Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category

Academic library spending problems: The Big Deal, an FAQ

Monday, September 9th, 2013
The Big Deal and the Damage Done

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

What is it?

A segment-by-segment study of U.S. academic library spending on current serials (mostly Big Deals), “books” (that is, all acquisitions except current serials, including backsets), and everything else–staffing, archives, etc.

The 125-page 6″ x 9″ paperback book (or PDF ebook) looks at spending from 2000 to 2010 (and, briefly, 1996 through 2010), broken down by Carnegie Classification but also by size and sector (public/private, nonprofit/profit).

I believe it makes a detailed and convincing case that Big Deals have done damage to academic libraries and the institutions they serve by siphoning off so much money that non-serial acquisitions budgets have had to be slashed and there’s less money left to pay for librarians, other staff and everything else that makes an academic library work.

How is it available?

The paperback version costs $16.50 (plus shipping) from Lulu.

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

There’s also a special campus/site license edition, $40 (no shipping) from Lulu, which is the PDF ebook with a modified copyright page to explicitly permit loading it on a campus or site server that allows multiple simultaneous reading or downloads within any reasonably well-defined community (including online students at library schools).

Why is there a site license edition?

Two reasons:

  1. A library asked about the possibility.
  2. There were murmurings about “unglueing” the book, making an ePub version free for everybody, specifically so it would be available to LIS students, and the more I looked at the process, the less I wanted to be involved with it [a long post that I don’t much want to write], but I wanted to fill the need.

Will the book get cheaper if we wait?

No–although if it ever reaches $2,500 in net proceeds for the ebook edition(s), I’d be willing to make it freely available at that point. There’s a long, long way to go (around $1,930) before that could happen.

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

Will it be replaced with a newer version?

Yes and no.

There will be an updated study that goes through 2012.

No, it won’t be a Cites & Insights book.

No, it won’t be $9.99 or $16.99.

No, it won’t happen until the late spring/early summer of 2014 (assuming NCES releases the numbers in December 2013).

The updated version will be shorter, probably less complete, certainly more expensive.

Can I get a sample?

Yes. There’s the preview of each version at Lulu, but you can also read the first 11 pages and a portion of the conclusion in the July 2013 Cites & Insights (this link is to the one-column “online version,” since it’s a truer replication of the book pages than the two-column “print version”).

Tell me a little more…

Here’s the beginning of the first chapter:

When publishers began offering Big Deals and other forms of serial bundling, they were touted as win-win-win situations: Publishers could remain profitable, libraries could slow down the rate of increase of serials spending and users could gain access to many more serials.

When there’s that much money at stake (over $1 billion since at least 2002) and only one aspect of library collections and services is being addressed, it’s fair to wonder whether there might not be some losers in with all that win. Given that some publishers and librarians continue to tout the Big Deal as a wonderful thing, some going so far as to say that the serials crisis was solved in 2004 with the widespread adoption of Big Deals, it makes sense to look more closely at the current situation.

I believe that Big Deals did some good—but they also did some damage, damage that gets worse as the amount spent on serials (in Big Deals and otherwise) continues to ratchet up faster than inflation.

Damage is done to scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences, where books continue to be key, as money continues to be shifted to serials (most of it for STEM—science, technology, engineering and medicine) at least in many libraries.

Damage is done to libraries as serials take an ever-bigger chunk of the total budget, leaving less for not only books but also staff, preservation, computers, archives, programming and new initiatives.

I began looking at actual numbers while preparing a preconference on open access. One of the sillier arguments against open access (and especially against gold OA) is that there’s really no serials problem—that Big Deals solved it.

That’s only true if “solved” takes on a fairly unusual meaning. In 1996, before Big Deals had become common, taking U.S. academic libraries as a whole, serials took 17% of all spending. Books (including back runs of serials and other materials) took 10.4%.

In 2002, at which point Big Deals were well established, serials were up to 22.5% of all library spending—but books were up a little too, taking 11.9% of library spending.

