Archive for October, 2012

Libraries Serving 2,250 to 2,999 Patrons

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Another set of notes on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13), this time on libraries serving 2,250 to 2,999 potential patrons.

The group includes 497 libraries, with another 26 omitted. When it comes to expenditures, there’s a slight slant toward the lower middle: The top two and bottom brackets are both on the low side (in terms of percentage of libraries) and $21-$25.99 is on the high side.

Open hours

Just under half of these libraries are open at least 35 hours a week—and very few (6%) are open less than 20 hours per week. Leaving out five libraries open more than 3,099 hours, there’s the usual step-by-step correlation between funding and hours (e.g., median expenditure per capita for libraries open 1,041-1,499 hours was $20.01, for 1,500-1,820 hours was $25.98, and for 1,822-2,099 hours was $32.07: these are the three largest brackets, including 65% of the libraries). The median benefit ratio range is very small as divided by open hours: from 5.99 to 6.84.

There’s also a perfect step-by-step correlation between expenditure brackets and median open hours, all the way from the $5-$11.99 libraries (half open 1,198 hours or more) to the $73-$399.99 libraries (half open at least 2,444 hours).

Computers for patrons with internet access

Just under half of these libraries have at least six public internet PCs, but none has 40 or more. Notably, half of the libraries in the two top funding brackets have at least nine PCs, while the median for the three lowest funding brackets is four PCs.

Circulation transactions per capita

Circulation per capita is distributed almost exactly along national lines and the circulation-expenditure correlation is consistent. This is one of the size brackets in which benefit ratios almost consistently improve along with expenditures.

Program attendance per capita

This metric tends slightly toward the high side—13% of libraries are in each of the three top brackets, with a total of 39% of libraries having at least 0.5 attendance per capita as compared to the national figure of 33%. At the other extreme, the figure for very low program attendance (including libraries that don’t report any programs) is typical at 15%. Expense correlation is consistent: libraries that spend more have more program attendance. Only the top budget bracket shows at least half the libraries with more than one program attendance per capita.

Computers per thousand patrons

There’s a bulge here, but not quite at the top: exactly half of the libraries have at least two but less than five computers per thousand patrons. Very few libraries—27 or 5%—have more than five, and those that do aren’t necessarily the best funded.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

A few of these libraries are busy, with three showing 70-109 circulation per hour and another seven showing 45-69, although 60% of the libraries have 13 or fewer circ per hour (the biggest clump is at 6-9, that is, one circ every 8-10 minutes). Median circ per hour correlates perfectly with expenditures, from the worst funded libraries (half circulating fewer than 6.22 per hour and only one-quarter circulating 10.67 or more) to the best (half circulating 20.69 per hour or more, one-quarter 30.97 or more).

Visits cluster at the low end. Although three libraries (not the same three libraries as for circulation) show 45-69 visits per hour, 65% have fewer than nine visits per hour.


Today and tomorrow (October 31 and November 1, 2012), the coupon code BRAINFOOD gets you 20% off Lulu books.

In general, most weekdays (especially Tuesday to Friday), it always makes sense to go to and check for a sale such as this one; then search for Give Us a Dollar or Walt Crawford to find the books.

Libraries Serving 25,000 to 34,499 Patrons

Monday, October 29th, 2012

More comments on the tables in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) [$11.99 PDF, no DRM; $21.95 paperback; $31.50 hardcover]…this time on libraries serving the fourth-largest patron size category: 25,000 to 34,499 potential patrons.

We’re now into the smaller number of libraries and systems sometimes called urban—those serving at least 25,000 patrons, which total only 2,025 out of the 8,659 libraries fully studied—or about 23%—and an even smaller percentage of all U.S. public libraries, since fewer of these libraries were omitted.

This group includes 500 libraries in the tables with another 20 omitted. More libraries have very high funding; slightly fewer fall into the $12-$16.99 bracket.

Open hours

Probably the most relevant figures here are that nearly three out of five libraries and systems are open a total of 60 hours per week or more and four out of five are open 52 hours per week or more—and, conversely, only 3% are open less than 40 hours per week (including a single library open less than half-time). While expenditures and open hours don’t track perfectly in the top three brackets, the sparsely-populated bottom three brackets are all poorly funded.

More striking in some ways is the budget table: In every expenditures bracket, even $5-$11.99, at least half the libraries are open more than 51 hours per week, and that rises to more than 60 hours per week when you get to $26 per capita or more.

Computers for patron use with internet access

The biggest bulge: 39% of the libraries have 20 to 39 computers—and all but 6% have more than nine. (Only two libraries have fewer than six.)

