Archive for November, 2012

Libraries Serving 18,500 to 24,999 Patrons

Monday, November 5th, 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 fifth-largest patron size category: 18,500 to 24,999 potential patrons.

These are the largest libraries sometimes called “rural.” The tables include 492 libraries, with another 15 omitted. Funding patterns show an interesting concave pattern, with slightly more libraries in the two top and two bottom brackets, slightly fewer in the low middle categories ($17-$25.99, with 15.7% of the libraries compared to 19.6% overall—”slightly” is the appropriate word here).

Open hours

The percentage of libraries and systems open at least 4,000 hours is exactly typical at 17%—and all but one of those is in the 4,000 to 10,000 hour category. At the other extreme, only 4% are open less than 40 hours per week, including two libraries open less than 35 hours per week. This is one group where median expenditures do not track well with hours in the benchmark table or, for that matter, as well as one might expect in the budget table.

Computers for patron use with internet access

One library or system has at least 100 computers (it’s a well-funded library at $92.82), and only 3% have fewer than six. The bulk—two-thirds—have 13 to 39, evenly split between 13-19 and 20-39. Expenditures do track consistently with number of PCs on the benchmark side, less consistently on the budget side (where libraries spending $21-$30 have more PCs than you might expect).

Circulation per capita

Another case where what’s striking is how typical these figures are. Cumulative percentages never vary by more than 2% from the overall figures, and that 2% variation is only in one case. Expenditures track cleanly with circulation and, except for the highest bracket (where libraries circulating 24 or more items per capita have an unusually high benefit ratio), benefit ratios are in an extremely narrow range, from 4.28 to 4.81.

This is another size category where tracking between spending and circulation isn’t quite as neat when viewed based on expenditure brackets, as libraries spending $53-$72.99 have somewhat lower median circulation than those spending $43-$52.99.

Computers per thousand patrons

Low at the top, high at the bottom: Only 6% of the libraries have at least two computers per thousand people—and nearly half (48%) have less than 0.8.

Circulation and patron visits per hour

One-sixth of these libraries show at least 110 circulations per hour and three out of ten have 45 or more circ per hour. Only 4% have less than one circ every six minutes—including seven with less than one every ten minutes. The budget table has some anomalies (libraries spending $43-$52.99 are considerably busier than those spending $53-$72.99), but the top four brackets all have medians over 71 circ per hour, and only the lowest bracket ($5-$11.99) falls below 30 per hour.

Three out of five libraries (62%) have at least one patron visit every two minutes; only nine libraries (2%) have less than six visits per hour, 4% less than nine.

Sunday silliness: Two meaningless miniposts

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

If you’re looking for significance, librarianship, or any of that stuff, you’ve come to the wrong place (and look! there’s an Oxford Comma, which I normally don’t use).


Part 1: Really? A 72-page Section?

The San Francisco Chronicle Sporting Green section (yes, it’s on green paper–or, rather, has green as a background except when printing color photos/ads) has been doing a bang-up job of covering that local baseball team, including a remarkable series of full-page (broadside, 11″ x 21″, good-quality color printing albeit on newsprint) action photos of most of the team, with each photo as a single sheet (backed with a full-page color ad, of course) during the post-season. It doesn’t hurt that the paper recently added first-rate writer Ann Killion to its already superb sportswriting staff. There’s been a ton of orange ink along with all that green…

So Friday the paper noted that it would have a 72-page special section commemorating the World Series in today’s Sunday paper. First reaction: Really? 72 pages? That’s as much content as a fairly substantial book. Of course, lots of it will be reprints of front pages or Sporting Green front pages from the post-season, but still…

Then I thought: How is the Chron going to print a single 72-page section? None of its sections are ever more than about 20-24 pages: Can the presses even handle that big a wad of paper?

Got the answer today. You redefine “section”–it’s actually four sections, two 24 page and two 12 page. No, haven’t skimmed through it yet. (I’m not much of a sports fan, but I read a fair amount of the Sporting Green for the same reason I once subscribed to Sports Illustrated: I love quality writing.)

Part 2: “You would have won…”

Some of you know that I enjoy playing video poker–and until the past decade or so (my wife’s asthma has gotten a little worse and we’ve both become more sensitive to smoke, especially as sane states outlaw smoking in hotels and restaurants), we went up to Reno two or three times a year, spending half of each day visiting places in Northern Nevada, half getting cheap entertainment at the poker slots.

