Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category

A library is…: Clearly feasible. Worth doing?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

A few days ago, I discussed the possible future of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–and one possible premium for an IndieGoGo or KickStarter campaign to fund the project.

Here’s what I said at the time:

I’ve done about 1/6th of the work toward what could be a great premium for such a campaign, if the campaign makes sense at all–an idea I’d mentioned earlier (in conjunction with a now-abandoned plan for future external measures of library social network activity), to wit:

A Library Is… (working title, subject to change), a collection of the slogans actually used by (some) public libraries. (So far, I’m finding that about 20% of the libraries checked have such slogans, once you exclude “Serving X since [date]” and “Welcome to your library” and the like. That percentage may go down–I’m starting out by checking the easy ones, libraries with web addresses in the IMLS 2010 report. I’ve checked about 1,650 libraries so far, yielding a little over 300 slogans/mottoes. I’ll probably check 3,000 or so before deciding whether to do the book.)

The book would be entirely derivative and serve only for inspiration and perhaps amusement. It would be an exclusive edition (probably PDF and paperback), available only as a premium, and not offered for sale separately. Premium levels could include PDF, paperback, signed paperback, and possibly–if I include library pictures–color paperback, signed color paperback, or even signed hardcover.

A Quarter Through…

I’ve now finished checking libraries with web addresses in the IMLS database (and rechecking about 10%-20% of them, where the web address is obsolete or doesn’t work)–around 2,400 in all, I think.

Going back and deleting closed libraries and libraries in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, I have 6,755 left to do, so I’m a little more than a quarter done, somewhat less than a third.

I’m going to pause for a few days–to write the first chapter of that up-in-the-air book, to finish a C&I essay, to collect some survey responses about this (I’ll post a link to the survey probably tomorrow).

Clearly Feasible

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

  • Omitting signed epigraphs and mottoes/slogans such as “Welcome to the library,” “Serving [location or counties],” “Serving [location] for [years],” “Serving [location] since [date],” “Your library available anytime anywhere” and similar mottoes, with a very few exceptions where the nature of the modified motto makes it unusually interesting (e.g., a claim to be the oldest publicly funded library, a library that serves more than one state, a library with what feels like a clever downplayed claim), I come up with 441 mottoes/slogans (and very brief mission statements highlighted on the website) so far.
  • Are there repetitions? Yes–but probably not as many as you’d think. A casual runthrough finds about 16 libraries using slogans that some other library also uses. That’s about 4%: Not bad!
  • The range is interesting, as are quite a few of the mottoes or slogans.

I wouldn’t project that the rest of the scan would yield 1,240 mottoes or slogans–not even close. For one thing, I’d guess around 10%-15% won’t have websites or Facebook pages.

The total could easily be more than 1,000 slogans and mottoes, including–say–800 unique cases (that is, a LOT more repetition than I’ve found so far).

I’m still not sure how I’d organize the book (which would consist of a very brief introduction and a whole bunch of slogans/mottoes identified by library, city, state and 2010 LSA, set as hopefully-attractive separated paragraphs, not just continuous text).

I think the results would be interesting to some. Or not.

Worth doing?

If I finish the scan (done as an intermittent process when taking breaks from something else, which is how I’ve done it so far: 100 libraries a day is pretty easy, as that’s less than an hour’s total work) and prepare the book–which might or might not include little pictures for included libraries–here’s how it would be used:

  1. It would not be available for sale separately. At least I don’t think so.
  2. It would be a premium, in PDF form and possibly in paperback or hardback (or paperback or hardback with color pictures, a much more expensive proposition to do), for one or more fundraising campaigns.
  3. It could be a thank-you, in PDF form, for those contributing at least $35 to Cites & Insights.

So far, I haven’t thought of other possibilities.

I guess the question is: Is this an amusing and interesting idea–a little book of library mottoes–or is it just plain stupid?

(Little book: I figure 7 mottoes per page in a reasonably attractive well-spaced arrangement.)

As noted, I plan to prepare a little survey on the interest in funding a future Give Us a Dollar… and, slightly separately, the interest in (or dislike for!) this little book. Meanwhile, comments are open.