In 2010, serials were up to 26.1% of all library spending—nearly as much as books and serials combined in 1996. Books? Down to 10.6%–frequently of reduced budgets.

Meanwhile, the remainder budget—that is, everything except current serials and other acquisitions—fell from 72.6% to 63.3% of library budgets overall. That’s a serious drop.

How much of serials spending is for electronic access? At a minimum, it’s grown from 15% in 1998 (the first time it’s broken out) to 70% in 2010, doubling its market share since 2004 (when it was 35%).

Your Library Is… : A Collection of Public Library Sayings

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It begins with Generations of Readers.

It ends with Dynamic Gateways for Lifelong Learning.

In between, you’ll find humor, sage advice (“Reading is good. Thinking is better.”), philosophy and more. And a moose. In all, 1,137 unique mottoes and slogans, plus another 88 mottoes and slogans shared by 205 public libraries.

I’m delighted to announce that the less serious side of the $4 to $1 project is now complete and available for sale:

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The 163-page 6″ x 9″ paperback (vi+157 p.) is $16.99.

The non-DRM PDF ebook (also vi+157 p. of 6″ x 9″ images and it does include bookmarks for subheadings and each state) is $8.99.

I think you’ll find it interesting. I believe you’ll find it amusing. You might even find it inspiring at times–I know I did.

It’s a book best read a few pages at a time–maybe one state (although some states like Illinois, Pennsylvania and–especially–New York should probably be split over two sittings).

Since the crowdfunding project failed, I am offering the book for sale.

You can also get a special deluxe PDF edition (with front and back covers added) by contributing at least $50 to Cites & Insights and requesting a copy. (For that matter, contribute at least $100 to Cites & Insights and I’ll ask whether you want an autographed paperback copy–but that will take a few weeks.)

This book was fun to do (given that I spread out the “research” over more than three months, looking at 20 libraries at a time, typically 4 or 5 times a day). I think you’ll enjoy the results.

An indescribable followup

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Early last week (June 28, 2013, to be exact), I posted “Indescribable“–about the oddity of running into a few public library websites where Bing and other search engines didn’t show brief descriptions of the sites.

I’m seeing more of those (as I continue the sweep of public library websites–smaller and smaller libraries as the project continues–toward A Library Is…: A Collection of Public Library Mottoes and Slogans).

The answer sounds like something out of The Price is Right, and yes, I know I’ve said that before.

To wit, Plinkit. Quoting from the site:

Plinkit Is:

  • A service that state libraries and consortia provide to local libraries

  • A template-based web site creation toolkit made using open-source software

  • A multi-state collaborative supporting Plinkit services

  • Provided as a web-hosting service

Lots of libraries, especially smaller ones, use Plinkit websites. They’re clearly reasonably customizable and, more important, they provide reasonable-quality websites for libraries that might have trouble building and maintaining their own scratch-built sites.

And I’m guessing–with no proof, but one key piece of evidence–that someone at Plinkit thought it was a good idea to include as a default a robots.txt file that disallows the kind of crawling that produces site summaries in search engines.

I’m guessing this for two reasons:

  1. Now that I’ve been paying attention, all of the sites with this oddity I’ve seen lately have been Plinkit sites.
  2. Search for Plinkit itself on Bing or Blekko and, guess what…you get the “indescribable” message. (Not, oddly enough, on Google.)

I choose not to comment further on the (in)advisability of doing this, mostly because I don’t know enough to provide thoroughly knowledgeable comments.

Oh, and if you’re interested in A Library Is…: The best way to reserve a copy, and possibly the only way to get one (other than as a future perk for substantial contributions to Cites & Insights) is to contribute toward my IndieGoGo crowdsourcing effort to underwrite $4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets (2013-14). As little as a $12 contribution can get you a free copy of the PDF ebook when it’s ready.

 

 

 

 

Indescribable

Friday, June 28th, 2013

As I continue a scan of public library websites, normally using Bing to find them, I sometimes run into this “description” under the sitename and URL:

We would like to show you a description here, but the site you’re looking at won’t allow us.

