Archive for February, 2013

New Mexico public libraries

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

The 80 profiled libraries in New Mexico (11 omitted) range broadly in terms of spending, but with quite a few at the top (24%) and very few at the bottom (only 18% in the bottom three brackets combined). Circulation is on the low side, with only 36% circulating at least six items per capita (compared to 64% overall). On the other hand, patron visits are strong: 35% have at least nine visits per capita (compared to 20% overall). More libraries than usual are in the top bracket for program attendance, although the numbers are fairly typical below that group of 13 libraries—and PC use is very strong, with 46% of the libraries having at least 2.25 uses per capita (compared to 19% overall).

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
<700 7 8.8% 5
700-1,149 10 12.5% 2
1,150-1,649 5 6.3% 2
1,650-2,249 5 6.3%
2,250-2,999 8 10.0%
3,000-3,999 5 6.3% 1
4,000-5,299 5 6.3% 1
5,300-6,799 5 6.3%
6,800-8,699 3 3.8%
8,700-11,099 7 8.8%
11,100-14,099 2 2.5%
14,100-18,499 5 6.3%
18,500-24,999 2 2.5%
25,000-34,499 4 5.0%
34,500-53,999 1 1.3%
54,000-104,999 3 3.8%
105,000-4.1 mill. 3 3.8%

I believe this may be the smallest number of libraries so diverse as to have at least one in each of the 17 size brackets!

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates moderately (0.39) with spending per capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

Smaller libraries: Desired but perhaps implausible audience

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

I’ve come to the conclusion that several of my intermittent efforts are really aimed at smaller libraries–but I’m also aware that such an aim is probably quixotic.

The aim? Give Us a Dollar... is, I believe, most likely to be useful in a public library that doesn’t already have a statistics maven or standing arrangements with a consultant. But, at least in its current form, I wonder whether it’s usable by the many-hatted librarians in such libraries (that is, librarians who of necessity wear many hats).

The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing should have a home in public libraries of all sizes (and in many academic libraries). But its approach–establishing a “makerspace for the mind” without the need for the library to invest significant sums of money, space or library-employee time–is especially relevant for smaller libraries, where the likelihood of establishing a true makerspace (with the likely need to monitor its use) is extremely low.

The book idea I’m toying with–a down-to-earth, plain-English, no-fancy-equations discussion of basic statistical number-handling concepts that apply to libraries, how to spot chartjunk and avoid doing it, and (step by step) how to use the national library statistical repositories without becoming a statistician or database expert–is, I believe, primarily useful for librarians at smaller libraries. Again, libraries unlikely to have statistical mavens or standing arrangements with a consultant, but who could benefit (as I believe every library could) from the ability to spot craptastic statistical claims and to develop appropriate results from IMLS/NCES data.

What’s a smaller library?

I’ll suggest a simple cutoff: Academic and public libraries with fewer than three librarians.

Based on the 2010 IMLS and NCES databases–the most recent available–that includes something like 1,750 academic libraries and 6,000 public libraries (not branches). (If I cut the public-library figure to fewer than two FTE of librarians, that still yields around 5,000 public libraries.)

The problem…

The big problem, I suspect, is that libraries that small have very little spare money for professional literature.

An even bigger problem: My ability to reach those librarians is extremely limited.

And maybe another big problem: I may be the wrong writer to reach them. Even if I set out to write a clear, down-to-earth, “you’re intelligent but you probably don’t love numbers” book. (I know I didn’t hit that tone, or even come close, in Give Us a Dollar…)

I think the possible book–which, if self-published, would be priced at $9.99 as a PDF and certainly less than $20 as a paperback–might strike the right tone to be useful to librarians who are a little nervous about advanced statistics. But I wonder whether enough of them would give it a try to make it worth doing.

If my guess is right, 90% of the sales of professional literature–my self-published stuff or ALA Editions, ITI, etc.–comes from bigger libraries (and a few non-library sales, e.g. consultants). But 90% of the need may be in the smaller libraries.

‘Tis a quandary.

Reading: Is more efficient always better?

Monday, February 18th, 2013

I became aware of a recent PLoS ONE article, “Subjective Impressions Do Not Mirror Online Reading Effort: Concurrent EEG-Eyetracking Evidence from the Reading of Books and Digital Media,” thanks to a LISNews item entitled “Reading e-books easier than printed versions for older people” and consisting of one sentence and a link to–well, not to the PLoS ONE article but to a news story about the article. (The link above goes directly to the actual article, by the way).

