Archive for May, 2012

Mystery Sale–and the Lull in Posts

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

From now through May 31, 2012, there’s a Mystery Sale on Cites & Insights Books (that is, Lulu’s having a Mystery Sale)–which makes it a great time to pick up one or more of my books, or, if you’re a library with a strong collection on Californiana, pioneer life, western migration, etc., a great time to buy Anna Julia Young’s Autobiography. (That’s the hardcover. Here’s the paperback.)

Or, for that matter, a good time to pick up the hardcover version of The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing.

I don’t know what the discount is, or whether it increases if you buy multiple books. Last time I actually ordered during one of Lulu’s odd mystery sales, it was somewhere between 10% and 20%, but I can’t guarantee anything.

The Lull in Posts

I’ve done enough tracking of and writing about blogs, and liblogs in particular, that I should have known better: I said I expected to be posting more…and lately, I’ve been posting less.

The reason’s simple enough.

I’m hard at work on Give Us A Buck and We’ll Give You Back Four (originally “Five” and it may yet change), the study of public library benefits that I discussed here and in prior posts.

My hope is to have it out sometime next week, or at worst the week after.

As for the June issue of Cites & Insights…that should appear a few days after the book does.

As for steady blogging…well, I never was very steady at this.

Full-color books on Lulu

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

When I was writing The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing, I mentioned books with full-color printing throughout but admitted that I didn’t have any actual experience using Lulu or CreateSpace for full-color books. I anticipated that Lulu’s would look nicer because Lulu uses a heavier matte-finish paper specifically designed for color reproduction (but the pages also cost $0.20 each, where CreateSpace’s cost $0.12 each–in both cases, much more expensive than black-and-white books).

Do note that neither service offers the option of inserting a few full-color pages in an otherwise black-and-white book. It’s all or nothing.

Actual Experience with Full Color

I now have actual experience with Lulu’s full-color production–and it’s a fine example of the kind of thing micropublishing is ideal for.

Anna Julia Young — Autobiography is …well, here’s the description from the Lulu store page:

Autobiography of Livermore pioneer Anna Julia (Simmons) Young, who came to California from Illinois by covered wagon in 1862 and settled in Livermore, California, in 1869. Includes a foreword by Jo Eileen Presley Voelker, Anna’s granddaughter. Compiled and edited by Linda A. Driver, with genealogical notes by Nancy Glaiberman. Appendix includes genealogical information for the Young, Simmons and Rogers families. Illustrated, with footnotes, selected bibliography and index.

It’s quite a story–readable and compelling. My wife, Linda Driver, is related to Anna Julia Young (on the Simmons side). She got permission from the owner of the manuscript and gathered appropriate photographs from various sources–some of the photographs color or sepia. She also did all the layout (in Microsoft Word 2010–using Corel Paint Shop Pro to do the photo editing and prepare the front and back covers).

An interesting family story, fleshed out with further research, appropriate illustrations and an index–and transformed from a set of typed 8.5×11″ pages to a sleek 87-page 6×9″ paperback.

And it came out beautifully–we were delighted when the first color copy finally arrived.

This is exactly what micropublishing is all about–or at least it’s one of the many flavors: Making history more accessible and permanent.

There’s also a hardcover version and it also looks great.

I can recommend it if you’re one of the many who’re related to Anna Julia Young or if you’re interested in a real-life story of Northern California pioneers after the gold rush. And now I can confidently say that, if you make sure not to compress your photos (in Word) and don’t mind paying the price, you can get good full-color work from Lulu.

If you don’t mind paying the price…

There’s the rub, of course. If you follow either link, you’ll see that the prices aren’t modest: $28.50 for the paperback, $38.50 for the hardcover. My wife won’t be getting rich from her share of that price: We get less than $6 from each sale. (I think we’d need to sell 30 copies just to cover the copies she’s giving to historical societies and the people who provided permissions and material.) Full-color books done one at a time are expensive. But sometimes worth it.

Oh, and by the way: If you have something like this that you really want to do, but feel you lack the editing, layout, indexing and other skills needed (or the patience to fight work with Word on making sure illustrations and captions appear where they should)…my wife might be able to help. For a price, of course. You can reach her through email: lindadriver at gmail dot com.