Circulation and reference per capita

For both of these, libraries track slightly high: e.g., 43% of the libraries circulate 10 items or more per capita, compared to 38% overall.

Program attendance per capita

Conversely, program attendance tracks slightly low in the upper categories, with 38% showing at least 0.4 attendance per capita, compared to 42% overall. For this metric, expenditures per capita do track consistently with program attendance—and that’s true from both directions.

Computers per thousand patrons

This metric is on the low side, with more than half the libraries offering less than 0.8 PCs per thousand patrons. The overall median is 0.76 PCs per thousand patrons, compared to 1.30 for all of the libraries.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

These are busy libraries: The single largest bracket, with 29% of the libraries, is the top bracket, 110 or more circs per hour (with all outlet hours counted). Nearly half have 70 or more. In this case, expenditures do track, with the median for that busy 29% being $53.65 per capita. (The median benefit ratio is also higher for the busiest libraries than for the others.)

Coming at it from the budgetary side, for every bracket $31 and above, half the libraries circulate more than 75 items per hour. The top two expenditure brackets are even busier: half of those funded at $53 to $72.99 have at least 117 circ per hour—and half of those funded at $73 or more do at least 134, with the top quarter exceeding 200 per hour.

Visits per hour are also on the high side, with half the libraries at 45 or more per hour and roughly three-quarters at 30 or more. The two top spending categories both show half the libraries with more than one visitor per minute—nearly 80 per hour for the top category. At the other end, half of even the worst funded libraries circulate more than 26 items and have more than 26 visitors per hour.

Bonus for anybody who actually reads this

I’m playing with producing Graphing Public Library Benefits: A Supplement to Give Us a Dollar. Just as these posts (and the November 2012 and Fall 2012 Cites & Insights essays they’re taken from) add textual commentary to the tables in the book, the new item would graph some or most of the tables, with textual commentary on what I’m doing. The new item would probably be PDF-only because some of the graphs require color in order to be functional, and it would have 8.5×11″ page images (with slightly narrower margins) to give the graphs as much room as possible. The PDF would probably sell for $11.99; if there’s a book version, it would be relatively expensive because color means $0.20 per page instead of $0.02 per page printing costs.

The question: Would you find such a book useful at all? It would have some discussion of chartjunk and alternative methods, and would use the tools most people have (namely Excel and Word). Your feedback welcome at

Beyond Confrontation: An Editorial Experiment

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Since I grumped about and reacted badly to the tone of Michael Ridley’s Introduction to Beyond Literacy, I started thinking: OK, hotshot, how would you do it better?

With that in mind, here’s a quick editorial experiment: Ridley’s introduction, modified to avoid inevitabilities and confrontation while encouraging conversation. Something like 98% of the text that follows is Ridley’s; a tiny little bit is mine.


Imagine a future in which reading and writing are doomed and literacy as we know it is over. Let’s call it the post-literacy future.

Beyond Literacy is a thought experiment about the demise of literacy and the rise of other capabilities, capacities or tools that would effectively and advantageously displace reading and writing. While the prospect of the end of literacy is disturbing for many, it need not be a decline into some new Dark Age but could rather the beginning of an era of advanced human capability and connection.

I’ll even argue that the post-literate world is to be welcomed not feared. Of course, getting there could be a bit disruptive.

Writing about the end of literacy is certainly ironic and probably slightly foolish. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll assert that literacy is doomed and this is the best way available to chart its decline and replacement.

Literacy or “visible language” is a profound capability. The ability to read and write is a transformative skill that fundamentally changes the way we think, act, and engage with each other. The power of reading and writing is undeniable. And yet there are challenges to the human condition for which literacy seemingly fails. Has literacy run its course? Has our allegiance to its capabilities blinded us to its failings?

This project explores something which I’ll assert to be inevitable but for which we have grave misgivings. The alphabet is simply a tool, and a relatively recent one in terms of human evolution. Humans excel in making tools. It only seems reasonable that we will create a tool that will work better than the alphabet does.

And so this book will explore that possible inevitability: that literacy will be displaced or replaced by a capacity, capability or tool more powerful, valuable and useful. The premise for this possible future is that literacy is doomed.

Beyond Literacy is also an experiment in participation. The issues and ideas presented here are intended as the starting points for a larger and wider discussion. I hope these chapters will encourage you to engage further by commenting on specific posts, adding your own posts, or by publishing commentary on your own sites and linking back to Beyond Literacy. The objective is to nurture a distributed dialogue across many venues and in many formats.