A nicely nontechnical way of putting it.

Here’s how Google deals with the same site:

A description for this result is not available because of this site’s robots.txtlearn more.

DuckDuckGo? Well…it doesn’t show the obvious first result for the search (first in both Bing and Google)–at least not within the first 50 results. (Is it possible that DDG doesn’t index sites with that robots.txt setting?)

Blekko, which does show the library’s homepage as the first result, has precisely the same text as Bing.

So does Yahoo! (same first result, same text), but since Yahoo! uses Bing as a search engine, that’s not surprising.

All of this is just curious–and I find myself curious about two things:

  1. Why doesn’t DuckDuckGo return the library’s homepage anywhere within the first (very long) results page?
  2. Why do (a few) public library homepages set robots.txt so as to prevent descriptions?

Update July 6, 2013: I believe I know what’s going on with most of these, and it’s reminiscent of The Price is Right. See followup post.

IndieGoGo, Timing and Reality

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Consider this a rapid update to Timing, which appeared yesterday (but was written a couple of days before that).

Here’s what’s happened since that post that’s at least moderately relevant:

  • I signed up for an IndieGoGo account–but I screwed up an attempt at a more secure password. (It has to do with The Great & Powerful Facebook…) So I deleted the account.
  • A couple of days later (today), attempting a clean start, I find that IGG won’t let me start an account. I’ve sent email to IndieGoGo (after deleting a bunch of cookies: otherwise, IGG–IndieGoGo is a long string to type–wouldn’t even let me create a support request, always taking me to a special 404 page).
  • So: As of now, until I hear from them, I don’t know whether I can create an IGG campaign. I certainly won’t be ready to do one by this weekend.
  • Meanwhile, IMLS released the 2011 public library datasets–and, along the way, reformatted years’ worth of old datasets. Instead of offering .txt and .mdb (Access databases), they’re now offering .txt (useless for me), .xls (Excel) and .csv (Comma-separated values, directly readable in Excel and other spreadsheets). That changes what I’d say in the key chapters of Mostly Numbers–if I do that book. It’s also resulted in a curious situation; you’ll read about that in a couple of days. (Briefly: Why is an .xls file three times as large as the .xls version of a .csv file that appears to contain precisely the same data? Call that the “14 megabyte question.”)
  • That release means that I could start working on the new Give Us a Dollar… project any old time, in addition to the ongoing harvest of public library mottoes & slogans (around 3,500 libraries checked so far–5,698 to go; 713 mottoes/slogans saved; still surprisingly little duplication).[See note below]
  • Meanwhile, I’ve reviewed a printed version of the August Cites & Insights (NOT including an essay on the crowdfunding campaign), so it’s ready for final steps–revision, copyfitting–leading up to a July 1 or 2 publication. And it’s already as long as I’d like a “summer issue” to be.

So…

Here’s the plan.

  • The crowdfunding campaign–a long shot at best–is on hold until IGG gets back to me.
  • Responses to my little survey still welcome; there are only five so far.
  • Comments on the possible crowdfunding and the $4 project also welcome.
  • I’ll plan to publish the August C&I on Monday or Tuesday, August 1 or 2
  • If and when I do a crowdfunding campaign, I’ll publish a special issue of C&I devoted entirely to that topic–probably a very short issue.

Note added 1:30 p.m. PDT 6/27:

Those numbers are probably misleading in terms of the eventual number of mottoes/slogans. You could run a quick calculation and say “1,800+ mottoes: That’s a LOT.”

But, after checking the couple of thousand libraries with URLs in the 2010 IMLS database, which yielded around 500, I’ve been checking libraries by LSA (legal service area population), largest to smallest. I’m down to around 29,000…

It seems quite likely that smaller libraries will have fewer mottoes/slogans–and based on past experience, I’d guess that hundreds of small libraries won’t even have websites.