Fair use

By the way, I do not plan to ask any of the libraries for permission to use their mottoes and slogans (or, if I use them, the pictures from their websites). I regard that as eminently fair use–a nominal portion of a website that’s free in any case, with no negative impact on a library’s ability to raise money from its motto, and somewhat transformative by the context of hundreds of other mottoes.

If some copyright-oriented librarian thinks I’m wrong…well, the comments are open and my email continues to be



It Didn’t Work for Phil Ochs, It Doesn’t Work for Jeffrey Beall

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

I had read a few items recently attempting to argue that the serials crisis was over, thanks to the Big Deal and other publisher “discounts” from the early late 20th and early 21st centuries. Indeed, reading those items (or in one case an apparently-accurate comment on an article behind a paywall) was part of what convinced me to do something outrageous:

Look at the facts

Looking at the facts–actual academic library serials expenditures and the apparent effects on library book budgets and everything else academic libraries need to spend money on–was a lot more sobering than I expected.

Thus the book, The Big Deal and the Damage Done. (Read more about that here, download the ebook for a mere $9.99 here, or buy the paperback for a modest $16.50 here.)

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

I wasn’t planning a sales pitch, and this really isn’t one, but very recent events encouraged this brief post.

To wit:

  • Jeffrey Beall’s absurd pronouncement that “The Serials Crisis is Over” and his even more absurd suggestion that the only reason for OA is the serials crisis, and thus that OA should go away. (At this point, naming Beall’s blog “Scholarly Open Access” is, I guess, a kind of joke. Not a very good joke, to be sure.)
  • His absurd and offensive response to Karen Coyle’s note on my book (thanks, Karen!), where he said “He should have read the sources I cite first.” As I noted, I had read most of the sources–but I didn’t take their publisher-oriented claims as The Word, when I also had facts available.
  • Mike Taylor’s post at SV-POW (I’ve typed out the full name WAY too often already), “Of course the serials crisis is not over, what the heck are you talking about?”
  • And, perhaps tangential but not entirely unrelated, some suggestions at LSW-FF that I might consider trying to the ebook version of this book, so that library school students and every academic librarian might have ready access to it. (It’s off to a plausible start, but that start still doesn’t represent much more than 0.5% of American academic libraries, especially since several of the sales have been to Canada and the UK.)

Phil Ochs?

The first line of the chorus of his song “The War is Over”–“I declare the war is over.” It wasn’t; he knew that; but it was a valiant attempt at showing the power of song.

Beall’s post, on the other hand, appears to be a valiant attempt at showing the power of nonsense.

I declare that the serials crisis, the event that gave birth to the open-access movement, is over.

That’s the first sentence of the post, and the only portion of it that squares with the facts is that Beall is making a declaration.

Fact: The serials crisis did not give birth to the OA movement, or at least it certainly wasn’t the only causative factor. There are several important reasons to support OA, only one of which is the serials crisis. (Solving the affordability crises for academic libraries–if that had happened, which it clearly has not–does NOTHING to provide access to all of us unaffiliated types: independent scholars, patients, everybody else, just to name one issue.)

Fact: The serials crisis is not over in any real-world sense. Even Harvard can’t afford the serials it wants–and other academic libraries can’t afford to keep being libraries and keep up with serials prices.

Of course, my book isn’t part of the “scholarly literature.” It’s entirely fact-based, the facts are entirely reproducible, I was entirely transparent about my methodology, and I believe it’s in the best traditions of scholarship (except that there’s no literature review and I didn’t actually begin with a hypothesis)…but I’m not a scholar and didn’t submit it to a refereed journal.


Now comes the tough part (for me, at least): It’s been suggested that it would be nice if everybody could have access to my study–which is book-length, although it’s a relatively short book–at no charge.

Those who have suggested it do recognize that I put a fair amount of work into it, and that nobody is sponsoring my work (nor is it something I do in my “spare” time after an actual paid job). What they’re suggesting is crowdsourcing a reasonable payment to make the ebook version free (and maybe get it into EPUB rather than only the current non-DRM PDF form). That means (or some other crowdsourcing system, but seems most appropriate here).

I’m thinking about it. I’m not much of a promoter, and I shudder at the thought of creating a little video on the book, but…well…

Here’s how you can help (other than buying the book, which encourages me to keep going):

  • What sorts of premiums–preferably ones that don’t involve actual cash, since that sort of undoes the purpose of the crowdsourcing–would you find worthwhile?
  • Do you think this is a good idea?