Open Access: One easy thing to do now

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Assuming I have any readers at all that haven’t already done so:

Go sign the petition to the White House to

Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

You’ll need to create a account if you don’t already have one; that takes maybe 2-3 minutes (mostly waiting for verification email).

The petition was mounted Monday. It’s almost halfway to the required 25,000 signatures already. It won’t–by itself-change anything, but it couldn’t hurt.

Oh, and if you’d like to know more about open access itself, you could buy my book (from ALA Editions): Open Access: What You Need to Know Now. It’s a reasonably quick read with lots of good resources.

Micropublishing Guide 40% off!

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I believe The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing may be the most important book I’ve ever written–one that can serve every public library (no matter how small) and most academic libraries, making it possible to add a new patron/community service without new equipment or expertise.

And now, you can get the book at a substantial discount: 40% off (not including shipping & handling).

Just use the code LGMP1 (that’s LGMP followed by a one) when you order The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing (follow the link!).

The discount’s good through July 30, 2012.

Quick Background

The new service: supporting micropublishing–that is, using print on demand fulfillment services to publish books that may serve niches from one to 500 copies, by producing books individually as they are needed.

The book shows you how and provides a starting professional-quality book template for Word, the same template used for the book itself. (There’s also a slightly simplified template for LibreOffice.)

Every public library has community members who have family histories and other specialized books in them–probably more than you’d ever guess. With this book, your library can make those books feasible and attractive (it’s enormously more satisfying to publish a family history as a professional 6×9 book than as a stapled or Velobound set of 8.5×11 pages!).

For smaller academic libraries, this may be a service faculty and staff would find useful–there are a lot of people out there who have special-interest books in them. For many academic libraries, there may also be another service, if (or as) you start to publish new open access journals in cooperation with campus departments: Micropublishing offers a no-cost way to make print copies (say of the journal’s annual compilation) available for those who want them.

There’s more detail on the blog post announcing the book.

Remember: Code LGMP1 for 40% off The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing.

Accepting one challenge

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

In a thread elsewhere, somebody faulted me for suggesting that most Big Business Books, especially those claiming to identify The Secrets to Success through Statistical Analysis of What Works, are largely bogus…especially for not having actually read Jim Collins’ Good to Great, which, I was assured, was The Real Stuff, deeply inspirational and not to be missed.

OK, I’m paraphrasing and probably exaggerating. But…I certainly got the sense that the book would be life-changing and all that.

So I borrowed the book from the library. And read it.

Of course, it got a little odd along the way, frequently being reminded that Circuit City is one of the (only 11!) “good to great” companies assured of everlasting super-success due to its following the set of new cliches offered in the book (there has to be a Snappy Phrase for everything, of course).

Since, y’know, Circuit City is bankrupt.

I wasn’t entirely convinced that Fannie Mae was a sterling example of lasting greatness either. Since, y’know…well, Fannie Mae is a complex story.

And, yes, I’m among those who has trouble regarding a huge peddler of legal poison (lifestyle products that tend to kill their users when used as directed) as being a lasting great company.

But, hey, that’s only three out of eleven. The other eight must be prime examples and prove the theses of the book.

Hmm. One company’s agreed to pay more than $1 billion for illegal marketing. Another no longer exists, having been bought out by another company.  But hey, that still leaves six, more than half of the original group.

But the book only seems to pertain to companies that plan to plod along for 20 or more years, then take on a different path: There’s nothing to indicate that it offers lessons for companies planning to be the next Intel or Microsoft or Apple or… (and at least one of its lessons absolutely, positively rules out Apple or Microsoft!)

And as I was reading and thinking, I started hearing a little voice:

“Correlation does not equal causation.”

Overall? I’m afraid I didn’t find the book life-changing. Nor did I find it a plausible Recipe for Greatness (even if “Greatness” is defined by profitability/stock market success, which bothers me more than a little).

And, well, I think I need to read The Halo Effect.

But I will say this: The book wasn’t quite as padded as a great many Big Business Books are. And Collins is a reasonably good storyteller.

Public library value ratios: Update

Monday, May 14th, 2012

Thanks to all those who commented on my possible public library value ratio project, either on the original post, on the Wednesday, May 9 update when I extended the feedback period or on the third post on Friday, May 11–and to those who sent email rather than commenting on one of the posts.

