Archive for June, 2013

Survey on public library projects: Last call

Friday, June 21st, 2013

If you’re at all interested in either a new and improved version of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four or “A Library Is…,” please take the quick survey.

Next Monday or Tuesday (that is, June 24 or 25, 2013), I need to take action or inaction–either creating an IndieGoGo crowdfunding attempt or deciding that it’s not worth pursuing.

Thanks for your time–the survey really shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

More information on “A library is…

I’ve written enough about a possible second version of Give Us a Dollar… that it seems pointless to rehash it. Basically: Two parts (overview and libraries by size in part one, state-by-state in part two), combining commentary, graphs and text, fewer metrics, including changes from 2010 to 2011.

Some technologies never die

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Do you have a fax machine at home?

Of course not (I hear some of you thinking). What a silly question?

Are you sure?

Well, yes–I mean, I’d know if I had some bulky old machine attached to a phone line and using roll paper, wouldn’t I?

OK, here’s a related question: Do you have a dial-up modem?

An equally absurd question. Next you’ll be asking whether I have a wire recorder…

One more question: Do you have a multifunction printer (all-in-one or copier/printer combo)?

If the answer to that one’s no, then never mind: We won’t take this any further.

But if the answer to that one is yes, then don’t be surprised if the answer to the other two “Do you have” questions is also Yes.

If you have a numeric keypad on the multifunction printer, I’d almost bet on it–and there’s a decent chance it’s true even if you don’t.

Go look at the printer. Look at the connection area(s). See one with a little phone icon?

Guess what? You do have a dial-up modem…although you can probably only use it to send or receive fax.

Check your instruction manual (if you can find it). Or just look at the front panel for a phone icon. Or, what the heck, open the printer-apps launcher. Don’t be surprised if there’s a fax option lurking in there somewhere.

All you need to do is disconnect a landline phone (if you have any landline phones) at the phone, reconnect that cable to the multifunction printer, and, lo and behold, you have a fax machine.

(The same discussion applies to libraries that believe they stopped dealing with fax some years back…)

And sometimes it’s convenient

Sure, it’s faster to “sign” a PDF and send it back or, at worst, print something out, fill it in and sign it, scan it to PDF and attach it to email.

But some institutions–financial ones, for example–won’t accept that route. They want USMail or fax.

I speak from experience. Not only within this millennium, but within this month.

[The first time I really could use a fax, I knew I had the fax–but assumed I didn’t have a dial-up modem. I was wrong.]

In praise of stone fruit

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

My wife loves fresh fruit, even more than I do, but a lot of it doesn’t love her: She can’t cope with apples or citrus, just for example. And we’re generally not thrilled about buying fruit from thousands of miles away, If possible, especially for the “dirty dozen,” we’d really prefer organic. I’m really not fond of apples, and I’m deathly allergic to bananas.

We both get pretty tired of pears at some point, and kiwis only go so far. I thoroughly enjoy navel orange season–I’ll have one a day during the whole season–but that’s been gone for a while.

So for both of us, June/July (sometimes a little earlier) is a special time:

Stone fruit season!

When the farmers’ markets we go to are filled with competitively-priced fruit that both of us enjoy, some organic, some no-spray (but not certified organic), some conventional.

We’re in the heart of it now. And we’re loving it.

  • Brooks cherries showed up early this year, and they were pretty good, but…
  • Bing cherries are plentiful and absolutely first-rate at this point; Rainiers are here, and some of them are first-rate, but they seem to bruise awfully easily. (In both cases, we’re paying $4/pound for low-spray, $5 for organic; unfortunately, the best cherries at this point aren’t the organic ones.)
  • Peachcots. Peachcots. Peachcots. Did I mention this cross between peaches and apricots? Two years ago, one vendor had them for two weeks. This year, two vendors have them (but the one we used two years ago has the best ones), and for two or three weeks. They are wonderful. Just plain wonderful.
  • Oh, and as with all the other store fruit (except cherries), $2/pound seems to be the running number for conventional and pesticide-free, $3/pound for organic. (There’s one oddball vendor who lowballs everything–$1.50/pound for apricots, for example–but the produce and the vendor are both a little questionable.)
  • Apricots are very good at this point. Apriums are OK.
  • Pluots are all over the place, as usual–some superb, some good, some still a little tart. There are so many varieties of pluot (and plumcot) at this point!
  • And two vendors are selling peach/apricot/plum hybrids, also very good. But not as good as the peachcots.
  • When these start to fade away, we should still have some time with peaches and nectarines. We buy a few of them now, but focus on the shorter-season fruit.
  • Yes, I’ll probably buy Washington/Oregon cherries in a few weeks when the local season’s through, but there’s something special about local produce. (“Local” typically means within 100-150 miles, which around here covers a lot of orchards, mostly around where I grew up.)