I can think of some possibilities (e.g., custom analyses for single campuses or groups of campuses) but would be interested in your ideas.

One note about this: If I do it, there will be three goals–

  1. A minimal level at which I’d agree to make the ebook freely available (and maybe provide an epub version)
  2. A higher level at which I’d guarantee to do a new edition when the 2012 NCES data is available
  3. An even higher level at which I’d guarantee to do the 2012 edition–and would make the ebook version of that open access and available for free.

Comments? Suggestions? Either as comments or to

(Of course, if somebody wanted to underwrite the whole project, get in touch, but I won’t hold my breath. I can tell you the price in that case would be in the medium four digits.)

The eagle-eyed may note a slight change in the text. As of 7 p.m. PDT, sales hit 20 copies, which is–technically-just over 0.5% (that is, one-half of one percent) of U.S. academic libraries. On the other hand, the 20th sale, along with several others, is Canadian…

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
The Big Deal and the Damage Done

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

I’d normally say something like this about my new study of the apparent effects of serials prices over the first decade of the millennium on academic library book budgets and “remainder” budgets (what’s left after paying for current serials and other acquisitions):

I’m delighted to announce that The Big Deal and the Damage Done is now available as a $9.99 PDF ebook or a $16.50 paperback, both at (follow the links, go to the bottom of this page or just go to and search for big deal damage).

But I’m not entirely delighted–because the results are much worse than I’d hoped or expected.

On one hand, I’m delighted that what started out as a whim (“just how badly have book budgets been hurt by continued expansion of serials prices?”) that I thought would take 5-10 hours to research and result in a nice little Cites & Insights article, and turned into a much bigger project (I’m not going to guess the total time involved, but let’s say that at $50/hour consulting rates, it would be a multi-thousand-dollar project)…is finally done. For now.

On that hand, I’m also delighted with the results–a 132-page (6×9″) non-DRM PDF ebook or trade paperback with 58 tables and 94 figures (all Excel graphs) that shows, in detail and adjusted for inflation, how academic library spending has changed between 2000 and 2010 for current serials (big deals and otherwise), “books” (which includes all acquisitions except current serials, including ebooks, av and back runs of serials), and “remainder budgets,” everything it takes to run a library except for acquisitions. The book looks at academic libraries in the U.S. overall, but mostly views them in three different breakdowns: By overall budget size, by sector (e.g., public, private, for-profit, non-profit, four-year, two-year), and by Carnegie classification.

The PDF uses three colors for many graphs. The paperback is black and white except for the cover, but the three colors are used with line segments (dots or dashes) so that the graphs are fully readable without color.

On the other hand…I was hoping I’d find modest damage, especially since the most recent NCES survey is for 2010 and I’ve heard more comments about disastrous cuts in book budgets since 2010.

The Process

There’s nothing in the book that you can’t find out for yourself, frankly, although I do add some commentary. But “find out for yourself” would take quite a while–downloading NCES data, creating derivative figures, deciding which subsets to work with, graphing the results.

I began with no real conception of what I’d find–this is honest, transparent analysis. I certainly didn’t come up with that title until I was well into the process and seeing some of the results. The first results didn’t seem too bad, because roughly two dozen very large academic libraries have done a pretty good job of maintaining acquisitions budgets for things other than current serials, a good enough job that it tends to mask what’s happening elsewhere. The deeper I dug, the worse it got…

The Product and Publicity

This isn’t a terribly wordy study–Word says it’s just under 20,000 words, or about two-thirds the length of the current Cites & Insights. The figures and tables take up much of the space, but also tell much of the story.

The analysis project was inspired in part by Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s January 18, 2013 post, “Politics, Economics, and Screwing the Humanities” and in part by the work I was doing to prepare a three-hour Open Access preconference for the joint 2013 conference of the Oregon and Washington Library Associations. I see true OA as one possible medium-term way of ameliorating the damage done–with a whole bunch of caveats.