(It’s not gambling in our case, it’s gaming: Neither of us had any expectation of winning, since we’re both very numerate, and we set our limits such that it really was cheap entertainment, never more than $100 a day for both of us combined. Playing quarter or nickel video poker one or two coins at a time, with a 96% or better payback–not 98% or better, because you don’t get the 4,000-coin royal flush payback unless you play five coins–$50 per day per person goes a long way.)

It’s been years since we’ve gone to Reno for a vacation (that may change, and would certainly change if the casinos would listen to 80% of their customers…), and the last time I played for money was during ALA in New Orleans, spending two or three very profitable hours in Harrah’s. Meanwhile, thanks to (a non-gambling site run by the maker of most multihand video poker slot machines), I’ve enjoyed video poker whenever I need a break from whatever I’m doing on the computer–for no money, with of course no money to be won either.

Technically, I pay $29/year to avoid lots of flashing third-party ads. And technically, there is money to be won–there’s a daily contest with a $50 first prize, which I won once and, based on normal odds, might win again in about 10-12 years. The last few days of each month, there’s a monthly contest with several cash winners up to $500. None of this is gambling because paying either the $29/year silver membership or an $8/month gold membership–which lets you chat and do other things–improves your chances of winning in any way whatsoever, much to the chagrin of some gold members.

Anyway: The daily and monthly contests–and the site as a whole–are designed to expose people to different variations on video poker and, presumably, encourage us to be more adventurous next time we’re in a real casino. (It also helps thoughtful people figure out what they should or shouldn’t hold, to actually get the 98%-101% payback that’s possible on some video poker variations in casinos with Nevada odds.)

It’s backfired for me, I think: I find the video poker almost as much fun as the real thing, with the advantage of no smoke, my choice of background music (if any), my choice of whether or not the slot machine makes noise, my choice of “free” drinks…and the ability to enjoy a five-minute or fifteen-minute session as often or as occasionally as I want, with no effort. My desire to go to real casinos is considerably less than it was before I started playing at the site…although, if I go to ALA 2014, I’ll certainly drop in to a few of the casinos there. Briefly.

And, after all this digression, here’s the point. The daily and monthly contests are hundred-hand rounds (of which you can play up to five or eight, depending on whether you played five the previous day), always at maximum bet. Instead of the way the site usually works–where you start with 10,000 points and the total goes up or down depending on your play–in this case, you start with zero and gain whatever you win. At the end of the round, your score is reported and you land on another screen.

If your score is higher than the nut–the amount you’d actually bet if you were playing with real money–you get a big Congrulations! and the amount you would have won if you’d been playing at a quarter machine in an actual casino. (As some of the gold members have commented during monthly contests, some of the high scorers really need imaginary wheelbarrows to cart off all that imaginary money.)

This is all amusing, and keeping track of won/loss for a particular variation is one thing I do (and I’m sure others do), and would probably guide what I actually play if/when I do go to a real casino. But…

Last month’s monthly contest was a new variation: Hundred-hand poker (that’s not new: one hand is dealt; you choose which cards to hold; those cards show up on 99 other hands, and each of 100 hands is dealt out)…with Super Times Pay, which means that about 6% of the time your hands are worth anywhere from 2 to 10 times as much. (“About” is key: I’ve seen as few as zero and as many as 14 out of 100 hands get the STP multiplier, although it’s usually from 4 to 8.)

With Super Times Pay, max bet for each hand is six rather than five.

Doing the arithmetic…six times 100, carry the…you can see that you’re wagering 600 coins. On each hand.

So when, on my best session last month, I was informed that I would have won $7,370 or so…I found it hard not to laugh. Sure, if I was willing to wager $125.00 on each play. Let’s see: My total voluntary exposure is $50 per day. So I could play one play every 2.5 days… And, by the way, on the round just before that (which was far and away my best round–and about 5% of what I’d need to win the monthly contest), I would have lost $2,848.50.

Not. Gonna. Happen. Not ever. Oh, I’ll play 100-hand poker: It’s a great way to test out the odds of various holding strategies in real life. But I won’t play it in a casino: Even at a penny machine, that’s $5 per hand (without the Super Times Pay nonsense).