I’ve been reading about farmers’ market produce being so much more expensive than grocery store produce. That hasn’t been our experience, by and large–but we’d probably pay the difference anyway.




Rockstar librarians

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Since I wrote a mild little snark about thought leaders yesterday, maybe I should say something about Rockstar Librarian.

Here’s what I have to say about that:

In 2013, the whole “rockstar” concept (for anybody except, say, The Rolling Stones) is so self-cancelling that, hey, if that’s what you want to be, or to call somebody else, more power to you.

I’d stay away from the cocaine and groupies, though: that stuff can mess you up bad.

No, this isn’t about Movers & Shakers. Had that discussion many years ago. Expressed myself badly. I’d admit to a tweak of envy for this year, given that the free lunch comes with a great speaker–but hey, if I was going to be ALA 2013, which I’m not, I’d make a beeline for the LITA Imagineering IG program, where–if I was early enough–I’d get a bag of free books including some by authors I admire, and hear from a bunch of them, including Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. Oh, and David Brin: Maybe I could see whether his thinking has evolved any since the last time we met.

Give Us a Dollar: The revised plan

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

If I do a new version of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four, it will be quite a big different from the current one (here are links to the PDF and the hardbound versions)…and the current one will probably remain available for a while. I’d take advantage of some of the work in Graphing Public Library Benefits.

The changes can be summarized as Simplify, Amplify, Clarify and Compare.


I now believe that I included too many different metrics and too many divisions for key metrics in the current version–“too many” in that they may obscure the overall picture of America’s public libraries, but also in that the sheer number of tables and length of the book may intimidate some potential readers/users. I also believe that, while theoretically desirable, basing divisions purely on reality may not work out as well as I’d like.

Here’s what I have in mind for a new version, subject to revision:

  • Spending brackets: Reduce from the current 10 to, probably, five–in part because it’s possible to make charts with five lines that can be read in black-and-white (using different line dot-and-dash combinations), while I don’t think that’s true for 10. The brackets would probably be based on the median per capita spending and would be something like this: A. <1/3 of median. B. 1/3 to 2/3 of median. C. 2/3 to 1 1/3 of median. D. 1 1/3 to twice median. E. More than twice median.
  • Size (LSA) brackets: Reduce from the current 18 to, probably, nine, with one bracket each for libraries serving fewer than 1,000 people and those serving at least 100,000, and seven others based on actual distribution (looking at roughly 1,000 libraries per section).
  • Other metrics: Include circulation per capita (reducing current nine brackets to maybe six), reference per capita (reducing from ten brackets to maybe six), patron visits per capita (reducing from nine to maybe six), program attendance per capita (reducing from eight to maybe six), PC use per capita (reducing from eight to maybe six) and visitors per hour (reducing from nine to maybe six). Omitted from detailed metrics: hours open (but see below), total PCs, PCs per thousand patrons and circulation per hour.
  • I’d still have the benefit ratio, probably calculated very similarly, used as appropriate.

The overall net effect is that a given library would be comparable to around 200 other libraries for spending. or around 166 for other metrics. And that most graphs would involve around 1,000 libraries (but I’d probably remove the top 10% from some graphs.)


The new version would be amplified from the current in several ways:

  • I would not exclude libraries with very low funding, those with very high funding, and those with less than 0.25 FTE librarian. I would still exclude territorial libraries, closed libraries and libraries with no reported operating expenditures.
  • The new version would include graphs as well as tables, as appropriate.
  • Rather than peculiar “combined tables” showing quartiles for given metrics at different expenditure levels, there would be single tables, one for each metric–and I’d use the extra space to add 10%ile and 90%ile to the current Q1 (25%ile), median (50%ile) and Q3 (75%ile) figures. That would offer a much better picture of what’s out there, while still ignoring extreme cases.
  • I would include correlations as appropriate (as I do in GPLB).