The sentence:

Older people may find e-books much faster and easier to read than their paper editions, a new study has claimed.

That’s a direct copy of the first sentence of the news article, so I can’t fault it as such.

I responded to the news article in a comment:

Twenty-one people. And their preferences were dismissed as “cultural bias.” And, lessee, books were better than ereaders but tablets were better than books. Among twenty-one people. And based not on the people’s own reactions but on external measurement.

That drew an anonymous response (seems like very few commenters at LISNews choose to identify themselves), titled “External measurement = objectivity” and reading:

So if we wanted to gauge how much faster certain shoes make people run, we should just ask them which ones feel faster, and not time them?

Regarding sampling, the older adults reading faster on tablets still has p-value of < 0.0001. What number would be sufficient to outweigh one’s a priori incredulity?

To which I responded, a bit later and after skimming the article (my response entitled “Objectivity is a tricky thing”:

I may be objecting more to the post’s headline than to the study itself. I regard “easier” as a combination of subjective and objective, so, yes, I’d place considerable weight on actual responses from people being asked that question.

Telling people “Oh, you don’t really like reading print books or ereaders as much as you like reading tablets; that’s just cultural preconditioning” is a bit Orwellian.

I am fully aware that, in fact, I read the San Francisco Chronicle more rapidly (that is, I move through the text faster) on my Kindle Fire HD 8.9 than I did in its broadsheet form. But if you ask me which I prefer, and remove the $530/year reason we switched (the difference between the Kindle subscription price and the print delivery price), I’d say “the broadsheet, any day.” Is that cultural preconditioning? Maybe. But it’s also the truth for me.

This matters because some agencies–schools, some libraries–seem bent on insisting that everybody move to ebooks (which, by the way, would have meant eInk readers when this started) regardless of preference. Telling me “but you’ll read faster” doesn’t cut it. Telling me “you’ll enjoy reading more”–well, you know, that’s not an objective measure.

If I wanted to determine whether people prefer certain shoes and, indeed, whether they found running in them more pleasant/easier, I’d ask them. And I’d pay attention to the answers.

The next response, also from Anonymous, basically says that because you can enlarge the type on ereaders they have to be better for old folk (after all, none of us actually wear glasses that actually work)–and that one, specifically favoring eInk readers over tablets, is interesting because the study found eInk readers inferior to printed paper (not books–books weren’t part of the study) on objective measures.

Enough prologue

Maybe my second response is all I really need to say. Fact is, I have moved 100% from reading the daily newspaper in physical (broadsheet) form to reading it on a Kindle Fire HD 8.9. Fact is, I pretty clearly do read it considerably faster (and probably read more of it), so I’m guessing that the tablet is more “efficient” than, well, the most degraded form of print available to most of us.

And, all else being equal–that is, if the Kindle subscription to the Chronicle wasn’t one-eighth the price of the print subscription, and if the print version was consistently on my driveway when I got up–I’d still be reading the print version. I enjoyed it more. I’m not about to go back to it, but I miss it.

That’s called preference. It’s one big reason I believe print books will be with us for many decades to come.

And for literary reading, long-form reading, immersive reading, it has damn little to do with efficiency. Claiming that X is “better” because it is more efficient is a remarkably narrow way to think. By that standard, all of your restaurant dining should be at fast food joints: They unquestionably offer faster and much more cost-effective ways to get calories into your system than, say, even the cheapest table-service restaurants. If I say I prefer a hamburger with fries at the First Street Alehouse (for $8.49) to one at Burger King (for, what, $1?), that preference is real, and I’ll argue that the Alehouse burger is a better meal, even though the Burger King meal clearly wins on every measure of efficiency.

