Archive for March, 2012

Public library “closures” sometimes aren’t at all

Friday, March 30th, 2012

If you have not yet read the April 2012 Cites & Insights, this post may not make a lot of sense.

The lead essay involves original research to attempt to determine how many public libaries (not branches!) actually closed in 2008-2009 and remained closed. My final number was 17, with two crucial caveats. Here’s what I say before discussing each of 20 apparent closures:

I’m not certain any of these libraries are actually closed. Some could be open but no longer meet IMLS requirements for being listed as a public library (e.g., paid staff and public funding) and others may be open but have no web presence.

And at the end, after reducing the list from 20 to 17 (because three of the 20 were pretty clearly still operating):

Some of these libraries may, in fact, be open but flying under the radar, with no current web presence: That’s not unusual for very small libraries. This is the maximum number of still-closed public library systems first reported closed in 2008 or 2009; the actual number may be slightly smaller.

South Dakota: Cleanup, Not Closures

I received the following on Friday, March 30, 2012, from Dan Siebersma, State Librarian of South Dakota, who’s given me permission to post it:

Thanks for the excellent article about public library “closings.” You are so right that our profession’s constant harping on the “Libraries are closing!” meme simply serves as fodder for those who want to see libraries as obsolete anachronisms.

To add another wrinkle to your story, I need to point out to you that the “nine libraries in small South Dakota communities [that] apparently closed in 2009” didn’t really close at all.  In the past, the South Dakota State Library had a tendency to count every collection of publicly-accessible books in every small community as a ”library.”  It didn’t matter whether there was a staff, a board, or any of the other technicalities of being an actual public library.

A few years ago, we decided to clean this up and made a concerted effort to differentiate between legal public libraries (those meeting the state’s legal definition) and simple “reading rooms” (community book collections in mostly very small towns). Because reading rooms don’t meet the legal definition of a library, and because they often don’t even have a staff, and because they invariably don’t have the resources to participate in the annual public library survey (which provides the data used by IMLS), we chose to drop these collections from the list of libraries we submit annually to IMLS.

So, those nine “libraries” didn’t necessarily close, the State Library changed their designation from “public library” to “reading room” and dropped them from the IMLS Public Library Survey.  Most of them are probably still operating in exactly the same fashion as they’ve always operated, though one or two may have actually closed because “the lady who took care of the books left town” or something similar.

At any rate, we do not count these as “closed” public libraries, so your count of closed libraries has just been halved…and South Dakota’s public libraries remain strong and stable!

I had originally planned to include my specific suspicion that South Dakota’s large number of closures in a single year was actually a cleanup effort, but failed to do so. I thank Dan Siebersma for this clarification. It doesn’t quite cut the 17 in half (I’d already flagged two of the nine South Dakota “libraries” as still operating in some manner), but it does cut it down to ten. For the entire United States. For two years.

I’d guess some of the remaining ten are also cleanup efforts, that is, libraries that simply don’t meet IMLS standards but may still be operating as community reading rooms.

Now, back to the ten-year study…which will, of course, only yield a “maximum possible closures” count, not a “definitely still closed” count. It’s not going to be a huge number–that much I already know.

Cites & Insights 12:3 (April 2012) available

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Cites & Insights 12:3 (April 2012) is now available.

The 36-page issue is a two-column PDF, as usual; a single-column 6×9 PDF designed for ereading is also available (66 pages: please don’t print!). HTML versions of each essay are also available–click on the essay titles.

This issue includes:

Libraries: Public Library Closures: On Not Dropping Like Flies  (pp. 1-13)

Original research! The long-winded version of my investigation into actual public library (agency, not branch) closures in 2008 and 2009, as reported by IMLS, where the libraries appear to still be closed. Hint: There aren’t many.

The Middle (pp. 13-20)

Another handful of items on a variety of topics that formerly belonged in Trends & Quick Takes

Social Networks: The Social Network Scene, Part 2 (pp. 20-29)

 Ten items on social networking topics.