The current version is, how you say, light on textual commentary. Once you get past page 21, it’s basically nothing but tables.

Which, as a pure tool, may make sense–but is a little overwhelming.

The new version will include some commentary, pointing up noteworthy items in the tables and graphs, providing at least a little textual clarity.


The current version looks at one year. While I do suggest that it’s likely that more money would yield better and more numbers, I don’t have any hard evidence for that.

The new version would compare 2010 and 2011 figures (and would include only libraries present in both years). It would also attempt to show correlations between changes in spending per capita and various other metrics. I would probably include changes in total open hours here.

Oh, and one other change–if this happens at all and if it makes sense:

I’d split the state-by-state sections out into a separate book, and those sections would include some comparisons to overall figures that aren’t there now. That would make the separate book an interesting overview of differences in metrics across the nation.

Best guess as to length (the current book is 262 pages; Graphing Public Library Benefits is 222 pages): Somewhere around 150-200 pages, ideally closer to the first, for the main book; probably around 200 pages, maybe more, for the “Viewing the States” book.

Price would be $9.99 for PDF, whatever it works out to for paperback (probably around $15.50 if it’s 150 pages, around $16.50 if it’s 200 pages), $40 for site-license or state-license (for the state-by-state) ebook version without usage restrictions.

The Survey

No, I still don’t know whether it makes any sense to try a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign to prefund this book, possibly with a stretch goal of making the PDF version free. I also still don’t know whether I’d do this. Since the new figures should show up in July, I’m coming close to a decision.

If this helps you think about these issues, you can still respond to the survey.

Second call: “Give us a dollar…” and “A library is…”

Monday, June 17th, 2013

I could really use more responses before deciding the future of “Give Us a Dollar…” and whether to proceed with “A Library Is…”

Here’s the survey. Five simple questions, anonymous, shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.

Here’s the background post.


Thought leaders

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Those looking for deep significance: Look elsewhere.

Thought leaders.

Doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?

I mean, you have your experts, your gurus, your bigshots…but none of them compare to thought leaders.

Because the rest of us are supposed to be thought followers, waiting for thought leaders to tell us what to think.

Or, I suppose, to lead us to a proper way of thinking?

The more I think about it, given the arena in which this wondrous term tends to get used most often (that arena in which everything is business, one way or another), I think the term’s slightly wrong.

Here’s what it should be:

Thought sellers.

We’re the consumers–we buy what they’re selling. If we don’t, they’re not good thought leaders.

(If you think you’re something more than a consumer, if you think you’re a citizen who forms his or her own thoughts, well, then, good for you. So do I. Which is one of several reasons I cringe every time I see library patrons/users/members referred to as customers. But that’s another post.)

Tools vs. Emotions and the context of EVIL

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a post as much as I have with this one. I’d done three minor rewrites, each time saying “Or I could just scrap the whole thing” but not doing so. This time, I’ve scrapped a whole bunch of it.

What’s left may not make much sense unless you’re in the ALA-TT group on Facebook (which, by the way, has nothing to do with ALA) or unless you saw a certain high-profile blog post and were able to make an unnamed connection. I feel I was badly misquoted in that post–but the writer didn’t actually use my name. So I’ve scrapped most of what I was going to say but will leave portions.

Although, try as I may, I still can’t see how “I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft” as a complete statement from someone who hadn’t been in the thread before, tossed into a thread on a new iOS version, is humor. Or is not an attack on people (which, by the way, probably include most Mac owners–e.g., anyone using Office for the Mac or Word for the Mac) who “choose to use Microsoft.”

Anyway, shorn of most of the discussion and the names involved, here’s what’s worth saying:

There’s nothing wrong with loving Apple products, if you’re one who extends love to things other than people and perhaps pets. Enthusiasm is a good thing.

I do not understand, and do not appreciate, how it is that loving Product A makes it commendable or even OK to diss those who choose to use Product B.

I like Honda Civics a lot. In my lifetime, that’s all I’ve driven as a primary car–and the one time we purchased something that wasn’t a Honda, we were deeply disappoint. If I was given to loving object, I could say that I love Honda.

But, you know, it would never occur to me to say “I can’t believe people still buy Toyotas.” Or GM, or Subaru, or BMW, or whatever.