The comments provided valuable feedback and helped me sharpen the model and concept, as well as pointing me to a range of studies done by state libraries and other agencies. Those studies and some additional thinking also helped me revise the formulas I was planning to use–although in one case that “thinking” resulted in a formula that’s just plain wrong (and has now been corrected). Those who love formulas and details will want to go read all the way through the May 9 post to see what was involved.

The error was too much cleverness on my part–and it would have been glaringly obvious as soon as I started sorting the spreadsheet for some overall comments in Chapter One. Namely, one particular library system showed more than $2 billion in PC-related benefits rather than about $26.1 million. Go read the bottom of the May 9 post: It has to do with large multibranch systems.

After reviewing the comments, looking at the other studies, and thinking about my own time and energy, I’m going ahead with the project–with the proviso that if I find that it’s not going well enough or rapidly enough, it may be abandoned midstream. My goal is to have the preliminary edition available at least a week before ALA Annual, although that’s not a hard-and-fast goal.

Preliminary edition? Yes. This one’s a proof of concept, with the hope of getting feedback on its usefulness. If it’s useful (and reaches an audience), I’ll plan to do a more polished study using the 2010 IMLS database–when that emerges.

Thanks again to all who commented, including those I may have given a bad time. Oh, and if you have a great idea for a title, let me know…right away. Right now, I’m probably going with the best of several suggestions from Library Society of the World members (my informal thinktank!)…

Box Office Gold Disc 9

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Death Scream (orig. La maison sous les arbres or The Deadly Trap), 1971, color. Rene Clement (dir.), Faye Dunaway, Frank Langella, Barbara Parkins, Karen Blanguernon. 1:36 [1:32]

We have Frank Langella as a mathematical genius, working for a publisher, who’s contacted by someone who really, truly wants him to do something for them…something clearly not on the up and up. He’s in Paris, where he moved two years previously with his wife (Faye Dunaway), their 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. Dunaway seems to be having memory problems, the marriage isn’t as good as it should be, and he bonds with the daughter while she spoils the (slightly rotten) son. The real estate agent who found them the apartment lives downstairs with her husband and spends a lot of time with them. Dunaway’s character is seeing a psychiatrist and seems to be getting more anxious by the day, especially when she buys a party dress and her daughter points out that she already owns the exact same dress.

And then, she’s with the kids at a puppet show, buys a hoop for the son, and as they’re going home, she loses them. After clues suggesting that they might have drowned (or that she might have drowned them), it turns out they’ve been kidnapped. The rest of the film deals with that (and gaslighting, but not by her husband). The title’s a cheat; there are deaths (two of them), but that’s not really the theme. I guess it’s a psychological thriller; I just didn’t find it particularly compelling. Widescreen (but not anamorphic, and zooming this VHS-quality print up to fill a big screen was occasionally unpleasant). Not terrible, not great, $1.25.

Powderkeg, 1971, color (TV: pilot for Bearcats!). Douglas Heyes (dir.), Rod Taylor, Dennis Cole, Fernando Lamas, John McIntire, Michael Ansara, Tisha Sterling. 1:33.

The plot’s all seriousness: A band of Mexican bandits hijack a train and its 73 passengers (shooting the troops that are on the train) in order to free the brother of the head bandit, who’s going to be hanged in New Mexico after the gang had raided the town. If the brother isn’t freed, the head promises to shoot all the passengers—and keeps running the train back and forth on 40 miles of track in the open Mexican country, so he can spot any attempts to rescue them.

Well, sir…the note demanding the exchange (pinned to the body of a railroad official, thrown off at the station the train doesn’t stop at) was written under duress by a young Mexican lawyer, instructed to address it to the president of the railroad and any high-ranking names he can think of. The two names he adds turn out to be a couple of guys who’ve done border-town cleanup in the past. And thus the romp begins.

And romp it is: High adventure with low plausibility, carried off with style by a good cast. After learning that this was actually the movie-length pilot for a one-season TV series starring Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole (Bearcats!)—well, it’s still a good flick. It’s not even worth recounting the rest of the plot. I found it well done, enjoyable, a fairly good print; easily worth $1.50.