Beyond that…well, read the study and see whether you find it convincing or in any way conclusive. For example:

  • All of the text was in Courier New, which “equalizes” issues but is one of the least reading-friendly typefaces around.
  • Where the ebook reader and iPad 2 were offered in their usual form, the print–not book–was sheets of paper on a music stand.
  • The actual observed error rate (measure of comprehension) for text read on tablets was higher for both tablets and ereaders among older readers, but the researchers managed to massage that increase (which looked to me like more than a 10% difference) into oblivion.
  • The actual observed reading speed was not “much faster”–it was less than 10% faster, on samples averaging less than 250 words (this was strictly a test of quick reading)
  • I see a number of statements suggesting that data that didn’t fit the hypothesis was removed–one text sample was ignored, several results were removed.
  • I’m not a social scientist and will never be one, but the concept that a sample of 21 people is in any way a conclusive study strikes me as…well, never mind, that’s not really important. (None of the subjects wore progressive bifocals because it would interfere with the objective measures. Many and perhaps most of the readers my age and older who I know–and I’m an “old folk” for this study–wear progressive bifocals. Never mind…)
  • The researchers seem to spend a lot of time explaining away the overwhelming preference of the subjects for the print versions as being “cultural rather than cognitive”–and, as I read it, seemingly not even worth discussing.

I’ll assume that the study shows what it claims to show (despite my doubts). If that’s true, by the way, it says that the Kindle (not the Fire) and Nook are terrible devices–the ereader failed on all measures. I don’t believe that to be true either, in the sense that I really do believe that millions of people find eInk-based devices to be pleasurable ways to read.

And that’s probably more than enough for this discussion. More efficient isn’t always better, and for long-form reading, preferences matter. Which doesn’t mean “everybody should read print books” (although I’ll assert that it does mean you probably won’t read many long texts in Courier!); it means people should be able to read books–or long texts–in the form they prefer. Tell me that the preference is “cultural rather than cognitive,” and I’ll probably respond: So?

New Jersey public libraries

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

Most of New Jersey’s 268 libraries (in the tables: 32 others omitted) are quite well supported, with more than a quarter in the top bracket ($73 to $399.99 per capita) and 69% in the top three brackets (compared to 30% overall). Also worth noting: almost none of New Jersey’s libraries (in the tables at least) are badly supported: there are only 16 libraries (6%) in the bottom four brackets combined, and only one in the bottom bracket.

Circulation is fairly typical (with, if anything, a very slight bulge in the middle, from 6 to 9 circulation per capita). Expenditures correlate consistently with circulation, from the $27.02 median for libraries circulating less than two items per capita to the $101.76 median for those circulating 24 or more.

Patron visits are fairly strong, with two-thirds of the libraries having at least five visits per capita (compared to 54% overall); it’s actually strongest in the second and third brackets (7 to 12.99 visits), with 36% of the libraries (compared to 24% overall). Program attendance is slightly on the low side, with most libraries—nearly half—in the 0.3 to 0.69 brackets.

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
1,150-1,649 2 0.7% 4
1,650-2,249 4 1.5% 1
2,250-2,999 5 1.9% 3
3,000-3,999 5 1.9% 3
4,000-5,299 11 4.1% 5
5,300-6,799 19 7.1% 3
6,800-8,699 28 10.4% 8
8,700-11,099 31 11.6% 5
11,100-14,099 29 10.8%
14,100-18,499 25 9.3%
18,500-24,999 27 10.1%
25,000-34,499 20 7.5%
34,500-53,999 26 9.7%
54,000-104,999 22 8.2%
105,000-4.1 mill. 14 5.2%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates very strongly (0.72) with spending per capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

New Hampshire public libraries

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

The 206 libraries profiled (plus 24 omitted) are slightly better funded than average, with few libraries in the bottom four brackets and more than average in the upper middle brackets. Circulation is slightly on the low side, mostly because only 6% of the libraries circulate 17 or more items per capita (compared to 14% overall); expenditures do track circulation consistently. Patron visits are also slightly low, again because relatively few libraries fall into the top two brackets. Program attendance is on the high side, with 32% having 0.7 per capita attendance or more and 67% having at least 0.3 (compared to 21% and 54% overall). PC use is distinctly low—only 17% have at least 1.3 uses per capita (compared to 43% overall). Indeed, 40% of the libraries are in the lowest bracket.

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
<700 5 2.4% 5
700-1,149 25 12.1% 5
1,150-1,649 19 9.2% 2
1,650-2,249 24 11.7% 2
2,250-2,999 24 11.7%
3,000-3,999 10 4.9% 2
4,000-5,299 36 17.5% 5
5,300-6,799 14 6.8%
6,800-8,699 13 6.3% 1
8,700-11,099 10 4.9%
11,100-14,099 7 3.4%
14,100-18,499 6 2.9%
18,500-24,999 5 2.4%
25,000-34,499 5 2.4% 2
34,500-53,999 1 0.5%
54,000-104,999 1 0.5%
105,000-4.1 mill. 1 0.5%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates very strongly (0.77) with spending per capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

Nebraska public libraries

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

Nebraska’s 229 profiled libraries (39 others omitted) are generally well funded, with roughly three-quarters spending $36 or more (compared to roughly 40% overall) and very few libraries below $21. Adjusted benefit ratios are all 4.6 or better; without adjustment for Nebraska’s 90.9% cost of living, they’re all over 5.