Media: Mystery Collection, Part 5  (pp. 29-36)

Discs 25-30 of the 250-movie Mystery Collection



Micropublishing Tips: 2. Photos and Word’s Save as PDF

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

There should probably be another bullet on page 121 (“Photos”), just above the final bullet in the list:

  • If good quality photos are essential to your book, you probably won’t want to use Word’s PDF creation capabilities. The PDF option (at least in Windows) does not offer choices on image quality, and initial tests suggest that photos are degraded considerably when this internal capability is used. You should probably invest in a PDF program, preferably one that integrates well with Word and offers options to ensure that images are at least 300 dpi.

I have not tested PDF creation programs other than Acrobat, but there are much less expensive alternatives on the market.

This is the second in a series of Micropublishing Tips to expand the content in The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing.

Keeping on

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Just a quick update, for anyone who might be interested:

  • I’ve now done the first two phases of a multiphase project to see how many of the public library systems that disappeared from the IMLS annual report from one year to the next are apparently actual closed libraries. (Phase one: Identify duplicates. Phase two: Check libraries against 2009 IMLS database.) That’s eliminated slightly less than half of the 775 original possibilities. I’ll probably start Phase three tomorrow.
  • That project is the second half of a surprise research project that grew out of questions asked here and elsewhere. The first half will be a major original essay in the April 2012 Cites & Insights. I have the draft essays for the issue in hand–but have to reread them in paper form (red pen in hand), then edit, copyfit, and prepare the issue. It will appear in very early April, I suspect–and conceivably extremely late March. (No link since the issue isn’t there yet.
  • Still very much open to sponsorship or affiliation possibilities so that I can keep my hand in the library field with enough compensation to make it worthwhile, doing research and writing (and speaking). See earlier posts…


Dear “daring” wine directors and restaurateurs

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

I just love reading the local wine critic’s admiration for those daring, forward-looking, inspiring wine directors in local restaurants, and restaurateurs in general, who:

  • Don’t have any Chardonnay or Cab on their winelist because, you know, that’s so boring.
  • In California, explicitly don’t have any California wines on their winelist because, you know, that’s so boring.

I really wish that such restaurants would have little notices saying that they despise California wines, so that I could be aware of their forward-looking nature before spending my cash there.

Odd how restaurants are always praised for locavore tendencies–sourcing the food as close to the restaurant as possible–but equally seem to be praised for their one-finger salutes to a vibrant, incredibly varied wine industry by saying local just isn’t good enough for their golden palates.

In case the above wasn’t clear enough: I won’t knowingly dine at a California restaurant–that has a wine list, that is–that makes a point of shunning California wines.

I wonder: Are there high-end restaurants in France that pointedly reject French wines? Are there famed restaurants in Italy that will have nothing to do with Italian wines?

I’m guessing not. I could be wrong.

It would be one thing if California simply didn’t make any world-class wines, or didn’t make anything but overoaked Chardonnay and high-alcohol Cab. Those are such caricatures of the diversity of what’s made here that a wine director believing them should be sent to direct wine traffic at a liquor store, not in a restaurant. (I don’t say “supermarket” because, in the Bay Area at least, many supermarkets have excellent wine collections. I’m thinking of the small traditional liquor stores that have astonishingly poor wine selections, probably because they know their clientele.)

When I travel out of state, I’ll make some effort to try the local wine, since every state has at least one bonded winery (although not every state grows wine grapes). Many states have some good or excellent wines, even if you leave out Washington, Oregon, New York and Texas, all of whom have first-rate wines by any standard.

I think a Texas restaurant gets extra points for seeking out a few of the first-rate Texas wines to serve. Ditto for New York. Ditto for Virginia. Ditto for states with more than a handful of wineries turning out quality products, although those may be fewer and harder to find. At the other extreme, I’d find it odd for a Washington or Oregon restaurant in the white tablecloth category not to have some of the state’s wines.