Literacy is a capability we privilege above all others. It is a universal good. It is widely viewed as a prerequisite for success and personal development. By contrast, illiteracy is understood to be an impairment. While I will argue that literacy is doomed, and while I will try to make the case that what replaces literacy will be more powerful, like you, I harbour strong allegiances to literacy. I have been transported by poetry; I have been enriched by lucid and complex arguments; I have been entertained, touched, moved, and enraged by the writings of great people; I have shared my thoughts with friends and recorded ideas for my great grandchildren. I have reveled in reading and writing.

Given our experiences, it is difficult to escape the perspectives imposed on us by literacy. As Walter Ong notes, literacy is a “pre-emptive and imperialistic activity” since it displaces other ways of conceptualizing (Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, 1982). While we are children of literacy, we are also prisoners of literacy. Marshall McLuhan has observed, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”(Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964). However, despite this, it is possible to conceive of a technology or a capacity that would replace literacy. “Post-literacy” is defined here as the state in which reading and writing are no longer a dominant means of communication.

A Note on Terminology and Notation Systems

Obviously thoughts about post-literacy are purely speculative. This project is a thought experiment not an objective consideration of the facts. One can easily dismiss these speculations as mere science fiction; interesting but insubstantial and highly unlikely. Perhaps. The history of human communication suggests that literacy itself was unlikely. It is a fairly recent development and only in the past few hundred years has it become widespread (i.e. mass literacy). This is in stark contrast to spoken language which is innate and universal in humans.

As a librarian, proposing that literacy is doomed is a provocative and challenging assertion particularly given that libraries and librarianship are fundamentally grounded in the acts of reading and writing. However, visible language is simply a technology, albeit a tremendously powerful and successful one, and technologies come and go as their value waxes or wanes.

Why is this idea so compelling? The process of thinking about it, talking about it, and studying it with the students in the courses I have taught has reinforced the profound value of literacy. Contemplating the end of literacy has magnified its importance. It is a reaffirmation of the fundamental power of literacy even as we contemplate its demise.

Do I really believe literacy is doomed? Yes.

Do I think this is a cause for concern? Yes. And No.

Will I feel a sense of loss when it happens? Perhaps.

I, like you, am a child of literacy. I have experienced the enormous pleasure and personal advantage of being literate. But I have also seen the complexities of the world challenge our ability to respond. In The Ingenuity Gap (2000) Thomas Homer-Dixon speculates on whether our world has become too complex and fast-paced. How will we deal with the emerging problems? Where will the new ideas come from? From this perspective, is it possible that our literate selves are one of the barriers to new thinking and to critically important new ideas?

People are quick to defend literacy against any threat. It is a universal good. It is the key to success and personal growth. While all these things are true, our passion for our literate condition clouds our view of alternatives and new possibilities. Just as we can experience the magic of literacy, so can we imagine the possibility of another tool that would bring with it even greater transformation and personal power.

Of course, post-literacy is not simply a new gadget or an innovative piece of technology. Neither computers nor the Internet are examples of post-literacy. Displacing literacy is going to require a capability or capacity far more profound than these. What that entails and how that will happen are central to this project and the commentaries of those who choose to engage in the discussion.

Now here’s the thing: I didn’t really change that much. I transformed the Big Brother statements into a less-confrontational paragraph. I changed two or three words in the first regular paragraph, added three words at the start of the second, and changed two words in the third.

Otherwise, I added a qualifier whenever some form of “inevitable” was used–because, you know, once you’ve stated that something is inevitable, there’s very little room for discussion other than “I agree” or “I disagree.” The claim of inevitability is the end of discussion: To me, it’s generally a sign that the case for a position won’t stand on its own merits.

An interesting thing happened when I made these changes and read through the rest of the introduction. Namely, I noticed that Ridley’s hedging his bets. His definition of post-literacy is not at all that portrayed in the first two BIG STATEMENTS. Instead, it’s “the state in which reading and writing are no longer a dominant means of communication.” [Emphasis added.]

That’s a very different thing. You could make the case that we’re already in a post-literate society if you use that definition: At least in terms of bandwidth used, TV and movies (including various web visual media) far outweigh reading and writing, if only because text transmits so efficiently.

If I’d read this modified introduction, I would have probably gone on to read the remaining chapters (which I have not attempted to revise nor reread). Would I have become a full-fledged participant in the discussion? Maybe, maybe not. I certainly wouldn’t have felt the need to vent about the project and its ACRL/OLA sponsorship.

Am I right to prefer this nonconfrontational, nonabsolutist, non-inevitable version? I’m not sure there is a right or wrong.