Slipsteream, 1989, color. Steven Lisberger (dir.), Bob Peck, Mark Hammill, Kitty Aldridge, Bill Paxton, Susan Leong, Abigail David, Robbie Coltrane. (Brief parts by Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham.) 1:42.

There’s a deep mystery to this picture. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Oh, the mystery’s not the nature of the killer who’s central to the plot. He (Bob Peck) starts out being captured by two cops, one of whom (Mark Hammill) delights in blowing people away at the slightest provocation; is taken from them by a no-account bounty hunter (Bill Paxton) who wants to turn him in for the reward; and winds up the most heroic character in the film. If you haven’t figured out what he is long before it’s revealed—about halfway through the film—you’re not trying.

It’s not even the erratic nature of the slipstream—the supposed worldwide band of constant howling winds that’s the chief result of “the Convergence,” a near-future environmental disaster that’s resulted in the death of most people and ruination of most others. The slipstream is terribly ferocious when it suits the plot; nonexistent when it doesn’t.

It’s not even just how long in the future this could be set, given that one semi-decadent “downstream” group, living in an old museum/library setting with a variety of artifacts seems to have an unlimited supply of Dom Perignon.

Variable acting (Mark Hammill makes a great villain), pretty good print, loads of scenery, good stereo sound (unusual for these pictures) with an Elmer Bernstein score. Not a great scifi flick, but not a bad one.

The mystery is this: How on earth does a British 1989 color science fiction flick with good production values and scenery (if not great special effects), produced by Gary Kurtz, filmed in Turkey with a quality score and a good cast wind up in a Mill Creek Entertainment megapack? In any case, I’ll give it $1.50.

Somewhere, Tomorrow, 1983, color. Robert Wiemer (dir. & screenplay), Sarah Jessica Parker, Nancy Addison, Tom Shea, Rick Weber, Paul Bates. 1:31.

At first blush, this appears to be a movie told as flashbacks, starting with a teenager (an 18-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker) in ICU after a minor concussion—because, the doctor says, she seems to want to die. And, in the end, she doesn’t—but there’s also a little twist on the twist.

Basic plot: The girl’s father was killed in a plane crash—it’s never said how much earlier. She mourns him. She and her mother live on a horse ranch, but really can’t afford to keep it up. Her mother’s dating a local cop, and the girl’s not too wild about that.

And then…and then. Lots of plot. Cut to a teenage boy and his friend, taking off in a single-engine Cessna (I guess the kid’s old enough for a pilot’s license) to go visit the kid’s horse, who is on a stud appointment at the girl’s ranch. There’s some sputtering just before they take off (as the kid’s teaching his friend to fly), but they ignore it. Which, of course, eventually leads to them crashing in the firebreak near the ranch, just as she’s taking the kid’s horse out for some exercise.

We wind up with the boy showing up as an all-too-physical ghost only she can see (and, oh look, she was watching Topper just before going out for the exercise ride), a lot of blather about the need for her mother to move on, her mother marrying the police officer…and back we go to the hospital. It all ends happily and truly peculiarly.

The good parts: Very good print (full VHS quality). Some good scenery. The bad parts: The very young Parker (in her first movie, although she’d done earlier TV) isn’t all that great, and neither are the other actors—but maybe that’s the script. Oh, and Parker sings two songs, which turns out not be a win either. I found the whole thing sort of dreary; there may have been a Deep Religious Message that I missed, and there’s definitely a “life must go on!” message*, but mostly it was not very good. Generously, $1.

Public library value ratios: More information

Friday, May 11th, 2012

I’ve received great feedback–both in comments and in email–based on the second post on my possible public library value ratios book project.

Michael Golrick pointed me to a Wisconsin page with a much larger list of state, local and regional library ROI studies than I’d encountered previously. I’ve now read (or at least skimmed) all of those and checked a couple of other sources.

As a result, I’ve added a new section to the May 9th post explaining the actual model I’ll use for the Value Ratio–if I do this project at all. I think it’s a defensible model that’s also wildly incomplete (it’s a baseline, representing a countable portion of a library’s value, but nowhere near the totality), and could possibly be a valuable complement to some excellent state and local studies. But I’m still not sure.

