Give Us a Dollar: The Open Question

UPDATE: Here’s a new and much better paragraph* describing the (future) book, quick notes on who it’s for, and then the original post.

Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four

Your public library is in competition with a lot of other agencies–city, county, district, even state–for money. You want your library to sustain its current services and expand them in the future. You know you get a lot of bang for your buck, but how do you show that to the people who hold the purse strings? One way is to use the data in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. Walt Crawford has compiled, analyzed, and organized library funding and service data from all around the United States. Give Us a Dollar will let you compare your services to those of other similar libraries at a glance and will help give you the data you need to show your funders how much you already stretch their dollars–and how much more you could provide with even a few dollars more.*

Who It’s For

The key audience

This book is for directors of small and medium-size libraries, those who make the case for funding directly.

It’s for the people in larger libraries who make the case for retaining and improving funding.

It’s for library boards as they look at library performance and library funding, and for Friends groups concerned with library performance and funding.

Other audiences

Some library consultants will find it useful in working with public libraries.

Some state library agencies may find it a useful supplement to their own work.

Library schools should find it useful as one aspect of contemporary public library usage and funding.

And a few library people may find it worth reading.

Does this sound interesting?

If this sounds interesting and worthwhile, let me know. And maybe read the original post, under the first line below. I’m not suggesting that you go buy the book right now: The preliminary version might be useful, but the new idea (discussed below) is much, much better.

But mostly: If you think it might be worthwhile, let me know.

*Thanks to Laura Crossett for this wording. Good editing and copywriting too often go unappreciated.

Original post follows.

In case it wasn’t clear, I’ve entirely dropped the idea of a Kickstarter campaign for an ongoing social network survey–and the survey itself, since without institutional support it’s too much effort, and such support is unlikely given the Gates-supported self-reporting survey that includes social networking. In some ways that’s a relief; the book from ALA Editions will, I believe, be useful (and have ALA Editions’ marketing…), and doing another round would take several hundred hours I could use for reading, other writing, watching old movies, etc., etc…

The one response that I did receive to either or both Kickstarter possibilities was email and pretty clearly sent with the expectation that it would not be shared, so I won’t. Let’s say it wasn’t exactly encouraging–and used this phrase regarding the Give Us a Dollar project: “Give Walt money so he can play with spreadsheets”

If what I was trying to do with Give Us a Dollar comes down to “Walt playing with spreadsheets,” then obviously I should abandon the idea completely. The person sending the email had not read the book or requested a review copy, but had read at least parts of my related blog posts and found them incomprehensible–and felt that most other people would also find them, and the whole point of the project, incomprehensible.

And if that’s the case, I should abandon the idea completely.

But…I really would like to hear at least one or two other opinions, possibly including some from somebody who’s actually attempted to use the book. (I know there are seven copies out there, and I’m once again offering free review/feedback copies to those willing to provide feedback. But, as you’ll see below, what I think could be done isn’t at all what I did do.)

So: Here’s a one-paragraph version of why I think a much different version of Give Us A Dollar could be worthwhile for a few dozen or a few hundred libraries (certainly not every library!), possibly a few or a few dozen library consultants, and possibly a few state libraries or library groups:

Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four: What it could be good for

Your library competes with other agencies for improved or retained funding. Establishing that you use public funds well, and showing how better funding could make your library more beneficial, can help. With this book, you can readily determine how your library compares with libraries of similar size on a selection of key usage metrics and how funding affects those metrics. You can also determine how your library compares with others in your state, and in both cases the baseline for how much return the public gets for each dollar spent. By showing where you’re lagging and leading, and how funding correlates with use, you can help make your case for improved and retained funding levels.

Now, if the paragraph above doesn’t seem interesting at all, then the game’s over. Public libraries have the tools they need, or readers don’t find my idea worthwhile.

If it does interest a few of you, I’d still be happy to send PDF review/feedback copies (and the library stats line to support them) to those who’re willing to provide feedback (up to some not-yet-set limit). Send me a request. (waltcrawford at gmail dot com).

But the preliminary version is badly flawed–it slices the same set of data too many different ways, and fails to provide enough detail in some areas. It’s both too long and too short.

You’re really better off reading the first six pages of the one-column version of theĀ  July 2012 Cites & Insights (up to “The Current Structure”) as an example of what I have in mind (if you prefer straight HTML and want to avoid tables split across pages, use this instead, again up to “The Current Structure”).

I need feedback–positive or negative, although in the lack of additional feedback the totality of current feedback is negative enough to discourage this or any future projects.

If there’s some reason to believe that a cleaned-up version with 2010 data could be useful for 10% of America’s public libraries (directly or via consultants, state libraries or groups), I’d definitely do it. If there’s reason to believe it would be useful for even 1%, I might do it.

I don’t need to make a decision until the 2010 IMLS database is available (which I’m guessing might not be until October, but I have no inside knowledge). But the lack of any additional feedback by the end of the summer will, at least, be strongly suggestive. And maybe that’s right.

[As to Kickstarter, where my lack of salesmanship and video editing qualities have always made me reluctant to mount a project even before the strongly negative feedback: If there was significant positive interest, one way to approach it could be to do a Kickstarter “watch-style” project, that is, use Kickstarter as basically a way to sell the book in advance. I don’t know that this is particularly sensible, however, and in the absence of “Yes, that’s what you should do” comments, I’m inclined to stay well away from Kickstarter.]

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