Rude language and the heat death of venting steam

Friday, October 26th, 2012

No, this isn’t about Jenica Rogers and the American Chemical Society (the topic of the second essay in the December 2012 Cites & Insights, although it’s really too fresh for C&I–but it follows so neatly from the first essay in that forthcoming-in-November issue).

Or maybe it is, in a way. A big chunk of that whole brouhaha came about because the PR person at ACS felt it appropriate to attempt to derail the discussion of ACS pricing by pointing out that Jenica Rogers had used strong informal language…on a casual network where she believed she was talking to friends and acquaintances. She was venting steam.

And I’ve just been called out on one social network for using rude language on a casual network where I believed I was talking to friends and acquaintances (and, by the way, deliberately “spoke” to the subnetwork rather than the whole network): where I could vent some steam. (That steam-venting has also been linked to from the comments of the project I was venting about, but that’s appropriate, and the person making the link didn’t explicitly call me out.)

There’s a huge difference, of course. Jenica Rogers, a talented university library director who should have even more influence than she does, was frustrated about a truly ridiculous situation with a vendor. She had every reason in the world to indulge in a couple of strong words. I, on the other hand, am a semi-retired library person (not a librarian) who was frustrated about something that’s probably my own damn fault–my inability to gain any kind of institutional or other support for what I regard as valuable work–and coupled that with a quick reading of a very strongly-worded essay that did achieve institutional support, and vented steam rudely. My bad.

No more comparisons with Jenica Rogers. They’re not fair to her.

Let’s look a little at what happened here.

Somebody linked to Beyond Literacy, “Exploring a Post-Literate Future.” Which appears to be sponsored by ACRL and the Ontario Library Association….the kind of institutional sponsors I’d love to have.

I went to take a look. And immediately encountered what I regarded as (and still regard as) intemperate, absolutist declarations that struck me as absurd. E.g.–quoting exactly as the leadoff goes:

Reading and writing are doomed.

Literacy as we know it is over.

Welcome to the post-literate future.

Although the next paragraph does mention “thought experiment,” the writer certainly doesn’t write as though it’s something to think about. The third non-BigBrotherish paragraph (sorry, but that’s how those boldface centered sentences look to me):

Writing about the end of literacy is certainly ironic and probably slightly foolish. However, literacy is doomed and this is the best way available to chart its decline and replacement.

Not “literacy might be doomed.” Not “print literacy may be joined by other forms of literacy.” (That happened long ago: If you’re planning to build a skyscraper or dance a ballet, I guarantee that text literacy isn’t the only literacy you need.) That last sentence is pretty damn absolute.

After reading–OK, skimming–the page, I reacted. OK, I overreacted. I blew off a little steam to my friends in the Library Society of the World on FriendFeed. (The same group Jenica Rogers blew off steam to, not at all coincidentally.) I called the project a euphemistic term for BS.

LSW’s an interesting group. It’s open (more than 800 members at this writing), although I’d say only about 50-75 people comment with any frequency. It’s on Friendfeed, which is somewhat of an orphan social network, but one that handles conversations beautifully–better than any other network I’ve tried–and one whose semi-orphan status may be an advantage: The conversations I care about aren’t lost in a flood of other conversations, and there’s relatively little spam and trolling.

Relatively little.

The folks at LSW–most of them actual librarians, but a few hangers-on like me–are entirely willing to point out that one of us is being stupid or rude or missing the point, or simply to disagree. A moderately lively discussion on this particular topic began.

I think it’s fair to say that one or two people sort of agreed with me; more disagreed, with varying amounts of dissension and humor. One of the participants in the project also commented, politely and at some length. (If the original text had had the nuance and air of examining possibilities that Farah Chung’s comment showed, I would certainly never have made my rude comment in the first place.)

And then a troll arrived, a troll who I’m absolutely certain has no connection to the Beyond Literacy thought experiment.

By this time, I’d recognized several things:

  • The Beyond Literacy project is one I probably wouldn’t comment on or participate in seriously, just as I never participated seriously in Lankes’ “Library as conversation” project. It just doesn’t float my boat, although the idea of using nothing but text to explore the apparently desirable and inevitable death of text is at least amusing.
  • I was responding as much to my failure as an entrepreneur–my failure to gain institutional backing for my projects–as I was to this project. Although I still find the tone of the first chapter so offputting that I can’t get past it.
  • With the arrival of the troll, the Friendfeed thread was an obstacle to possible useful discussion of the Beyond Literacy project.
  • Tempting as it was to edit my original comment to remove the rudeness (you can do that in Friendfeed), it would be wrong.

