If the book and related books sell decently, I’ll prepare Volume 2, Libraries by State. You can read the first two of 49 state profiles to see how that would work–pages 33 to 52 of the October 2013 Cites & Insights (the link and pagination are to the single-column “online” version).

Why 49? Because the District of Columbia and Hawaii each have one public library system, so their profiles will be much shorter.

Will it be replaced with a newer version?

Possibly, but not for at least a year, and unless it’s successful, any newer version will be through a traditional publisher, probably making it later and certainly making it more expensive.

Of course, if it’s not successful, I’m guessing I can’t peddle it to a traditional publisher. So…

Can I get a sample?

You can get two samples.

  1. Pages 18-33 of the (online version of the) October 2013 Cites & Insights  includes portions of Chapter 1 and all of Chapter 4
  2. A draft version of Chapter 3 appears on pages 8-24 of the September 2013 Cites & Insights (pagination and link for the online version)

Tell me a little more…

Here’s the beginning of the first chapter:

A good public library is at the heart of any healthy community, and the true value provided by a good library is hard to measure. That value includes children whose road to literacy begins at the library; newly employed workers who use the library to improve their skills and find jobs; every patron who learns something new or enriches their life using library resources; and the myriad ways a good public library strengthens its community as a community center and resource.

Those anecdotes and uncounted benefits make up the flesh and blood of a public library’s story—but there are also the bones: countable benefits, including those reported every year. Even including only those countable benefits, public libraries offer excellent value: by my conservative calculation, most provide more than $4 in benefits for every $1 in spending.

So what?

So this: Public libraries with better funding continue to show a high ratio of benefits to cost. That’s significant, especially as communities recover economically and libraries seek an appropriate share of improved community revenues.

This book is designed to help.

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