The point at which a preference for A turns into the felt need to put down those choosing B–with the exception of sports teams, where the corporate structure seems to rely on this silliness–is the point at which fan turns into fanatic. There’s at least one broad strain of fanaticism that says “our way is the only way and those who feel differently are wrong (and maybe should be punished).” I don’t much care for it.

The post in question–the one that I’ve decided not to name explicitly or discuss in detail–also gets into tools vs. emotions; the person seems to think you should be emotional about (that is, love) your computer.

Here I plead guilty. I’m a tool-user. I like Word a lot because it’s an exceptionally flexible toolkit; ditto Excel. I like that Windows lets me use any of half a dozen different ways to do something, whatever suits my own habits at the time. I don’t gaze in awe at the desktop or have any desire to stroke my notebook. I use it. A lot. I never worry that what I do with my computer might not be “worthy” of Windows or Gateway. It’s a tool (actually a toolkit).

But, you know, if you love your Mac, that’s OK. I know people who use Macs and iPads and iPhones as tools. They’re good tools. For some people, they’re better tools than Windows PCs or Android-based tablets (of which I happen to have one, a Kindle Fire HD 8.9–I find it a good tool, also, but don’t love it) or Android phones. And that’s their choice. If they develop a more emotional relationship with their Apple devices–well, again, that’s their choice.

I honor their preference. I don’t feign lack of belief that they could make such choices.

I couldn’t do as much writing as I do without Word (and, having tried it, I don’t think LibreOffice would work nearly as well for me). There is no way I could be doing the large-scale analyses I’ve done of public and academic libraries without Excel’s speed, flexibility and feature set. I find Windows a welcoming environment for me.

Of course my computer is my primary creative tool–but it’s still a toolkit, a means of producing something, whether it’s a post, an article, a book, a presentation or a tweet. My computer is a means: the end is the actual expression.

As for love? I love my wife (of 35.5 years so far, and shooting for many more). I love our cats. I tend not to love objects–in fact, I like Honda Civics, I don’t actually love them. I am, admittedly, not the world’s most emotional person. I do not love my 5-year-old cheap Gateway notebook, but it sure has been a good toolkit!

Oh, and for those who did read the other post: I never ever said that Mac fans are EVIL. I would never say that. Not even in jest. Here’s what I said:

…good to be reminded that it’s EVIL to criticize Apple fans, but it’s perfectly OK to trash any of us who prefer Microsoft. Thus it has always been; thus it will always be.

If you can turn this into a statement that Apple fans are EVIL, you’re a more clever reader than I am. Just as, if you can turn “”I can’t believe people still choose to use Microsoft,” all by itself, into humor, you have a much keener sense of humor than I do.

A tiny little listy grump

Friday, June 14th, 2013

They’re email lists. Or just lists.

Some of those lists use the Listserv® software from L-Soft.

Many others different list software from other companies.

It’s sort of like there being librarians (or professional librarians) and others who happen to work in libraries.

And, y’know, librarians really should be able to make the distinction.

Heck, at home we use Safeway Home (previously Softly) facial tissues rather than Kleenex® tissues. Because we like them better.


Power patrons?

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I’ve had those two words sitting on my “should blog about this” notebook for months–and this is as good a time as any.

What’s a power patron? Somebody who goes to their public library at least once a week. And, if you believe a number of sources (most of which trace back to a single library journal), libraries should pay extra attention to power patrons.

I’m not particularly comfortable with the whole “power patron” concept (although I suppose it’s better than “prime customer”) as it applies to public libraries. I’m even more uncomfortable with the notion that people who are in their public libraries lots and lots and lots deserve special treatment or should be listened to more carefully than the rest of us shlubs.

I’m not a power patron. I typically visit the library once every three weeks, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later. I return my three books, drop off any donations to the Friends’ bookstore, choose three new books, and leave.

I am, in other words, a regular patron–borrowing typically 50 or so books a year, appreciating the library, only too ready to vote for a millage increase and support shifting more of the city’s budget to the library. When I finally give up on trying to make a difference nationally, I’ll get directly involved with the Friends (they’re already recruiting…) and maybe go to library programs.

But I certainly don’t go to the library every week. So I’m just an ordinary patron.

Actually, if patrons who go once a week are power patrons who deserve extra attention, what about the small group (here–larger elsewhere) who go every single day and spend much of the day in the library, sometimes even awake?

Aren’t those superpatrons? Shouldn’t they have even more influence on a library’s operation?