So I wrote an appropriate comment, created a new thread for other people to discuss Beyond Literacy (of course, they can also do so at the site itself–easier now that the project’s gone back to WP commenting), pointed to the new thread from the old one, and turned off commenting. I did not edit the original post, even though it may cause me some harm. I don’t plan to.

Now, today, I’m informed by Twitter that someone called me out for the rude comment, linking to the Friendfeed post. Pointedly, since the first part of the tweet is saying that this person will be commenting on Beyond Literacy. There’s simply no reason for the second half of the tweet other than to scold me for being rude.

In case it isn’t clear: I apologize for being rude. I don’t apologize for finding the wording of the project overview far too absolutist to make for a good thought experiment or discussion. When I’m told “This is the inevitable future. Discuss” and I find the stated future neither inevitable nor desirable, I’m not inclined to think further about it. I guess different people have different approaches to engendering thought and discussion–and since the person making the absolute statements is a library school professor who got cosponsorship from two library societies, he’s probably right and I’m probably wrong. So it goes.

If I was posting again, I’d probably say “I find this bemusing and way too absolute, and I’m surprised it’s cosponsored by ACRL and OLA.” Same message, less rude.

Oh: Farah Chung also pointed to the Friendfeed thread while repeating her comments (in that thread) within the project itself. That linkage was totally appropriate; she didn’t explicitly criticize me; all good.

What do I learn from this? That you’re never really only* among friends any more? I should probably have learned that years ago. But hey, I’m old, and sometimes I’m slow. I’m also, I suppose, a little stupid: I haven’t made any of my social network spaces wholly private, and I use my real name, the same real name, on all social networks. So I should expect the consequences.

Will I say something heated and stupid in the future? Probably. Will I remember that there’s really nowhere to vent steam any more? Probably not.

Will I be commenting further on Beyond Literacy? Probably not; it’s just not my thing. Doesn’t mean it might not be yours. I duplicated the link in this paragraph in case it is.

Update: I could not resist the urge to edit the Introduction to Beyond Literacy to make it nonconfrontational–to see what that would do to my feelings about it. Consider it an editorial experiment. Here’s the result.

*Update 2: I added “only” to the phrase “never really among friends,” since it’s still true that I feel that I’m mostly among friends and friendly acquaintances on LSW/Friendfeed. That was at the suggestion of another LSW person, Joe Kraus; thanks for the suggestion!

Libraries Serving 1,650 to 2,249 Patrons

Friday, October 26th, 2012

More comments on the tables in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)
[$11.99 PDF, no DRM; $21.95 paperback; $31.50 hardcover]…this time on libraries serving the fourth-smallest patron size category: 1,650 to 2,249 potential patrons.

There are 40 fewer of these libraries than there are libraries serving 700 to 1,149, but only 27 had to be omitted, so the number in the tables is identical: 527 libraries. For expenditures, these libraries are a little lean at the richest and slightly lean at the poorest end, with more libraries grouped in the middle (specifically $21 to $35.99, three brackets totaling 39.4% rather than the overall 31.9%). This is the first size category where the best-funded libraries have a median benefit ratio below 4, although not much below (3.82)—libraries that doubtless serve their specific community needs very well.

Open hours

One well-funded library/system is open a lot of hours (4,000 or more, $259.40 per capita)—and again most libraries have fairly short schedules, with 62% open no more than 1,820 hours or 35 hours per week. The overall median is 1,672 (32 hours per week), and it’s only in the top two expenditure brackets that most libraries are open at least 2,040 hours (39 hours per week).

Computers for patron use with internet access

One library/system has 40 or more computers—and no, it’s not the library that’s open 4,000 hours or more, as this one has $74.53 expenditures per capita (and, unlike the other one, a very high benefit ratio for a well-funded library, 13.66).

Circulation and reference per capita

Noteworthy for not standing out: The patterns are very close to overall patterns, except that reference tends to be just slightly low.

PC use per capita and PCs per thousand patrons

PC use is a little high and computers per thousand patrons are significantly higher than overall, with only 8% in the bottom four (out of nine) brackets and 69% in the top three.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

A few of these libraries are reasonably busy. Two average 45 to 69 circulations per hour (12 manage at least 30) and three have at least 30 patron visits per hour. But most are still relatively quiet: 54% have less than one circulation every six minutes and 77% have less than one patron visit every seven minutes.

Quick Reminder

Your last day (October 26, 2010) to save 20% by using coupon code JEKYLL—or for big spenders (more than $300 total order), save 25% using HYDE.