I invite you to take another look–the new information is at the bottom of the post, under the line–and offer additional comments from now through Sunday, May 13, 2012. That’s when I’ll make a decision on whether or not to proceed. (You may also want to read the original post.)

Public library value ratios: Feedback period extended

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Two days ago (Monday, May 7, 2012), I asked for instant feedback on a possible quick-book project providing a detailed set of charts and percentiles related to a “value ratio” for public libraries–that is, the ratio between library expense per capita and library value to its users and community (per capita).

A number of states have done studies of this ratio (usually defined as ROI, return on investment), some of them using fairly sophisticated models and surveys. Consistently, however, such studies yield a single number.

What I have in mind is both cruder (far less sophisticated and relying entirely on public information) and more detailed–namely, yielding a variety of percentile ranges that break down the overall picture into more detailed forms. To quote a little of the other post:

The four axes or, if you will, chapters, following an overall look:

  • Clumps of libraries by LSA size (using the 10 HAPLR divisions)
  • Clumps of libraries by expense/budget ranges
  • Clumps of libraries by per capita expense ranges
  • State-by-state analyses (one clump for states with few libraries, probably three by broad size categories for states with many libraries)

For each clump, as for the overall figures, I’d provide correlations as appropriate, plus mean, median, and percentile levels in two ways–the 90th, 80th, 70th, etc. percentiles, but also the percentage of libraries exceeding certain value ratio set points.

I wanted feedback on whether this might be useful, useless or even a bad idea. I wanted that feedback by the end of today (May 9, 2012), since my plan was to have the book available by ALA Annual.

Early feedback

I’ve received half a dozen responses. While most of them are mildly positive, by far the most detailed response–and the only one clearly coming from a state library employee–was less so. I’ll quote that feedback,, from Steve Mattthews, here:

For what it’s worth, it seems it would only by useful IF the Value Ratio to which you refer is an empirical statistically useful number. Simply calling some number “value” doesn’t make it valid. Are you using contingent valuation (CV) either willingness-to-pay (WTP) or willingness-to-accept (WTA)? Or are you using some arbitrarily assigned “value”?

It also seems like a no-brainer premise to say that “libraries that are better funded provide better service.” One of the pitfalls of using data collected for one purpose to apply to a different purpose is that it requires numerous questionable assumptions to make the numbers meaningful. How would this data be more valid or more valuable than the results from several states that conducted their own ROI study within the past few years? The 21st Century Library is More:

I replied, probably defensively, after looking at all of the ROI studies available from that link and from links within those links. My plan is to do something entirely different, possibly more valuable only because it’s something more than One Big Number for an entire state–but certainly less valid based on that commentary.

Extending the feedback request

If Steve Matthews’ response is typical of what well-informed librarians would say, or typical of how state libraries would feel about what I have planned, then I should abandon the idea: Way too much work for what may be perceived as valueless or even harmful.

I’m not quite ready to do that. Instead, I’ll ask for more feedback, through the weekend (that is, through Sunday, May 13, 2012). Apologies in advance if I respond in what seems a defensive manner; maybe I’ll try to avoid responding at all. Except, of course, to come to a decision on Monday.

So, either by mail to waltcrawford at or in a comment here (noting that comments with multiple links sometimes get trapped as spam, and I get WAY too much spam to check each one):

Good idea? Lousy idea? Pointless idea?

[If you think my investigation into public library closings was actually a bad thing, you will most assuredly think this project is a bad idea as well–but you can think the first was good and that the second is pointless.]

Additional information (added 5/11/12)

I’ve now read or at least skimmed all of the studies linked to from the page Michael Golrick identifies (in one of the comments below), re-read some other sources, and modified (or clarified) the numbers I’ll use if (and it’s still if) I do this instabook–which, it should be clear, is intended to be complementary to the state ROI studies, the HAPLR ratings, the LJ Star ratings, and all those other things, not a competitor to any of them.