I wouldn’t venture a guess as to what the final total will be. I do know that some of the mottoes are inspiring, some are very local, and at least a few are somewhat humorous in a refreshing way.

Does your library website really need Java? Three times over?

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Dear public libraries,

About your website…

There’s one old issue (with some of you), which is that the library picture or banner is so high-resolution that it’s the last thing on the page to load, and takes quite a while. (It’s remarkably easy to resize images so they’re more suitable for web pages…)

Let’s not even talk about your use of Comic Sans. Yes, I know, it’s friendly and all…

But this is about Java.

Some of us–millions of us, I’d guess–don’t allow Java in our browsers, for reasonably good security reasons.

When we hit a library website with a Java item (or, as I just saw, three of ’em in a row), the browser hangs, we get an error message, and if the site’s persistent, we keep getting the error message.

Oh, eventually we just get an error message on screen and can go on about our way.

But really…do you really need Java? Is it that crucial for your home page to be so dynamic–crucial enough that you’re willing to annoy security-conscious patrons?

Your call, of course.

Timing

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

I had it all planned out.

I was going to put together an IndieGoGo campaign for the $4 Project (Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four [2013-14]: Libraries by Size; Give Us a Dollar: State by State; A Library Is…), with a reasonably modest goal ($2,500 as a baseline–below that, nobody pays) and several stretch goals. I figured to put it together today and tomorrow, make it live on Friday, and add the writeup as The Front in the August Cites & Insights, and publish that on Monday. (The other essays are edited already.)

Until…

I realized that this weekend is ALA Annual. Which means that, from tomorrow through next Monday, anything I do in the library area will receive even less attention than usual.

Or maybe….that’s the perfect time to start the campaign?

So…

Still trying to decide whether it’s a complete waste of time to attempt crowdfunding. Still trying to see whether the Mostly Numbers: Coping with Statistics for Librarians project makes sense.

The August issue of C&I won’t show up before July 1: That’s a given. It may be later than that. Will it begin with a summary of the book project campaign and why you should care? Wait and see…

Give Us a Dollar: The revised plan

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

If I do a new version of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four, it will be quite a big different from the current one (here are links to the PDF and the hardbound versions)…and the current one will probably remain available for a while. I’d take advantage of some of the work in Graphing Public Library Benefits.

The changes can be summarized as Simplify, Amplify, Clarify and Compare.

Simplify

I now believe that I included too many different metrics and too many divisions for key metrics in the current version–“too many” in that they may obscure the overall picture of America’s public libraries, but also in that the sheer number of tables and length of the book may intimidate some potential readers/users. I also believe that, while theoretically desirable, basing divisions purely on reality may not work out as well as I’d like.

Here’s what I have in mind for a new version, subject to revision:

  • Spending brackets: Reduce from the current 10 to, probably, five–in part because it’s possible to make charts with five lines that can be read in black-and-white (using different line dot-and-dash combinations), while I don’t think that’s true for 10. The brackets would probably be based on the median per capita spending and would be something like this: A. <1/3 of median. B. 1/3 to 2/3 of median. C. 2/3 to 1 1/3 of median. D. 1 1/3 to twice median. E. More than twice median.
  • Size (LSA) brackets: Reduce from the current 18 to, probably, nine, with one bracket each for libraries serving fewer than 1,000 people and those serving at least 100,000, and seven others based on actual distribution (looking at roughly 1,000 libraries per section).
  • Other metrics: Include circulation per capita (reducing current nine brackets to maybe six), reference per capita (reducing from ten brackets to maybe six), patron visits per capita (reducing from nine to maybe six), program attendance per capita (reducing from eight to maybe six), PC use per capita (reducing from eight to maybe six) and visitors per hour (reducing from nine to maybe six). Omitted from detailed metrics: hours open (but see below), total PCs, PCs per thousand patrons and circulation per hour.
  • I’d still have the benefit ratio, probably calculated very similarly, used as appropriate.

The overall net effect is that a given library would be comparable to around 200 other libraries for spending. or around 166 for other metrics. And that most graphs would involve around 1,000 libraries (but I’d probably remove the top 10% from some graphs.)