Libraries Serving 34,500 to 53,999 Patrons

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Back to larger libraries in this set of comments on the tables in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)
[$11.99 PDF, no DRM; $21.95 paperback; $31.50 hardcover—but if you buy them by the end of the day on Friday, October 26, and use the coupon code JEKYLL, you’ll get them for 20% less!]

Tables in this chapter cover 511 libraries, with 14 omitted. Distribution of libraries by expenditures is slightly concave—a little high at the top and a bit more so at the bottom, a little low in the midrange (with the biggest deviations in the $31-$35.99 and $36-$42.99 brackets, each 8.2% as compared to 10.0% and 10.2% overall).

Open hours

Nearly three-quarters of these libraries and library systems are open 3,100 hours (call it 60 hours a week) or more, with one-third open 4,000-10,000 hours. Nearly all are open at least full-time: 95% more than 46 hours a week, 98% more than 40 hours per week—but there are two libraries this size open less than 29 hours per week. Since 65% of the libraries fall into two brackets (3,100-3,999 hours and 4,000-10,000 hours), it’s not surprising that median expenditures per capita are all over the place.

Computers for patron use with internet access

Three-quarters of these libraries and systems have 20 or more public access computers and only 10 libraries have fewer than nine; here, except for anomalies at the bottom (two brackets totaling three libraries), expenditures do rise consistently with PCs—or, more likely, vice-versa. The overall median is 31 computers, with a quarter of the libraries having 44 or more.

Circulation per capita

Slightly fewer libraries in the upper brackets, with 44% circulating eight or more items (compared to 50% overall); slightly more in the two bottom brackets, with 26% circulating less than five items per capita (compared to 21% overall). Here, the expenditures per capita do rise consistently with circs per capita—and the benefit ratio range, omitting the top and bottom brackets, is very narrow: 4.15 to 4.78. Worth noting, and not that unusual: the median benefit ratio for the libraries with the lowest circulation and expenditures, 3.62, is considerably lower than for the highest circulation and expenditures, 5.05: Those active and well-funded (median $92.77) appear to be better values than the most poorly-funded (median $12.81).

Except for one small deviation (as in some other size categories, libraries spending $31-$35.99 seem to be more active than you’d expect), the budget table also shows step-by-step consistency. At the low end, half of the libraries circulate 2.63 items or fewer per capita; at the high end, half circulate 17.03 or more.

Reference transactions per capita

The numbers themselves are a little better than average, with a higher overall median and more libraries in higher benchmark brackets—but this is also worth noting because both benchmark and budget tables show absolute step-by-step consistency in spending/performance correlation. Notably, three-quarters of the best-funded libraries have at least 1.11 reference transactions per capita, and a quarter of them have 2.18 or more.

Program attendance per capita

Four out of ten libraries have between 0.11 and 0.29 program attendance per capita (as compared to three out of ten overall), and only 44% exceed that level (compared to 54% overall). Expenditures track well with program attendance. The budget table shows no expenditures bracket where even the most active 25% of libraries hit or exceed 0.75 attendance per capita.

Computers per thousand patrons

Strikingly low figures here: Only one library system in the top two brackets combined, only 8% of the libraries have at least 1.5 computers per thousand patrons (compared to 43% overall) and 56% of the libraries and systems are in the bottom two brackets (less than 0.8 computers per thousand patrons), compared to 29% overall. Expenditures track consistently with the metric. Notably, the median for all these libraries is 0.73, compared to 1.30 overall and actually lower than the 25%ile overall—and only the highest funding bracket shows a median larger than one PC per thousand patrons.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

These are also busy libraries, even more so than in the previous size group: 36% circulate 110 or more items per hour, and 77% circulate at least 30. (Eighteen libraries are in the doldrums, circulating less than 10 items an hour.) Looking at the budget table, more than half of libraries in the top three brackets circulate more than two items per minute across all branches—and a quarter of the libraries do at least three per minute, or more than four per minute for the best-funded libraries.

Patron visits per hour are similarly high, with 34% having 70 or more, 82% at least one every three minutes—and ten libraries with less than one patron visit every ten minutes.

Cites & Insights 12:11 (Fall 2012) available: Special added issue

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Looks like there will be 12 issues of C&I this year…

An added Fall 2012 issue of Cites & Insights is now available for download at

The issue is 20 pages long. A single-column 6×9″ version intended for online/ereader reading is also available, at The single-column version is 43 pages long (and tables do break across pages in some cases): Please don’t use this version for printing!

This issue consists of a single essay (also available in HTML form, if you absolutely hate PDF–but that one prints out as 40 pages, so again please don’t use that version for printing):

  Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13): Commentary, Part 2   pp. 1-20

This essay consists entirely of notes about Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13): “Libraries by State.” It also adds a new table for each state section (except DC and Hawaii), showing libraries in each size category.

