Thoughts on individual library data

Yes, this is another post about Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) [$21.95 paperback, $11.99 PDF, $31.50 hardbound].

Early in the book, I suggest that librarians ask me for the data elements for their own library:

If you have not already done so, send email to with your library’s name, city, state and zip code. (Only library systems and agencies, not branches.) As soon as I’m available, I’ll send you back a set of data elements as described in Appendix A.

I’ve also set up a Thank You email sent by Lulu when any of the Cites & Insights books (or, for that matter, any of my wife’s family history books) is ordered; that email offers the same suggestion (probably in different words).

Based on experience to date–with the first sales milestone for the book reached, but still very early in its lifespan–I have a couple of thoughts on that request and on individual library data, noting that I deliberately detached library names from library data while working on the book. (And have kept it that way: I haven’t even looked up my own public library’s data. Yet.)

When a librarian sends me a request (you don’t really need the zip code), I go to the Names page of the master spreadsheet, find the library, take the library’s ID code (as assigned by the state library or IMLS), and use that to look up the library’s data line on the Main page. I then copy the data line to a Replied page, paste it (swapping columns to rows to be easier to email) onto a Reply page, and copy-and-paste the data elements and labels into a reply email. I might indulge in an urge to offer a one-line comment, but I’ll try to resist that urge in the future.

Thought One: Not Just for Problems

The first thought comes after sending the data line to a library that, by most accounts, is doing very well: In the top funding category, open good hours (64 hours a week), with most measures in the top two or three brackets. The library’s clearly serving its community well–and a moderately low benefit ratio says to me that the library’s service is more than just numbers, and that the community appreciates it.

So is the book likely to be useful for a well-supported library already doing good work?

Yes, I think (and hope!) it is–both to retain that good funding and as a backdrop for a successful library’s real story. The truth of any library’s worth to its community is a vast, complex set of stories about how its services and existence changes people’s lives for the better. The metrics are just countables: they’re significant, but they’re a backdrop at best.

And, to be sure, the library’s not in the top bracket on most metrics: It’s doing a lot, and probably doing it very well, but it could be doing even more.

Thought Two: Why Haven’t Most Purchasers Requested Data Lines/

So far, less than 10% of book purchases have resulted in requests for individual library data lines. I can think of several reasons for that, all of them entirely plausible–and I’d like to address the one reason that, if it’s ever the case, shouldn’t be. Let’s look at that one first:

1. The librarian doesn’t want to bother me with the request

If you’ve purchased a copy of the book for your library and hope to use it as a tool, and if the reasons below don’t apply, please request your data line. It’s not an imposition; it’s not a bother: It’s part of what I planned when preparing the book. It probably takes me five minutes or less to open your email, note the library name, city and state (sometimes I need all three to uniquely identify a library), open the spreadsheet, find the code, copy the data line, and copy it back into the email. It’s my pleasure and expectation to do so, to make it easier for you to use the book as a tool.

So, if you’ve been reluctant, don’t be. Please.

Oh: and while I might add a sentence (I’ll try to resist!), that’s as far as it goes. Your data goes back to you (although the raw figures are, of course, public information in the IMLS database).

Some other reasons…

2. You haven’t gotten that far with the book yet. (If it’s a print version, it may take a week or so to reach you; if it’s a hardcover, make that two weeks or so.)

Fair enough. When you do, drop me a note. Although, since you should have received the Thank You email, I’d be happy to send you the data line in advance.

3. You’re not buying it for your own public library as a tool

You’re a consultant, or you’re in the state library, or you’re buying it for an academic library, or you’re buying it to explore public library uses, or…

In any of those cases: Great. (If you’re a consultant, I can provide data lines for your clients for a very modest fee–I think I suggested $5 in Paypal support for Cites & Insights for each client beyond the first.) If you’re in a state library, you no doubt already have the state’s relevant data except for the second-level derivative Benefit Ratios.

4, You already have the FY2010 data readily at hand

Perhaps the most likely: Your responses for the FY2010 state or IMLS survey are immediately available, and preparing the derivative metrics used in the book is trivial–and (probably except for the Benefit Ratio, which turns out to be much less central than I originally expected) may already be something you do as a matter of course.

It makes sense to me that a library that retains its reporting on its own spreadsheet would also, as a matter of course, calculate the various per-capita metrics and maybe even the per-hour metrics.

Also great. You could still ask for the data line to make sure it agrees with the figures you have on hand, but there’s no special reason to do so.

Anyway: If #1 applies, please ask. Otherwise, I hope you find the book worthwhile (and mention it to others if you do–or if you don’t, for that matter).

As for turnaround on requests: Usually immediate after I receive your email, and I check several times a day–if I’m at home. Between now and the end of the year, the only time a reply is likely to be delayed by more than a day is October 21-23 or 21-24 (I’ll be at Internet Librarian doing a talk on micropublishing, and I still travel without a computer).

Slight update: I actually wrote this earlier this week and scheduled it for today, since I’m trying to do no more than three posts a week on the book. I’m starting to receive (slightly) more requests for the data, although still not quite 10% of sales. And I’m delighted: Keep it up!

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