If you’re an academic librarian or concerned about the future of academic libraries, I believe you’ll find this worthwhile, but that’s your call. If it’s well-received, I’ll probably do a second edition when the 2012 NCES survey results become available.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have good ways to publicize this book, other than on this blog, in Cites & Insights, and via a tweet or two and maybe updates at Facebook and Google+. There may be academic library lists that should know about it, but it’s generally considered bad practice for an author or publisher to join lists and tout their own new books.

On the other hand, it’s entirely appropriate for other people to mention the book if they think it’s worthwhile.

I’m going to point you to another Wayne Bivens-Tatum post at Academic Librarian, this one posted May 1, 2013: “Walt Crawford’s Big Deal and the Damage Done.” I thank him for the mention. I encourage you to take a look at the book (the first few pages are available as a preview and, you know, the ebook‘s less than $10–if you buy it today, May 2, and use the coupon code SILEO, either version is 20% off). If you think it’s worthwhile, you’ll do me–and the chances of a followup 2012 study–a big favor by passing the word along.

If you think it’s terrible, you should say that, to be sure. And if you have suggestions for improvement next time around–if there is a next time around–I’d be happy to hear them.

Modified May 9, 2013: I’d forgotten to include the cover! And since it’s long past May 2, 2012, I’ve struck out the sale comment. Your best bet may always be to go to, look for a current sale (you never know…), then search for Walt Crawford or big deal damage

Oregon and Washington: Special Give us a Dollar edition now available

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four: Oregon and Washington Libraries, a special edition prepared as part of my speaking engagements at this April’s joint annual conference, is now available.

The 6×9 PDF ebook version, linked to above, is free. That’s $0.00, including $0.00 shipping & handling (always true for Lulu ebooks). No DRM–and it carries a Creative Commons BY license, meaning you’re free to pass it along, derive other material from it, even sell it, as long as you include the attribution that I wrote it.

Printing It Out

If you’d like to have a printed book(let), assuming that you have a duplexing color printer (laser or inkjet), here’s what to do:

  • Download the PDF
  • In Adobe Reader, click on Print (either the icon or in the File menu).
  • In “Page Sizing & Handling,” click on Booklet.
  • Print it. It will require 19 sheets of paper. Since the original page size is 6×9, the resulting pages (each half of an 8.5×11″ page) will be roughly 92% of original size–still plenty large enough for easy reading.
  • Fold the book(let) in half. There you have it: a nice little book with its own bright cover.
  • If you have access to a stapler with a 5.5″ throat (or longer), which your library may very well have, you can center-staple it to make it more useful as a book.
  • Or, if you’re feeling flush and want a more permanent version, you can buy a hardcover printed copy–see below. I offer these instructions because any printed color book from Lulu is expensive (even though only some pages have color, and very little of it except the cover page, all pages have to be printed in color, at $0.20/page instead of $0.02/page. I figure that, if your color printer costs $0.03/page for all black ink and, say, $0.12 for color pages with 5% coverage, and the paper you use costs $5/ream, you’ll spend less than $4 to print it yourself).

The Audience

The primary audience is public librarians and library consultants in Oregon and Washington and also library schools in those states or elsewhere. Think of this freebie as part of your conference registration, although you’re also welcome to it if you’re unable to attend the conference (or my session on the book).

The second audience is public librarians or library agencies in other states or regions who might want to commission a similar project. This is one example of what I could do for you.

The Hardback Book

If you want a permanent version of the book, there’s a hardback (casewrap) version for $34.99. I get about $5 of that. If you buy a copy and would like me to sign it at the conference, I would (of course) be utterly delighted. (Heck, I’d sign “saddle-stitched” printouts as well.)

Why a hardback version? Because a paperback version would still cost at least $19 or more, even if I didn’t take a piece of it. I figure that, if you’re willing to spend five times as much as it costs to print your own copy, you might as well get a sturdy version. The casewrap has one little value-added feature: The color mosaic strips on the cover wrap all the way around the cover. The cover looks something like the image below, although I cleaned up the bottom strip somewhat before finally uploading the book.




17 Categories of Academic Library Where Most Have Growing Circulation

Monday, February 25th, 2013

People seem to love lists, so here’s one: Seventeen categories of academic library (some of them overlapping) where most libraries (with any circulation at all) had more circulation in 2010 than in 2008. (I’m leaving out an eighteenth, “all of them”—but that would also be a true statement.)