I’m doing this added issue because one fairly long and reasonably timely essay is almost done–and should be paired with another shorter and somewhat more timely essay. Since I’d like to publish those some time in November, and since adding those to this 20-page essay would make for an uncomfortably long issue, I’m putting this out now.

Oh, and do go buy the book…these notes aren’t nearly as useful without the book.


Libraries serving 1,150 to 1,649 patrons

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

More comments on the tables in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) [$11.99 PDF, no DRM; $21.95 paperback; $31.50 hardcover–and yes, a few people/libraries have purchased the hardcover]…this time on libraries serving the third-smallest patron size category: 1,150 to 1,649 potential patrons.

Yes, that’s a small population range, only slightly larger than the previous one—but that’s the reality of America’s public libraries. The chapter covers 496 libraries, with another 58 omitted for various reasons. Libraries in this category are fairly typically distributed in terms of expenditures per capita, with slightly fewer at the top and bottom and slightly more in the middle.

Open hours

The first thing that struck me about this benchmark table is that there is one library (or library system) serving fewer than 1,650 people and open at least 4,000 hours. It’s a very well funded library at $398.04 per capita. It’s less surprising that only half of the libraries are open at least 1,500 hours (29 hours a week) or that only about one out of nine is open at least 2,100 hours (40 hours a week).

While the median expenditures on the benchmark table aren’t neatly correlated (largely because some of the brackets have so few libraries), the median hours in the budget table are—that is, as expenditures increase (except for the two lowest-funded brackets), median hours consistently increase as well.

Personal computers with internet access

The median overall here is 4.0, same as in Chapter 5 and still a strong number, with a third of libraries having six or more PCs for patron use and nine having more than a dozen.

Circulation and reference transactions per capita

What may be most interesting here is that the diversity of these small-community libraries is such that circulation distribution is almost precisely the same as for public libraries overall. That’s generally true for reference as well, except that the middle brackets are slightly on the low side and a higher percentage of libraries fall into the lowest bracket (no more than one reference transaction for every 20 patrons). Those are generally poorly-funded libraries (the median is $20, a full $7 lower than the next bracket), but low reference counts aren’t all in the very poorest libraries. Namely, half of libraries with $5-$16.99 spending have at least one reference transaction for every five patrons, while one-quarter of those with $17-$20.99 funding have no more than one for every twentyfive patrons).

Program attendance per capita

The percentages for program attendance are slightly top-heavy and very slightly bottom-heavy. About double the overall percentage of libraries average 1.1 or more attendance per capita. In some ways, the budget table for program attendance is more interesting: Libraries with high program attendance are scattered throughout the top three brackets, but never make up even half of a bracket (the median for the best-funded libraries is 0.85 attendance per capita).

PCs per thousand patrons

As with even smaller libraries, the numbers are clustered toward the top, with 78% in the top three brackets and only 5% in the bottom three brackets.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

These libraries are also, by and large, relatively quiet: only 7% average at least one circulation every three minutes and fully two-thirds average no more than one every ten minutes. There’s a one-library anomaly in patron visits per hour (a poorly funded library that’s the busiest in terms of visits per hour) but overall, it’s a similar picture: 5% have more than one patron visit every five minutes, 60% have less than one every ten minutes.

Libraries Serving 54,000 to 104,999 patrons

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Have you purchased your copy of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) yet? ($11.99 no-DRM PDF, $21.95 paperback, $31.50 hardcover)… If not, these comments on the group of libraries with the second-largest potential patron groups may not make that much sense…

Yes, this group covers almost as wide a population range as the first 15 groups combined; that’s how America’s public libraries are distributed. The tables cover 501 libraries, with 14 omitted.

Relatively fewer of these libraries have the highest expenditure level or spend between $36 and $42.99; relatively more fall into the two lowest spending brackets, specifically the second lowest ($12-$16.99).

Open hours

The good news here: none of these libraries and systems is open less than 35 hours a week and 93% are open at least 52 hours a week. (Four out of ten, most of them presumably systems with more than one outlet, are open 4,000 to 10,000 hours a year.)

Computers for patron use with internet access

Nine out of ten of these libraries and systems have at least 20 patron access computers; six out of ten have at least 40. (Four poorly funded libraries have fewer than nine.) Expenditures track well with computer availability.

Circulation per capita

Low at the high end, high just below the middle: Where half the libraries nationally circulate at least eight items per capita, only 39% of these libraries reach that mark. Expenditures track well with circulation levels and the budget table shows an equally consistent correlation between expenditure brackets and median circulation.