But in California? To explicitly exclude the state’s own wines? Sorry, but I’ll take my food dollars elsewhere.

Public library data analysis: Is there a need?

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

As I’ve thought about ways to keep my hand in–that is, ways to regain some level of earned income that justifies my continued interest in and work on library issues–I wondered for a while whether public library data analysis might be such a way. This rambling post is about that question. At this point, I think the answer is “probably not, but maybe I’m too pessimistic” rather than the “possibly so, if there was a plausible way to get funding” that I started out with. So instead of a neat & tidy prospectus, it’s a messy ramble.


For those who like context, this post grows out of several related backgrounds:

  • The 38-state universe study of public library use of social networks I did as research for Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries–brand-new research that I would dearly love to continue on a whole-nation basis, but that I can’t justify doing (it would take a few hundred hours to do and report) without five-digit revenues. That issue’s documented in various posts–and I’d still love to get some guidance on how this can work (other than “give it up. nobody cares” which I may figure out for myself).
  • My recent query as to how many public library systems have actually closed and remained closed, the conversations I’ve had with a number of library researchers in attempting to answer that question, my actual research for the [crude] answers for 2008 and 2009 (which will appear in the April 2012 Cites & Insights) and my future research, with considerable assistance from others, for the [also crude] answers for 1999 through 2008, which will probably appear in the May 2012 Cites & Insights unless I can find a paying market for the results.
  • Time spent with the IMLS annual reports and databases on public libraries in the United States while doing both of these projects, and with some state library reports as well…and going back to some comments from library researchers in email and blog post comments.
  • Time spent examining the HAPLR Index and other sources (the LJ 5-star site seems to be unreadable at the moment, so I won’t link to it) and pondering their strengths and weaknesses, from my admitted bias of not wishing to Point Out Top Achievers so much as to provide overall patterns that allow libraries to gauge themselves.

Why Me?

Recent success in getting people to pay for Cites & Insights at all, or to sell my writing directly to librarians (C&I Books) as opposed to indirectly through publishers (admittedly with professional editing, indexing, cover design and marketing) is tending me toward this feeling:

Any idiot can write, and with the web most idiots do.

But there’s something else:

Most idiots aren’t any good with numbers–and very few of us are good with both numbers and words.

While I’ve been a writer longer than I was a systems analyst/designer/programmer, I’ve always been a “numbers person” to some extent: At Cal, I had an informal math minor along with my formal Rhetoric major.

I love to find patterns in numbers. I like transparency and honesty. I dislike chartjunk–and I’m probably more hardassed about chartjunk than serves me well, specifically the most common form of misleading charts: Those with non-zero axes. Even with labels, such charts inherently exaggerate differences and trends: You may glance at the numbers on the left axis, but what you see first is the enormous change.

As perhaps the most widespread and one of the worst examples: Stock market daily-change charts. Most stock-market quick charts I see are about as bad as they can get, as the axis and scale are always designed to make the day’s movement–no matter how minor–take up the full chart. The only leavening factor is that most charts are hour-by-hour during the day.

Yes, I know, given that stock charts tend to be fairly small, they’d be too boring to even publish if they used zero axes, and excitement usually trumps meaningfulness. Such are media.

I believe I could do both derivative and longitudinal studies (and I hear some minds snapping shut right there–“derivative” in this case is things like circulation per capita or calculated return on investment; “longitudinal” is looking at change over time) that would be honest, transparent, and written well enough to be usable by librarians who are nervous about numbers–but perhaps not by those who are “anti-numerate” rather than just innumerate.

I know there are interesting numbers that I don’t believe are well-reported.

I suspect that one issue in getting librarians to pay attention to numbers might be that some of the best reports–including those from IMLS (although they’re prone to non-zero axes)–are overwhelming. A 230-page PDF may be what’s needed to report properly, but that’s huge.