Here’s what I would be using to establish the Value Ratio and the two subratios (Explicit Value and Implicit Value):

Explicit Value

  • $8.30 times the sum of Circulation, ILLTo, and ILLFrom. (This is one of the two Big Numbers–although ILLTo and ILLFrom are a small part of it. After looking at a wild diversity of arguably sound amounts for average circulation worth, I used the average price of mass market paperbacks in 2008.)
  • $15 per reference question. (Assumes that, these days, there are relatively fewer but relatively more important/difficult reference questions.)
  • $10 per program attendance. (Given the relatively small number of reported program attendances, changing this number wouldn’t have much effect on anything.)
  • The larger of: $8 times the number of counted PC uses or $2.66 times (the number of Internet-connected computers available for users times the number of open hours the average number of open hours per outlet). This is the other Big Number. However calculated, it’s also a partial standin for uncounted items–database use, wifi use, etc. [If you’re wondering: That $2.66 figure is based directly on one of the carefully-done ROI studies, and assumes $4/hour value and that 2/3 of computers, on average, are in use. The $8 figure assumes an average of 2 hours per use, also at $4/hour.)

Implicit Value

  • $60 per open hour (partly a standin for in-house use and the many uses of library as place–arguably, this figure should be much higher).
  • $5 per visit (also partly a standin for the above).

Right now, it looks as though the median is a little more less than 5 and the mean is very close to the median (which is a good thing)–and EV is anywhere from two to three times as much as IV overall (about 2 for median, more than 3 for mean).

This information may or may not help late comments.

And no, I still haven’t made up my mind. The three or four additional hours spent yesterday in checking sources I hadn’t previously encountered, and the half-hour redoing overall numbers, don’t matter much in the overall scheme of things–they’re sunk costs. If this wouldn’t be valuable to libraries and the library community, I won’t do it.

Strikeouts and changes, Monday, May 14, 2012

As I was going over the various comments, asking for help with a good title for this study (from the Library Society of the World, and I’ve received some excellent ideas), and checking one item for interest (namely: how often is “actual PC use” a larger figure than “potential PC use”), I realized that there was one fundamental error in my ratios–it became fairly obvious when one multibranch library had more than $2 billion in PC use.

Namely, the original formula only works for central libraries with no branches. For multibranch libraries, it overstates the availability of PCs by a factor equal to the number of branches. That is: If a three-outlet library (central and two branches) has 200 PCs in central library (open 70 hours per week) and 100 each in the two branches (each open 50 hours per week), the original formula yields $2.66 * 400 * 170, or $180,880–and assumes that there are 400 PCs available 170 hours per week. (I would have discovered this error as soon as I started playing with the spreadsheet for the first chapter: It would be really obvious that something was wrong.)

The new formula is the best I can do, and it somewhat understates availability for libraries in which Central has many more PCs and is open many more hours than branches. To wit, it divides hours per week by the number of outlets–so, in the three-outlet case, the formula is $2.666 * 400 * 56.7, or $60,293.

If that seems like a big difference, consider a library with 89 outlets, open a total of 242,424 hours and with a total of 3,609 PCs: The original formula overstates the availability of PCs by close to 88 times. (Yes, there is such a library. As it happens, once the correct formula is applied, the two possible PC use benefit numbers–that is, $8 times reported PC uses and $2.66 times PCs times average hours–are very similar for that library.)

This change reduces the median ratio to 5.00 for 9,102 libraries or 4.88 for the 8,535 libraries included in most of the analysis (excluding 415 “libraries” with less than one quarter of a librarian, 152 libraries with less than $5 per capita funding, and 27 libraries with more than $300 per capita funding). Notably, the correlation between per capita expenditures and per capita benefits is now 0.63, which is a very strong correlation–stronger than it was with the erroneous calculation. It also means that circulation is The Big Number, representing 71% of direct benefits.

Does all this sound as though I’m almost certainly going ahead? That’s true, based on the whole set of comments received here and directly via email. And my thanks to all who commented. Look for an announcement, significantly before ALA Annual if all goes well–and probably in the next Cites & Insights.

Public library value ratios: Worth doing or not?

Monday, May 7th, 2012

I need instant feedback on this one–by Wednesday, May 9, if at all possible. A quick comment here or email to waltcrawford at will do.

The idea

When I was finishing the Public Library Closures study, I remembered back to many years ago when I was doing state library conference keynotes with some regularity. For several of them, I did snapshots of the public libraries in the state (at the time, using state databases), looking at per-capita expenditures and circulation. I found that, with very few exceptions, “libraries that do a lot do a lot”–well-funded libraries had higher circulation per capita than poorly-funded libraries, to the point that they were at least as good bargains.