Program attendance per capita

While there’s a consistent correlation between benchmark levels of attendance and median expenditures per capita—libraries with more effective programming consistently spend more overall—the numbers are on the low side, with only 37% having at least 0.3 attendance per capita, compared to 54% overall.

Computer use per capita

A similar story to program attendance: Consistent (with one slight exception) correlation between the metric and expenditures, but libraries tend to be on the low side. More than half (56%) offer less than one PC per thousand patrons, compared to 43% overall, and the overall median point is 0.93. But looking at the budget table, half of libraries spending at least $26 per capita show at least one PC use per capita, a figure that keeps rising to 2.09 for the best-funded libraries.

Computers per thousand patrons

Also on the low side: no libraries with three or more computers per thousand patrons and only 5% with 1.5 to 2.99; nearly two-thirds offer less than 0.8 computers per thousand patrons. The median for libraries this size is 0.68, not much more than half the overall median (1.30), and only the highest funding bracket shows at least half the libraries with more than one PC per thousand. (Actually, that bracket—$73 to $399.99 per capita—has the same median point as all libraries nationally, and the 75%ile is lower than the overall national figure, at 1.61 compared to 2.48.)

Circulation and patron visits per hour

These are also very busy libraries, with 38% circulating at least 110 items per hour and 82% circulating 30 or more. Notably, median expenditures per capita for all benchmark levels below 45-69 is under $18. The budget table shows more than two circs per minute for more than half of all libraries spending at least $43 per capita, rising to more than 3.5 per minute for the best funded. The top quarter of the best-funded libraries, including all hours for all outlets, circulate more than five items per minute.

Nearly three-quarters of these libraries are visited at least 30 times an hour, with four out of ten having 70 or more visits. “Or more”? The median point for the best-funded libraries is 105.16 visits per hour, and the 75%ile for every expenditure level $31 and higher is 115 or more.

Libraries serving 700 to 1,149

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Continuing commentary on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13), here are some notes on libraries with the second-smallest legal service area: Those serving 700 to 1,149 (potential) patrons or members

The 527 libraries in this category (with another 67 omitted) are fairly evenly distributed among the top six expenditure brackets, with fewer libraries per bracket in the bottom four. For example, there are fewer than half as many $5-$11 libraries than there are $26-$30 or any higher group. Benefit ratios are mostly between 6 and 8, with one lower than 6 and two higher than 8.5.

Open hours

Two-thirds of these libraries are in the lowest two brackets, with about half of those in the 99-1,040 hours group and half open 1,041-1,499 hours. Only 6% are open more than 40 hours a week (2,100 hours or more). The few that are open extended hours are well funded. There’s a perfect correlation between expenditures and median open hours—from 728 for $5-$11 libraries to 1,750 for $73-$399 libraries, and every level in between.

Personal computers with internet access

Two of these small libraries have 20-39 personal computers (and very high funding)—and 29% have six or more. The median is four, which seems strong for libraries this small.

Circulation and reference transactions per capita.

The correlation between expenditures and circulation is more interesting than the fairly typical distribution of circulation (how typical? it never deviates more than 3% from the overall distribution). The best-funded libraries are, as usual, the most heavily used, with the top bracket showing a 75%ile of 32.32 circs.

Reference transactions are also fairly typical, although not quite so well correlated with expenditures.

Program attendance per capita

The numbers here are better than overall percentages, with more than 100 of these libraries (19%) in the top bracket (1.1 or more program attendance per capita) as compared to 9% overall. Here again, expenditures and program attendance track perfectly and benefit ratios fall into a narrow range (from 6.14 to 7.21).

PC use per capita

Half of the libraries fall into the top three of eight brackets as compared to 30% overall—and 113 libraries (21%) report at least 3.5 PC uses per capita, 2.5 times the overall percentage. From a budget perspective, half or more of libraries with at least $36 per capita spending have at least 2.1 uses per capita, also a high figure, and there’s a straight correlation between median use and budget.

PCs per thousand patrons

87% of the libraries are in the top three brackets, 42% in the top (5+). That’s partly explainable by the small numbers of patrons. Here again, expenditures per capita trace nicely with PCs per thousand patrons and median PCs per thousand track perfectly with expenditure brackets.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

How busy are these libraries? Not very. More than half of them circulate less than one item every ten minutes; nearly half see less a patron visit less than once every fifteen minutes. With a few exceptions, even better funded libraries don’t show high figures here: the median for $73-$399 is just 9.47 circs per hour and 7.22 visits per hour.