Making Book S10. Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)

As is frequently the case, the preface tells the story of how this book came to be—but this time it’s an extended discussion. Portions:

In the fall of 2011, I studied the presence of public libraries on Facebook and Twitter as background for an ALA Editions book (Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries…). As research progressed, I wound up looking at (or for) the websites of every public library in 38 states (5,958 in all) and gained a new appreciation for the diversity and community connections of America’s public libraries.

During that study, I became skeptical of the many stories I’d read that assume public libraries are shutting down all over America. When my attempts to get actual numbers (how many libraries had actually closed and remained closed, neither reopening, being replaced by comparable libraries or at least reopening as volunteer-run reading rooms?) were unsuccessful, I decided to answer the question for myself. With help and advice from Will Kurt and others, I concluded that only about 32 public libraries (not branches but library systems and independent libraries) have closed during the 12 years from 1998 through 2009 and remained closed, with nearly all of those 32 libraries serving tiny groups of people. (That study is documented in two issues of Cites & Insights, my free ejournal at citesandinsights.info: April 2012, citesandinsights.info/civ12i3.pdf, and May 2012, citesandinsights.info/civ12i4.pdf. An update covering FY2010 closures appears in the October 2012 issue, citesandinsights.info/civ12i9.pdf.)

The study of closing libraries reminded me of speeches I’d done many years ago at state library conferences discussing the health and diversity of libraries. In preparation for some of those speeches I would download current library spreadsheets from the state library and do some analysis of funding and circulation. I consistently found that better-funded libraries did more—and quite a bit more, sometimes showing more cost-effectiveness than less well-funded libraries. I wondered what I’d find with a slightly more sophisticated analysis of the whole nation’s libraries. This book is the result.

Thanks to IMLS and the state libraries, it’s easy to get comparable figures for all the public libraries in the U.S., albeit with some delay.

This book was based on the 2010 data (the “(2012-13)” in the title is because if it sold well, I planned to do future annual editions). It consisted primarily of tables—lots of tables—with some text.

I actually did a preliminary edition (based on 2009 data); it sold six copies (4 paperback, 2 ebook). The full edition—about 50% longer, with newer data and more careful analysis—sold 74 copies through Lulu (4 hardcover, 32 paperback, 38 PDF ebook) and 7 copies through Kindle Direct/Amazon (all Kindle ebook).

Looking at the book later, I concluded that it needed more text and maybe graphs. I provided some text in Cites & Insights (November 2012 and Fall 2012 issues), and later tried to provide supporting graphs in a way people would find worthwhile. But that’s another story.

Admittedly, this book actually sold better than any Lulu book except Balanced Libraries, although I was hoping for a few hundred sales. Hope springs eternal…but, again, that’s another story.

The book’s still available. (The hotlink below is for the paperback; for other versions, go to lulu.com and search “give us a dollar”)

Crawford, Walt. Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-2013) 2012.

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