Starting points: A note on Give Us a Dollar…

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.

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