Amplify

The new version would be amplified from the current in several ways:

  • I would not exclude libraries with very low funding, those with very high funding, and those with less than 0.25 FTE librarian. I would still exclude territorial libraries, closed libraries and libraries with no reported operating expenditures.
  • The new version would include graphs as well as tables, as appropriate.
  • Rather than peculiar “combined tables” showing quartiles for given metrics at different expenditure levels, there would be single tables, one for each metric–and I’d use the extra space to add 10%ile and 90%ile to the current Q1 (25%ile), median (50%ile) and Q3 (75%ile) figures. That would offer a much better picture of what’s out there, while still ignoring extreme cases.
  • I would include correlations as appropriate (as I do in GPLB).

Clarify

The current version is, how you say, light on textual commentary. Once you get past page 21, it’s basically nothing but tables.

Which, as a pure tool, may make sense–but is a little overwhelming.

The new version will include some commentary, pointing up noteworthy items in the tables and graphs, providing at least a little textual clarity.

Compare

The current version looks at one year. While I do suggest that it’s likely that more money would yield better and more numbers, I don’t have any hard evidence for that.

The new version would compare 2010 and 2011 figures (and would include only libraries present in both years). It would also attempt to show correlations between changes in spending per capita and various other metrics. I would probably include changes in total open hours here.

Oh, and one other change–if this happens at all and if it makes sense:

I’d split the state-by-state sections out into a separate book, and those sections would include some comparisons to overall figures that aren’t there now. That would make the separate book an interesting overview of differences in metrics across the nation.

Best guess as to length (the current book is 262 pages; Graphing Public Library Benefits is 222 pages): Somewhere around 150-200 pages, ideally closer to the first, for the main book; probably around 200 pages, maybe more, for the “Viewing the States” book.

Price would be $9.99 for PDF, whatever it works out to for paperback (probably around $15.50 if it’s 150 pages, around $16.50 if it’s 200 pages), $40 for site-license or state-license (for the state-by-state) ebook version without usage restrictions.

The Survey

No, I still don’t know whether it makes any sense to try a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign to prefund this book, possibly with a stretch goal of making the PDF version free. I also still don’t know whether I’d do this. Since the new figures should show up in July, I’m coming close to a decision.

If this helps you think about these issues, you can still respond to the survey.

Second call: “Give us a dollar…” and “A library is…”

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I could really use more responses before deciding the future of “Give Us a Dollar…” and whether to proceed with “A Library Is…”

Here’s the survey. Five simple questions, anonymous, shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.

Here’s the background post.

Thanks!

Power patrons?

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I’ve had those two words sitting on my “should blog about this” notebook for months–and this is as good a time as any.

What’s a power patron? Somebody who goes to their public library at least once a week. And, if you believe a number of sources (most of which trace back to a single library journal), libraries should pay extra attention to power patrons.

I’m not particularly comfortable with the whole “power patron” concept (although I suppose it’s better than “prime customer”) as it applies to public libraries. I’m even more uncomfortable with the notion that people who are in their public libraries lots and lots and lots deserve special treatment or should be listened to more carefully than the rest of us shlubs.

I’m not a power patron. I typically visit the library once every three weeks, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later. I return my three books, drop off any donations to the Friends’ bookstore, choose three new books, and leave.

I am, in other words, a regular patron–borrowing typically 50 or so books a year, appreciating the library, only too ready to vote for a millage increase and support shifting more of the city’s budget to the library. When I finally give up on trying to make a difference nationally, I’ll get directly involved with the Friends (they’re already recruiting…) and maybe go to library programs.

But I certainly don’t go to the library every week. So I’m just an ordinary patron.

Actually, if patrons who go once a week are power patrons who deserve extra attention, what about the small group (here–larger elsewhere) who go every single day and spend much of the day in the library, sometimes even awake?

Aren’t those superpatrons? Shouldn’t they have even more influence on a library’s operation?