I wondered whether a slightly more sophisticated calculation would be useful to libraries and library groups in telling the positive story I believe public libraries should be telling: That is, it’s not about forestalling closure, it’s about providing the resources so libraries can enrich and enhance communities. And, with very few exceptions, public libraries are demonstrably good stewards of additional resources.

The status

I’ve taken the 2009 IMLS figures (the most recent available) and done two versions of a master spreadsheet–both using eight reported factors to determine direct value (countable events that are clearly valuable to community members) and indirect value (countables that provide a less clearly direct value to the community), calculating total operating expenses per capita, and preparing a Value Ratio: value per capita divided by expense per capita (with two sub-ratios for direct and indirect value).

One spreadsheet includes 8,936 libraries–excluding those that didn’t directly report expenses, hours, or circulation. It does include imputed figures for items other than expenses, hours and circulation. (There are some 300 libraries–mostly very small, quite a few not in the 51 states + DC, that just don’t report enough information for inclusion.)

The other begins with the 8,936, but moves 524 of them to a separate Outlier page based on one or more of these conditions:

  • Less than one-quarter FTE librarian or total staff, or imputed staff levels rather than reported staff levels (350 libraries)
  • Less than $5 per capita expenses (147 libraries)
  • $300 or more per capita expenses (27 libraries))

That leaves 8,412 libraries. (Most of the 524 are small: While that’s 6% of the libraries, it includes only 1.8% of the population served–the remaining 8,412 include 293.7 million people in service areas, as compared to 5.3 million served by outliers.)

Also, these tables were cleaned up to zero out all numbers not directly reported by libraries–all imputed numbers became zeros.

There’s a strong correlation between expenses per capita and value per capita (>.6) for the 8,412 libraries. Libraries that are funded better generally provide more services, and–up to a point–it doesn’t seem to involve diminishing returns.

The plan

Here’s where I need immediate feedback: Is it a waste of time to break this down into a detailed set of charts and percentiles, using four different axes to look at subsets, yielding a reasonably compact book that I’d probably sell for $60/copy (and probably issue in a new version, with refinements, a few weeks after 2010 IMLS databases emerge)?

That is: Would a fair number of state libraries and possibly libraries find this analysis worthwhile (and possibly library schools), or would it be ignored or, worse, resented (as some folks seem to resent my finding that public libraries aren’t actually shutting down all over the place)?

The four axes or, if you will, chapters, following an overall look:

  • Clumps of libraries by LSA size (using the 10 HAPLR divisions)
  • Clumps of libraries by expense/budget ranges
  • Clumps of libraries by per capita expense ranges
  • State-by-state analyses (one clump for states with few libraries, probably three by broad size categories for states with many libraries)

For each clump, as for the overall figures, I’d provide correlations as appropriate, plus mean, median, and percentile levels in two ways–the 90th, 80th, 70th, etc. percentiles, but also the percentage of libraries exceeding certain value ratio set points.

(The overall value ratio for all 8,412 libraries is 4.59–that is, $4.59 in value for each $1 in expenses, including zeroing out all imputed numbers. Including the imputed numbers and the outlying libraries changes this to 4.62, a fairly trivial change. As it happens, the 4.59 is almost equally split between direct and indirect value.)

If you’re thinking either HAPLR or the LJ Star Libraries, there are similarities and differences.

Similarities: As with both of those, it’s based on nothing more than the IMLS database and a set of calculations.

Differences: It’s looking only at patterns, not “stars” or “top X.” In fact, I’ve removed library names from the primary spreadsheet, so I’m not even tempted to consider the library names themselves. (Yes, I can get back to the library name, but it’s a two-step process.) And it’s looking at more factors than LJ, although fewer than HAPLR.

Mostly, though, it’s not about naming names. It’s about showing value in general and providing appropriate benchmarks/comparisons.

Prepare or abandon?

I have the spreadsheet. Do I just say “that’s interesting” and drop it, or does it make sense to prepare the results in a manner that libraries/library groups might find useful?

Your feedback, please–and soon! (If I do this, the 2009 version will probably be ready by ALA Annual, which I won’t be attending.)