  1. Academic institutions in the Great Lakes states: IL, IN, MI, OH, WI. This region includes 501 libraries serving 2,307,450 FTE with 22,915,607 circulation. Of those, 251 (50.1%) had more overall circulation in FY2010.
  2. Academic institutions in the Southwest: AZ, NM, OK, TX. This region includes 297 libraries serving 1,544,746 FTE with 14,685,903 circulation. Of those libraries, 150 (50.5%) had growing overall circulation.
  3. Academic institutions in the Southeast: AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA, WV. This region includes 828 libraries serving 3,499,810 FTE with 25,587,943. Of those libraries, 428 (51.6%) had growing overall circulation.
  4. Schools of art, music and design. This group includes 92 libraries serving 148,590 FTE with 2,281,734 circulation. Forty-eight of the libraries (52.2%) grew in total circulation.
  5. Health profession schools other than medical schools and medical centers—e.g., institutions that award most of their degrees in fields such as chiropractic, nursing, pharmacy or podiatry. This category includes 84 libraries serving 69,342 FTE with 504,641 circulation. Forty-four of those (52.3%) grew in total circulation.
  6. Institutions where bachelor’s degrees represent at least 10 percent but less than half of undergraduate degrees. This group includes 80 libraries serving 226,661 FTE with 1,108,987 circulation. Forty-two of the libraries (52.5%) grew in total circulation.
  7. Associate degree institutions, public, rural, serving small communities/areas. This category includes 96 libraries serving 96,123 FTE with 499,506 circulation. Fifty-two of the libraries (54.2%) were growing overall.
  8. Associate degree institutions, public, rural, serving medium-size communities/areas. This category includes 277 libraries serving 677,669 FTE with 3,195,228 circulation. One hundred fifty-four of the libraries (55.6%) grew overall.
  9. Academic institutions in the Far West: AK, CA, HI, NV, OR, WA. This region includes 433 libraries serving 2,468,872 FTE with 22,908,372 circulation. Two hundred forty-five libraries (56.6%) had growing overall circulation.
  10. Associate degree institutions, public, rural, serving large communities/areas. This category includes 136 libraries serving 792,792 FTE with 3,224,141 circulation. Seventy-eight of the libraries (57.3%) grew overall.
  11. Associate degree institutions, public, suburban, single-campus. This category includes 103 libraries serving 605,463 FTE with 2,322,250 circulation. Fifty-nine of the libraries (57.3%) had more overall circulation.
  12. Public 2-year colleges in general. This sector includes 890 libraries serving 4,212,965 FTE with 16,849,788 circulation. Of those, 521 libraries (58.5%) had growing overall circulation.
  13. Associate degree institutions, public, suburban, multi-campus. This category includes 88 libraries and systems serving 721,936 FTE with 3,584,304 circulation. Fifty-two of the libraries (59.1%) had more overall circulation in FY2010 than in FY2008.
  14. Private for-profit, 4-year and above [excluding institutions reporting no circulation, e.g. University of Phoenix]. This sector includes 255 libraries serving 497,575 FTE with 1,376,850 circulation. Of those, 154 libraries (60.4%) had growing overall circulation.
  15. Associate degree institutions, private for-profit. This category includes 195 libraries serving 190,513 FTE with 345,399 circulation. One hundred twenty-five of those libraries (64.1%) had growing overall circulation.
  16. Private for-profit 2-year colleges (not quite the same group as above). This sector includes 180 libraries serving 153,752 FTE with 173,808 circulation. One hundred eighteen libraries (65.6%) had growing overall circulation.
  17. Associate degree institutions, public, urban, multi-campus. This category includes 125 libraries serving 1,218,789 FTE with 3,651,040 circulation. Eighty-three of the libraries (66.4%) had growing total circulation.

Omitted from this list: eight other sectors with fewer than 50 institutions, where most libraries reported growing circulation, including associate degree, public, urban, single-campus; public and private for-profit 4-year institutions offering primarily associate degrees (two categories); schools of engineering; technology-related schools not included elsewhere; law schools; “other special-focus institutions” (e.g. military institutes) and tribal colleges.

