Libraries serving fewer than 700 people

More commentary on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13), moving from overall comments to comments on libraries within a specific size range. Since I suspect most readers here (who work in public libraries) are from the largest groups of libraries, but also believe it’s important to treat smaller libraries with equal respect, I’ll alternate over the next few weeks: this time the smallest, next time the largest, next time the second-smallest, and so on…

These are 501 libraries serving very small communities with at least 10 hours per week of a librarian and at least $5 per capita in funding. Another 172 libraries serving fewer than 700 patrons (but not meeting the other criteria or spending $400 or more per capita) were omitted.

Expenditures per capita

These are generally fairly well-funded libraries on a per capita basis: nearly half these libraries (48%) spend at least $43 per capita, and more than one in five spend $73 or more. Benefit ratios are consistently high, from 5.4 for the best-funded libraries to an extreme ten or more for the least well-funded.

Open hours

It’s not surprising that none of these libraries is open 4,000 hours or more. Maybe it’s not surprising that nearly two-thirds of them are in the lowest bracket, open 99 to 1,040 hours, with only 6% open at least 35 hours per week. While the benchmark table shows no correlation between expenditures and hours (mostly because libraries are so concentrated in the bottom three hours brackets), the budget table does: Better-funded libraries show higher medians consistently throughout the table, from 588 hours median for the worst-funded libraries to 1,195 or 22 hours per week for the best-funded (the largest group).

Personal computers with internet access

Given the size of these libraries, it’s not surprising that more than half have fewer than four PCs available for patron use—but it may be surprising that 47% do have four or more, including 13% with six or more. (Two libraries have 20 to 39 PCs each, which is a lot of PCs for fewer than 700 patrons!)

Circulation per capita

It’s good news that nearly half of these libraries circulate at least 10 items per capita—and in this case the expense/circulation correlation is clear. Impressively, the top quarter of the best-funded libraries circulate at least 32.6 items per capita.

Program attendance per capita

Nearly half of these libraries (47%) fall into the top two brackets, with more than a quarter having more than 1.1 attendance per capita. Yes, they’re small communities—but that’s still strong programming.

Visits per capita

The largest groups of libraries fall into the most active brackets, with more than half in the top three—another indication that these libraries really are central to their small communities. As with other measures, the ones that are best funded are most central. With one exception, median dollars per capita rises as visits per capita rises, while the benefit ratio generally stays in a small (and high) range.

Looking at the budget table, the median is a high 7.41 visits per capita—and one out of four of these libraries is visited roughly once a month. Here, the correlation between visits and expenses is consistent at the median level, with no exceptions.

PC use per capita

Another set of strong numbers, with just under half the libraries in the top two brackets and 28% of them in the top bracket, 3.5 or more uses per capita.

PCs per thousand patrons

Wow! Nearly three out of four libraries are in the top bracket, with five or more PCs per thousand people, and only nine aren’t in the top five brackets. But that’s a little misleading: With, say, 200 people, a single PC puts you in the top bracket—and the only way to drop below the top five brackets is not to have (or report) any PCs, which is the case for those nine. (Still, the 75%ile figure for the best-funded libraries is an impressive 19.33 PCs per thousand patrons.)

Circulation and visits per hour

None of these libraries is very busy, and that’s not surprising: No library this small circulates 45 or more items an hour or has 30 or more visitors per hour, leaving the top three brackets in both tables empty. In practice, most of these libraries are open enough hours to be fairly quiet: 70% circulate fewer than six items an hour and 63% have fewer than four visitors per hour.

The budget table is revealing because it breaks down those low figures. The overall median is 3.88 circulation and 3.13 visits per hour—and although, in keeping with most figures, the best-funded libraries are the busiest, the median for those spending $73 to $399 per hour is still only 5.34 circs and 4.31 visits.

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