Archive for October 1st, 2012

A narrative clarification on reference transactions

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Conventional wisdom is that reference transactions have been falling in general, in both academic libraries and public libraries. That wisdom is so strongly perceived that some academic librarians are startled to find substantial increases in reference activity (primarily “virtual” reference, which is just as real as any other sort of reference but isn’t done face-to-face in person).

And, much as I’m a skeptic when it comes to conventional wisdom, I sort of assumed this was probably true–but that the public library decline was fairly slow.

And I made that assumption when posting this piece of commentary on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–namely the first sentence, “There’s very little question that reference transactions have declined over the years in public as well as academic libraries (slowly for public libraries).”

Reference transactions per capita may well be declining over the long term; I don’t know enough about that to comment intelligently. But as for total reference transactions…well, I wrote that after glancing at totals for FY2009 and FY2010, where there was indeed a decline. A very small decline, roughly 0.2% (that is, 2 out of every thousand), or 686 thousand out of 309 million.

I’ve now crossed out the first four words and replaced them with “There seems to be a common assumption” and added the following clarification:

Oops. I went back and looked at the IMLS figures for 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Reference transactions per capita in public libraries may be declining, but that’s not the clear trend for raw figures.

Yes, there was a drop from FY2009 to FY2010–but the drop is only about 0.2%, 686 thousand out of 309.99 million. And that follows a more than 2% increase from FY2008 to FY2009: from 301 million to nearly 310 million. And a similar increase from FY2007 to FY2008: from 292.48 million to 301.01 million.

Ah, but there’s a 1% decline from FY2006 (294.99 million) to FY2007 (292.48 million)–and a 2.5% decline from FY2005 (303.51 million) to FY2006 (294.99 million). Jumping back to 1999, there were 294.6 million transactions.

So: Long-term trend? Unclear. What is fairly clear: Reference transactions haven’t been growing as rapidly as circulation–but they’re not disappearing either.

Note that this sloppy assumption is only an error in my commentary and involves changes over time, which are explicitly not part of what this book is all about.

Public libraries and personal computers (2)

Monday, October 1st, 2012

A short one this time–still commentary on Chapter 2 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)*.

Personal computers per thousand patrons

Yes, the count of total personal computers (that is: computers available for patron use that have internet access–basically public PCs excluding those devoted to catalog searching) is closely related to the size of the library or system.

This derivative measure may be more telling than the earlier number of PCs. At one extreme, 810 libraries have at least five PCs per thousand patrons (which could, of course, be one PC for a library serving 200 patrons); at the other, 977 have less than .5 PCs per thousand patrons.

While the metric-expenditure relationship is once again consistent, it’s over a relatively narrow range. Omitting extremes, the median expenditures range from $25.77 (libraries with 0.5 to 0.79 PCs per thousand patrons) to $36.83 (libraries with 3 to 4.99 PCs per thousand patrons), a much narrower range than for most metrics.

The median overall is 1.3—and here, the budget table’s interesting because every expenditures bracket, even the lowest, shows at least one-quarter of the libraries with more than one PC per thousand patrons. (All but the two lowest have at least half the libraries with more than one PC per thousand patrons.)

* That’s the $21.95 paperback. You can also buy the book as an $11.99 PDF (no DRM) or a $31.50 hardbound. If you’re interested, early sales (to the end of September) are almost evenly split between PDF and paperback, with single-digit sales of the hardbound.

Save 20% this week (through October 5): Lulu’s having another sale. Use PLUMA as a coupon code (if you’re in the US; elsewhere, go to the Lulu home page and write down the coupon code) to save 20% on one order (any number of books). The offer expires at the end of the day on Friday, October 5, 2012.