I wonder whether librarians would be well-served by, and would be responsive to, relatively brief reports, one for each state and library size group (the 10 HAPLR divisions work well), that provide some quick longitudinal charts, some information that looks not only at totals and averages but, more usefully (in my opinion), at medians and 80% figures (and the like), and both of those on some derivative measures that could be useful to see where your own library stands. (The brief reports backed up by a clear, honest, transparent description of what’s behind them.)

And I think I could do those, and do them well, with clear language supplementing a relatively small number of graphs and even smaller number of tables in each report.

On the other hand…

I wonder whether there’s much demand for this sort of thing.

Using the table of state public library data sources provided by Colorado’s Library Research Service, I clicked through to data for the first 30 or so states. I found a wide variety of results–from Connecticut’s first-rate (but long) reports with strong longitudinal work, Colorado’s excellent (if limited) reporting, California’s very good 5-year longitudinal work and Kentucky’s 25-year graphs and generally solid discussions, to a number of states with no summary reports at all, and a few with no apparent data. I’d say six of the 30 (or so) had some sort of longitudinal data.

And I wonder whether the rest don’t have such reports or data because there’s really no demand for it. (I wonder how many librarians actually read the IMLS reports–you don’t really need to go through the full 200+ pages!)

Not that I don’t see things missing in general–but I come away thinking that there’s really not enough interest to pursue this idea at all.


Am I wrong? If so, and if there’s a path to actual compensation, I’d love to hear about it (via email to waltcrawford at–spamments are still averaging >100 per day, so I don’t check them carefully).

Otherwise, well, “Walt, idiot, nobody really wants this, and they certainly won’t pay for it.” Heck, I can tell myself that.

[Note that “nobody wants this” isn’t quite the same as “nobody needs this,” but it might as well be from my perspective. In either case, I’d be a greater idiot to keep pursuing it.]


Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

There’s an odd ongoing story across the Bay–a newly-elected Sheriff (in a county that’s also a city, thus has a police chief and sheriff with precisely identical service area) who’s been brought up on domestic violence charges and ended up pleading guilty to one of them.

And who’s now been suspended by the newly-elected Mayor (and replaced by an interim Sheriff who’s a woman, the first time this Sheriff’s Office has been headed by a woman), without pay, while it’s determined whether the conduct makes the Sheriff unfit for office.

Key to the eventual guilty plea: A neighbor’s video showing the wife’s bruised arm where the Sheriff grabbed her during some sort of argument/discussion.

Which got me to thinking: Under what circumstances would I be justified in grabbing my wife’s arm, especially hard enough to cause a bruise?

  • An argument? Nope. Period. Not gonna happen. (Not that we don’t ever argue, but an argument is never justification for physical violence–especially, as in this case, where the man is considerably larger and more powerful than the woman. I’m actually shorter than my wife, but outweigh her by quite a bit. In any case, we’ve only been married 34 years, but never argued at a pitch that resulted in physical assault on either side. I hope we never will.)
  • Asserting your superior rights over the woman–that she’s your property to do with as you please? Right…if my wife ever for an instant believed that I thought anything of the sort, I would no longer be married. Or deserve to be part of a civilized nation. (I won’t get into whether some states in the U.S. can be considered parts of a civilized nation; let’s just assume they have barbarians as state legislators and let it go at that. I do know where my tourist dollars won’t be going any time soon, which is unfortunate, because I like Key West and San Antonio.)
  • Which leaves what?

I finally came up with a situation in which case I’d feel justified in grabbing my wife’s arm. If we were in an exposed situation where she was about to fall off a cliff or off a ship or otherwise about to be in serious physical danger, and the only way I could save her from that danger was by grabbing her arm.

Otherwise? Damned if I can see any justification, ever, for a man to grab his wife’s (or girlfriend’s, or date’s, or boyfriend’s, or husband’s) arm hard enough to leave a bruise.

Unplug or not?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

It seems that Shabbos this week (that is, sundown Friday through sundown Saturday) is the National Day of Unplugging. I’d seen it mentioned, ahem, online, but was taken by the story in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, which I take as a daily print newspaper. The story, in a business column that appears regularly, is headlined “Confessions of a tech addict” and you can read it from the link.