Given those facts, you’d expect strong circulation numbers—and they are: 55% circulate 10 or more items per capita (compared to 38% overall). Patron visits are also on the high side, 56% having seven or more (compared to 33% overall). The budget table shows consistent tracking of median circulation to expenditure brackets.

Program attendance is also strong, with a full 20% of the libraries having at least 1.1 attendance per capita (compared to 9% overall) and 52% having at least 0.5 (compared to 33% overall). It’s a clean sweep: PC use is also high, with 73% having 1.3 uses per capita or more (compared to 43% overall).

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
<700 86 37.6% 37
700-1,149 46 20.1% 2
1,150-1,649 30 13.1%
1,650-2,249 17 7.4%
2,250-2,999 6 2.6%
3,000-3,999 7 3.1%
4,000-5,299 4 1.7%
5,300-6,799 7 3.1%
6,800-8,699 8 3.5%
8,700-11,099 3 1.3%
11,100-14,099 2 0.9%
14,100-18,499 2 0.9%
18,500-24,999 3 1.3%
25,000-34,499 4 1.7%
34,500-53,999 2 0.9%
105,000-4.1 mill. 2 0.9%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates strongly (0.56) with spending per capita.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

Cites & Insights 13:3 (March 2013) available

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Cites & Insights 13:3 (March 2013) is now available for downloading at

The issue is 32 pages long. For those reading online or on a tablet or ebook reader, the single-column “online edition” is available at The single-column (6×9) version is 67 pages long.

Note: If you don’t plan to print this issue out, the single-column version may be preferable: Graphs and tables take advantage of the wider single column.

This issue includes the following:

The Front  (pp. 1-3)

On the Contrary: Notes on being a contrarian (or a skeptic)

Libraries: Academic Library Circulation: Surprise!  (pp. 3-17)

We all know that circulation in (nearly all) academic libraries has been dropping for years, right? What does (nearly all) mean? Would you believe that a majority of U.S. academic libraries reporting circulation in both 2008 and 2010 (excluding clearly anomalous cases) actually had more circulation in 2010 than in 2008? This article looks at changes in circulation (overall and per capita) by type of library (as broken down in NCES reports–by region, sector, and Carnegie classifications), and also shows the difference between overall average, average of institutional averages, and median figures–frequently surprising differences.

Media: 50 Movie Box Office Gold, Part 2 (pp. 17-26)

Seven discs, 28 movies, all color, some I refused to finish watching.

Libraries: Academic Library Circulation, Part 2: 2006-2010  (pp. 26-32)

Was the period from 2008 to 2010 (2010’s the most recent NCES report) anomalous? This study compares circulation (overall and per capita) between FY2006 and FY2008, FY2006 and FY2010 and FY2008 and FY2010, breaking things down in the same categories as part 1, but this time showing the percentage of libraries with significantly growing circulation, significantly shrinking circulation, and circulation staying about the same. (Overall, 40% grew significantly from 2006 to 2010 and 50.6% shrank significantly; 37.9% grew in per capita circulation and 54.6% shrank significantly–where I defined “significant” as 2.5% over two years or 5% over four years.)

The April issue will not be heavy on original research and statistics. Come May, we’re probably back to public libraries…but that’s a long way away!

North Dakota public libraries

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Another post commenting on Chapter 20 of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)–now available as a $9.99 Kindle ebook or $21.95 paperback with ISBN 978-1481279161 on Amazon, along with the usual Lulu options.

Sixty libraries are profiled; 21 are omitted. No libraries are in the top two expenditure brackets and only 17% spend $31 or more per capita (compared to half the libraries overall). Benefit ratios are very high, with median 5.12 or above after adjusting for the 95.1% cost of living. No library is in the top bracket for circulation or patron visits. Most libraries are in the lower midrange of circulation, with only 8% circulating 13 or more items (compared to 25% overall). PC use is distinctly low, with only 12% having 1.7 uses or more per capita (compared to 43% overall).