Bonus List: Five Growing Categories by FTE

  1. Institutions with 10,000-14,999 FTE: 182 libraries, of which 52.2% had growing circulation.
  2. Institutions with 1,000-1,499 FTE: 369 libraries, of which 53.7% had growing circulation.
  3. Institutions with 600-999 FTE: 352 libraries, of which 53.7% had growing circulation.
  4. Institutions serving 4,000-4,999 FTE: 205 libraries, of which 58.1% had growing circulation.
  5. Institutions serving 3,000-3,999 FTE: 257 libraries, of which 58.8% had growing circulation

For lots more information…

Including circulation per capita changes, the extent to which libraries with growing circulation also had more circulation per capita than those with shrinking circulation, and another brief study taking this back to 2006-2008 and 2006-2010, read the March 2013 Cites & Insights—in the one-column “online version” if you’re planning to read it on an e-device (the charts and tables in the second essay are easier to read), in the two-column “print version” if you plan to print it out.

Authors who get public libraries

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

I originally planned a short note pointing to a story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (and available on SFGate): “‘Free for All’ explores libraries’ value“–about filmmakers who are working on a documentary called “Free For All,”

exploring why Americans are using public libraries in record numbers and what would happen to democracy if libraries became extinct.

It’s a good story, well worth reading.
And as I was checking email before putting up that link, I ran into this: “A Personal History of Libraries” by John Scalzi at Whatever–a clear, eloquent story of how Scalzi grew up with libraries and (although he doesn’t use public libraries as much these days) what they mean to him. A key paragraph:

I don’t use my local library like I used libraries when I was younger. But I want my local library, in no small part because I recognize that I am fortunate not to need my local library — but others do, and my connection with humanity extends beyond the front door of my house. My life was indisputably improved because those before me decided to put those libraries there. It would be stupid and selfish and shortsighted of me to declare, after having wrung all I could from them, that they serve no further purpose, or that the times have changed so much that they are obsolete  My library is used every single day that it is open, by the people who live here, children to senior citizens. They use the building, they use the Internet, they use the books. This is, as it happens, the exact opposite of what “obsolete” means. I am glad my library is here and I am glad to support it.

Oh, and a key description of how Scalzi sees the public library (his current one is small–the town has about 1,800 residents):

A focal point and center of gravity for the community — a place where a community knows it is a community, in point of fact, and not just a collection of houses and streets.

You will not be surprised to hear that Scalzi was inspired to write that post based on that horrible piece by a UK author who really should know better.

I couldn’t resist looking up Scalzi’s local library. It serves more people than Scalzi’s “1,800” estimate (the FY10 LSA is 3,168), but it’s still a small library–and a well-used one: 19.3 circulation per capita, nearly two reference transactions per capita, decent but not great funding ($46.88 per capita), almost five patron visits per capita–and pretty good hours for a small library, open 1,716 hours in FY10. (PC use is also strong, 1.64 per capita; program attendance is 0.7 per capita, which is also a strong number.)

Smaller libraries: Desired but perhaps implausible audience

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

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.

Cites & Insights 13:3 (March 2013) available

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Cites & Insights 13:3 (March 2013) is now available for downloading at

The issue is 32 pages long. For those reading online or on a tablet or ebook reader, the single-column “online edition” is available at The single-column (6×9) version is 67 pages long.

Note: If you don’t plan to print this issue out, the single-column version may be preferable: Graphs and tables take advantage of the wider single column.

This issue includes the following:

The Front  (pp. 1-3)

On the Contrary: Notes on being a contrarian (or a skeptic)

Libraries: Academic Library Circulation: Surprise!  (pp. 3-17)

We all know that circulation in (nearly all) academic libraries has been dropping for years, right? What does (nearly all) mean? Would you believe that a majority of U.S. academic libraries reporting circulation in both 2008 and 2010 (excluding clearly anomalous cases) actually had more circulation in 2010 than in 2008? This article looks at changes in circulation (overall and per capita) by type of library (as broken down in NCES reports–by region, sector, and Carnegie classifications), and also shows the difference between overall average, average of institutional averages, and median figures–frequently surprising differences.

Media: 50 Movie Box Office Gold, Part 2 (pp. 17-26)

Seven discs, 28 movies, all color, some I refused to finish watching.