So: Do I participate or not?

Based on the story, there’s no reason I should: I’m not a “tech addict” according to those anecdotal signs.

I don’t even own a smartphone, much less cycle through email and all the social network sites first on the computer…and then again on the smartphone in case I’ve missed something.

I’m almost always off the computer (and the internet) entirely from around 8 p.m. to around 7:45 a.m., and frequently from 6 p.m. to 7:45 a.m.

When I am on, I don’t compulsively check social networks and email. I probably spend more time on Friendfeed than is really good for me, but otherwise…not so much. I’m mostly either writing on the computer or visiting sites to help whatever else I’m doing.

Still…the idea of staying off the internet entirely for 24 hours is almost appealing. Not that I haven’t done that. With the exception of our most recent cruise (when I checked email once a day at the request of, and expense of, my then employer), I was entirely offline from the time I left for vacation until the time I returned. That’s even true for conferences: With rare exceptions, I’m off the internet when I’m away from home. And that’s fine with me.

How do I feel about the national day of unplugging? I’m not sure. The idea that it’s extraordinary to pay attention to the people in your real world and less attention to your virtual acquaintances strikes me as unfortunate, but I suppose it’s a start.

Most likely, I’ll follow typical Friday evening/Saturday day patterns–which means the only time I’m likely to check email or social networks is for about an hour Saturday morning and maybe three hours Saturday afternoon.

Frankly, if you exhibit the signs that the Chronicle writer does, it might not hurt for you to join the unplugging. But that’s your call.

Refreshing C&I revisited

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

If you don’t read Cites & Insights, you really won’t care about this post. (Of course, I’d ask why you read this blog if you don’t read C&I, but that’s a different question…)

If you do read Cites & Insights, you should be aware of the surveys I’ve taken relating to the ejournal’s readership–and if you’ve read the current issue, you should be aware of the results of that survey (and my own thinking).

The issue has now been out for two weeks. I thought it was worth noting how things have been going.

Format Used

Of those who chose one format for reading C&I, 11 read the PDF in print form–which is what it’s designed for–while 16 read the PDF online and three read the HTML separates. (For nine readers, it varies.)

While I know that 39 responses out of a readership that I hope is in the high hundreds or, eventually, low thousands is anecdata, it’s the only data I have. So I did something about it: I created a PDF specifically designed for “online”/e-device reading, that is, a 6×9 page (with margins) with a single column of print, which should work pretty well on most devices with 6″ or larger screens–and should work beautifully on iPads, Kindle DXes and competitors, netbooks and notebooks.

So far, the traditional two-column PDF has been downloaded 373 times.

The single-column PDF has been downloaded 117 times.

From everything I’ve been told, “pageviews” for PDFs in Urchin are redundant, and downloads include in-browser views. If that’s NOT true, then all my readership estimates for past years are way on the low side, and in this case the numbers would be 937 for the traditional PDF and 267 for the single-column PDF. I’d love to claim that much-higher readership, but am reluctant to do so.

HTML separates?

  • Social Networks has been viewed 171 times.
  • The other three sections–The Front, The Middle, The Back–are roughly tied, with 124 to 128 views each.

So do most people who read C&I on screens prefer the two-column version? Or have they just not downloaded it yet?


The second survey–the post for which was viewed at least 98 times and the sample PDF for which was downloaded 17 times–only got five responses.

All five of the respondents said they would possibly pay for or contribute towards the online PDF version–but they wouldn’t pay much: Four said no more than $10-$12 per year, one said up to $25 per year.

So I lowered the suggested contribution levels on the Cites & Insights home page. I now say:

I haven’t set a fixed amount for support. I’ll suggest $5 if you feel a specific issue is worth having and $25 or more for a year’s worth (or $10 if you don’t think it’s worth $25 or just can’t afford it).