Let me amplify Not. Gonna. Happen. There are, I’d say, three categories of video poker:

  • Versions I would play in a casino once in a great while: Mostly versions where the total exposure on each hand is, say, $1 or less. That could include three-hand poker (the most common multihand option) with maximum wager on a nickel machine ($0.75/deal).
  • Versions I might play if I’d won Super Lotto or the Publisher’s Clearing House megaprize and was really bored, but probably not for very long: Those are games like my favorite online, Multi-Strike Poker (my favorite mostly because it’s visually and sonically superior to most others), where you’re betting 20 coins per deal.
  • Versions I wouldn’t play even if I won both Super Lotto and PCH, unless somebody else was paying for all the wagers and giving me some portion of the winnings. That’s basically anything involving a wager of more than $2 or so per deal. Which puts $600 per deal way out there.

All of which means I’ll never be a casino’s favorite customer. I don’t gamble: I game. And I only game as cheap entertainment, where I assume that I’ll lose all of my allotted funds and stop. Even if I was wealthy, it would offend my sensibilities to redefine “cheap” in a manner that made spending $5 on a single deal plausible.

As for actual real-world winning and losing: The odds say that, even if you play perfectly, you will spend money in the long run…and, of course, most slot players don’t even play close to optimally. A 1.5% house edge adds up over the long run.

But the long run is the long run. In fact, I’m up overall for at least the past decade, because other than a little gaming on cruises and the New Orleans sessions, I really haven’t spent much time playing with actual money in the past decade–and I was extraordinarily lucky in NOLA, including the first royal flush I’ve ever had. Was I disappointed that I only got $62.50 for the royal flush instead of $1,000 because I’d bet one quarter, not five? Not at all. I was gaming, not gambling.

And that’s it: some Sunday silliness. Now to get back to a project. Or maybe try one round of today’s free contest, where I can neither win nor lose any actual money.

Give Us a Dollar: A Request

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

I’m interrupting the flow of two-or-three-times-a-week comments on Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) (that’s the $21.95 paperback; it’s also available as an $11.99 non-DRM PDF or a $31.50 hardbound) to add a request.

The request

If you’ve acquired this book and find it useful, please tell other people about it–maybe including your state library association list.

For that matter, if you find it useless or defective, or have suggestions on how to improve it, I wouldn’t mind hearing about it (waltcrawford at (If sales resume after the current hiatus and reach a given point, and if reaction is positive, I plan to do a new version next year or the year after, and could always use good advice.)

I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to publicize the book on state lists; for that matter, initial exploration suggests that it’s generally not even possible. So the only way the book will reach the people who might be able to use it best–the ones for whom I priced the PDF so low, namely librarians in the thousands of smaller libraries–is word of mouth.

And, while you’re here, an update on a related topic:

Graphing Public Library Benefits

I’ve put together the first four chapters of what would be a 19-chapter supplement to the first 19 chapters of Give Us a Dollar... and I think it’s at least interesting and possibly useful.

The supplement consists of graphs and a small amount of commentary; chapters 2 to 19 correspond to chapters 2 to 19 of the book. Each chapter includes a line graph showing occurrence of libraries by expenditures per capita (rounded to the nearest dollar). For each metric, there’s a scatterplot (accompanied by Pearson’s coefficient of correlation) to augment the benchmark table and one or two multicolor multiline graphs to augment the budget table (with one line for each expenditure category, showing occurrence of libraries within that expenditure category with rounded values of the metric).

So far, I’m finding some graphs that appear easy to read and meaningful, some that are harder to read.

The resulting publication will be an 8.5×11″ PDF–8.5×11″ because that allows for a 6.5″-wide graph rather than the 4″ graph feasible on a 6×9 page, PDF (primarily) because I need color to make the multiline graphs readable at all. If there’s explicit interest, I could also produce a print version–but that print version would be expensive because you have to use color throughout the book, at ten times the cost per page. (If the book comes out to 200 pages, which looks to be about right, the production cost would be $45 and the price would be $57 or so.) Unless there’s explicit interest, I won’t even offer a print version. (A hardcover version would be relatively not that much more expensive: The usual $10 extra.)

I’m guessing the PDF will be ready in mid- to late November, possibly early December. If you’re interested–and especially if you’re interested in a print book version–let me know. Note that the book is a supplement to Give Us a Dollar...: It does not replicate the tables themselves, and the tables are (I believe) far more useful as a library tool.

[I would note that the graphs also provide another possibility for state-specific or group-of-state reports, probably at $100 more than the prices quoted in the Fall 2012 Cites & Insights.]