Libraries: Academic Library Circulation, Part 2: 2006-2010  (pp. 26-32)

Was the period from 2008 to 2010 (2010’s the most recent NCES report) anomalous? This study compares circulation (overall and per capita) between FY2006 and FY2008, FY2006 and FY2010 and FY2008 and FY2010, breaking things down in the same categories as part 1, but this time showing the percentage of libraries with significantly growing circulation, significantly shrinking circulation, and circulation staying about the same. (Overall, 40% grew significantly from 2006 to 2010 and 50.6% shrank significantly; 37.9% grew in per capita circulation and 54.6% shrank significantly–where I defined “significant” as 2.5% over two years or 5% over four years.)

The April issue will not be heavy on original research and statistics. Come May, we’re probably back to public libraries…but that’s a long way away!

Starting points: A note on Give Us a Dollar…

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Karen Harker posted “The data you need?” on February 9, 2013 at Being and Librarianship, discussing my post “The data you need? Musings on libraries and numbers” and adding her own thoughts.

It’s a fine post. You should read it. She mentions some of the data she believes she could use for her own collection assessment; it’s an interesting list. (Harker is also now the first purchaser of Graphing Public Library Benefits, for which I’m grateful; I’ve encouraged her to pass it along to others.)

I am taken with this response to the questions I raised in my post–specifically whether librarians “got” this stuff:

I don’t believe the truth is clear about this.  It is probably something like, some of us do care but don’t get it; some of us get it but don’t care; some care and understand it, but don’t have the time; and some of us are quite interested and can follow through.  And it’s not clear whether this last group is growing in numbers or just staying on the fringes.

That encourages me to continue–and to think harder about my possible non-textbook.

But there’s also this, shortly before the paragraph above:

Walt goes on to question his own contributions, due to lack of response from the library community.  He is, essentially, taking a sounding, asking – Is anybody there? Does anybody care?  Well, Walt, I think we do care and some of us do read your results.  I think what is contributing to this apparent anomie is not disinterest, but perhaps a kind of paralysis – what do we do with this? It is interesting that the libraries in my state have generally moderate circulation rates or that circulation is correlated to expenditures.  What can I do with that information?  While this may be taught in the core curriculum of MLS programs, it may be forgotten as the graduates enter the workforce and get sucked into drudgery of their everyday routines.

I’ve boldfaced part of that (not emphasized in the original) because that’s what I want to comment on here. To wit: There’s no question that neither my book(s) on public library data nor the series of related posts here give a library something the library can run with directly. The book(s) may provide starting points, but those need to be fleshed out with local analysis, consideration of what a library wants to do and more. The book will tell you how your library stacks up (on a range of output metrics) compared to a reasonably small group of comparable libraries. I hope (and believe) that’s useful information, but it’s only a starting point for telling your own compelling funding story (and seeing where things could be improved).

The “$4” posts here, specifically the state-by-state commentaries, are not even starting points. They’re intended to add to the book and provide further overall information on one aspect of public library operations–but they’re not directly useful for individual libraries.

I submitted a comment on Harker’s post, noting how I might proceed with a future project if it made sense (that is, another analysis of public library metrics, not The Mythical Average Library). I would definitely do some things differently, but the results would still offer a fairly rich description of (some aspects of) American public library operations and, I hope, a set of starting points for individual libraries. But they’re only starting points. And maybe it’s unrealistic to believe that the smaller libraries I’m most interested in helping–the 77% (or so) of public libraries serving fewer than 25,000 people–are in positions to take advantage of my work, to build from those starting points.

Anyway: Thanks, Karen: A first-rate post that gives me (and others) things to think about.

One quick question for librarians

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Would you buy (or do you believe others would buy) The Mythical Average Library: Dealing with Numbers?

Quick description: Looking at problems with statistics, misleading graphs, and so on; exposing the real complexity of public and academic libraries and how it’s masked in aggregate reporting; making sense of library numbers–and presenting them fairly.

Comments here or email to

If you want to add more than just “Yes” or “No”–e.g., “Not if it’s more than $15” or “Only if it’s an ebook”–please do.

[There are really three questions, if you want to get detailed:

1. Is this a book that one of the major library publishers would find worth publishing?

2. Is this a book that could be sold via self-publishing?

3. Am I an appropriate person to consider doing this, which may influence 1 & 2?]