Libraries by legal service area

LSA Count % Outliers
<700 7 11.7% 9
700-1,149 10 16.7% 8
1,150-1,649 11 18.3% 1
1,650-2,249 5 8.3%
2,250-2,999 7 11.7%
3,000-3,999 2 3.3%
4,000-5,299 2 3.3% 1
5,300-6,799 1 1.7%
6,800-8,699 2 3.3% 1
11,100-14,099 2 3.3%
14,100-18,499 2 3.3%
18,500-24,999 3 5.0%
25,000-34,499 2 3.3% 1
34,500-53,999 1 1.7%
54,000-104,999 3 5.0%

Circulation per capita and spending per capita

Circulation per capita correlates strongly (0.51) with spending per capita.

Note that this graph goes to $55, more than the highest actual spending.

Circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita

Circulation per capita (rounded) occurrence by spending category

Starting points: A note on Give Us a Dollar…

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Karen Harker posted “The data you need?” on February 9, 2013 at Being and Librarianship, discussing my post “The data you need? Musings on libraries and numbers” and adding her own thoughts.

It’s a fine post. You should read it. She mentions some of the data she believes she could use for her own collection assessment; it’s an interesting list. (Harker is also now the first purchaser of Graphing Public Library Benefits, for which I’m grateful; I’ve encouraged her to pass it along to others.)

I am taken with this response to the questions I raised in my post–specifically whether librarians “got” this stuff:

I don’t believe the truth is clear about this.  It is probably something like, some of us do care but don’t get it; some of us get it but don’t care; some care and understand it, but don’t have the time; and some of us are quite interested and can follow through.  And it’s not clear whether this last group is growing in numbers or just staying on the fringes.

That encourages me to continue–and to think harder about my possible non-textbook.

But there’s also this, shortly before the paragraph above:

Walt goes on to question his own contributions, due to lack of response from the library community.  He is, essentially, taking a sounding, asking – Is anybody there? Does anybody care?  Well, Walt, I think we do care and some of us do read your results.  I think what is contributing to this apparent anomie is not disinterest, but perhaps a kind of paralysis – what do we do with this? It is interesting that the libraries in my state have generally moderate circulation rates or that circulation is correlated to expenditures.  What can I do with that information?  While this may be taught in the core curriculum of MLS programs, it may be forgotten as the graduates enter the workforce and get sucked into drudgery of their everyday routines.

I’ve boldfaced part of that (not emphasized in the original) because that’s what I want to comment on here. To wit: There’s no question that neither my book(s) on public library data nor the series of related posts here give a library something the library can run with directly. The book(s) may provide starting points, but those need to be fleshed out with local analysis, consideration of what a library wants to do and more. The book will tell you how your library stacks up (on a range of output metrics) compared to a reasonably small group of comparable libraries. I hope (and believe) that’s useful information, but it’s only a starting point for telling your own compelling funding story (and seeing where things could be improved).

The “$4” posts here, specifically the state-by-state commentaries, are not even starting points. They’re intended to add to the book and provide further overall information on one aspect of public library operations–but they’re not directly useful for individual libraries.

I submitted a comment on Harker’s post, noting how I might proceed with a future project if it made sense (that is, another analysis of public library metrics, not The Mythical Average Library). I would definitely do some things differently, but the results would still offer a fairly rich description of (some aspects of) American public library operations and, I hope, a set of starting points for individual libraries. But they’re only starting points. And maybe it’s unrealistic to believe that the smaller libraries I’m most interested in helping–the 77% (or so) of public libraries serving fewer than 25,000 people–are in positions to take advantage of my work, to build from those starting points.

Anyway: Thanks, Karen: A first-rate post that gives me (and others) things to think about.

A quick reality check on the economics of Netflix

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

Netflix has done a great job of adding streaming-only subscribers and losing disc subscribers, to the point that, at the end of 2012, it had more than three times as many paying domestic streaming subscribers as paying domestic disc subscribers.

And, of course, that has to be treat for Netflix financially, right? It gets rid of all that postage?

So here’s the quick reality check–come up with your answer without actually, you know, looking it up.

How much more profitable is Netflix’ domestic streaming operation than its domestic DVD operation?

[I mention domestic because, if you include international streaming…well, let’s not go there just yet.]

For those disinclined to actually check the spreadsheet, I’ll add the answer on Monday.