The results to date? Well…

  • I received a total of four donations in 2011, of which three were in the first four months of the year. (The donations didn’t total quite enough to pay for hosting C&I, but came close. They were/are greatly appreciated.)
  • I received a total of zero donations between January 1 and March 6, 2012, when this issue came out.
  • So far, since the lower suggested donation and the positive responses on the poll, I have received a total of zero donations since March 6, 2012.

It’s too early to say this is conclusive, but it’s telling.

By the way…

If you’d really love to buy one or more of the Cites & Insights Books, but you hate the idea of having to set up an account on Lulu in order to do so:

Good news! You no longer need to establish a Lulu account in order to order and pay for a book.

So you can know run right off to my “spotlight page” and buy those books you’ve so desperately wanted.


Yes, I’m a little discouraged. No, I’m not giving up. (And if I had sponsorship for library research, at a reasonable level, I’d probably stop bugging y’all about this.)

Indeed, the April issue of Cites & Insights will feature original research–an analysis of public library closures in 2008 and 2009 (and whether those libraries are still closed). And, given information provided to me just today, it’s highly likely that a future issue (maybe May, maybe not) will extend that research to cover 1998 through 2007.


How much will you pay me to pay for a subscription?

Monday, March 19th, 2012

There was a curious item in today’s (USPS) mail–a note from Wired Magazine trying to coax me to renew my subscription (which expires in June, and which I believe I got for free using airline miles, then was extended because the Conde Nast magazine I actually wanted–their classy business mag–went under the same month I subscribed).

Oh, it’s not curious that they want me to renew. What’s curious is just how far they’re going. The offer: $8 for one year. $15 for two years. That’s $15 for 24 issues of a monthly magazine, which may or may not be enough to cover postage.

To me, that smacks of desperation. For that matter, the typical $10 renewal price for many slick large-subscription monthlies strikes me as a little desperate, but when you fall significantly below that threshhold…

What’s happening here, I’m fairly certain, is that Conde Nast is anxious (desperate?) to retain its rate base, the guaranteed level of circulation used to set its ad rates, since it is ads that actually pay for Wired. And I can see the difficulty. The magazine’s media kit for the print magazine says “Paid/Verified Subscriptions: 715,749”–but the December 2011 required USPS magazine-rate information shows an average of 628,364 paid subscriptions for the past 12 issues, down to 621,059 for the most recent issue.

I suspect I’m missing a bunch of requested but not paid subscriptions, since I really don’t believe Wired‘s print version has been bleeding subscribers that rapidly–but I can understand the desire not to lose any more.

As it happens, it won’t work. It doesn’t help that the issue I’ll read next (not the current issue–I’m a bit behind) has this as its primary cover text: “YOUR NEXT CAR WILL DRIVE ITSELF.” Not “some day, some of us may have self-driving cars” but rather typical Wired: metahyperbole, like hype-squared, a statement that’s so ludicrous as to be offensive.

I wonder just how low the magazine will go? $5 a year? $1? Send me a free iPad if I send them a $15 three-year print subscription? (I might go for that. I might not.)

Samir Husni, “Mr. Magazine,” has written about print magazines underselling their own value. I think his figure was $1/issue–that is, offering subscriptions for that little money, or less, indicates that a magazine’s publisher doesn’t place much value in the magazine.

It’s not a bad figure. Let’s say that going significantly below $1/issue doesn’t inspire confidence. What does that say about $15/24, that is, $0.625 per issue?

Understand: I’m a print magazine kind of guy. I take a bunch of them. I read them pretty much cover to cover (which may be why my to-be-read stack, between two and three months’ worth, is now completely filling the designated basket). I like some variety.

I’m keeping Fast Company (which offered me extensions at $10/year, but it’s a 10x/year “monthly” so that’s $1/issue). Lately, I find that Fast Company is almost as tendentious and assured of the single future as Wired always has been (“GenFlux” as the universal future, my nether regions), but in general it’s a little less zooey. Taking both strikes me as overload.