Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four
That’s the title of my new study of public library benefits and funding, using a conservative Benefits Ratio calculated from information available in the IMLS public library database for 2009.
The 193-page 6" x 9” paperback is available from Lulu at http://lulu.com/content/12940228/ for $49.50—discounted 30% at least through the end of the 2012 ALA Annual Conference. (That discount may continue past the conference depending on continuing sales.) It’s also available as a PDF version for $29.50 at http://lulu.com/content/12940367/ (that will go up to $39.50 when the 30% discount for the print version ends).
I’m asking for feedback (positive or negative) and advice on doing this better. The book includes the URL for a page linking to a survey and explicitly invites email feedback with the promise that I won’t respond badly to negative feedback.
I believe this book can be useful for public libraries in understanding how they compare to similar libraries on readily-measurable benefits and helping to improve budgets, but I’m not a public librarian. If people find it valuable, at least as a concept, I’ll use feedback to produce a more refined version using 2010 data when that’s available.
This book does not Name Names and Pick Winners: With two unavoidable exceptions, no libraries are individually identified in the book. (The two exceptions appear in the chapter on states—one state and one statelike entity have one public library system each.)
I’m offering a few PDF review copies available (since the pages are 6" x 9" the PDF should work fairly well on most ereaders). Request them directly from me—email@example.com. I do have notes for those requesting review copies:
· If you ask for a review copy, you’re planning to write an online review of some sort (on your own blog, on some other website, to a list) and either send me a copy or a link. (I say “online” because this is a preliminary edition: It should be replaced or defunct before print reviews are likely.) At the very least, I’d ask you to complete the survey, send me direct feedback or both. A review could be as brief as "What a waste of time" or could include pages of suggestions on how to make a possibly good idea better.
· I do not care whether the review is positive, mixed or negative. I’m looking for honest feedback. I’m willing to be convinced that this just isn’t a good idea. I’m absolutely certain that the preliminary version could use improvement!
· I reserve the right to stop sending out review copies at a certain point.
Basically, I’m asking that you only request a review copy if you’re actually planning to review the book, noting how minimal a review can be.
A series of posts on Walt at Random discuss the concept that resulted in this book. Excerpts from the first few pages:
Public libraries represent excellent value propositions, either regarded as the heart of any healthy community or viewed strictly on the basis of cost and benefits. The title of this book is a conservative way of stating the benefit ratio for most American public libraries: For every dollar spent, they yield four dollars (or more) in benefits.
So this: Public libraries with better funding continue to show a similar ratio of benefits to cost. That’s significant, especially as communities begin to recover economically and libraries seek an appropriate share of improved community revenues.
For 9,102 U.S. public libraries that reported at least some statistics for 2009, the median readily calculable benefits totaled 5.00 times operating expenses—and the correlation between expenses per capita and benefits per capita was a strong 0.51.
Removing 594 special cases—most of them very small libraries or reading rooms that are almost entirely volunteer-run (with less than 10 hours per week of paid librarian time), but also 152 libraries with less than $5 operating expenses per capita and 27 libraries with more than $300 operating expenses per capita, the median benefits totaled 4.89 times operating expenses—and the correlation between expenses per capita and benefits per capita was an even stronger 0.64.
That strong correlation suggests this: By and large, providing public libraries with more funding will yield proportionally more benefits.
This is neither surprising nor wholly intuitive. More funding means longer hours, more and better programs, a more up-to-date collection and more contemporary PC support—all of which are likely to yield additional direct benefits to the community. What’s not intuitive: That in general you continue to get such excellent benefits for additional funding.
The final title of this book ends in “four” rather than “five” to err on the conservative side. When rounded to the nearest whole dollar, a majority of Americans are served by libraries with at least a four to one benefit to expense ratio—and that includes more than three out of four libraries.
In the fall of 2011, I studied the presence of public libraries on Facebook and Twitter as background for an ALA Editions book (Successful Social Networking in Public Libraries, scheduled to appear later in 2012). As research progressed, I wound up looking at (or for) the websites of every public library in 38 states (5,958 in all) and gained a new appreciation for the diversity and community connections of America’s public libraries.
During that study, I became skeptical of the many stories I’d read that assume public libraries are shutting down all over America. When my attempts to get actual numbers (how many libraries had actually closed and remained closed, neither reopening, being replaced by comparable libraries or at least reopening as volunteer-run reading rooms?) were unsuccessful, I decided to answer the question for myself. With help and advice from Will Kurt and others, I concluded that only about 32 public libraries (not branches but library systems and independent libraries) have closed during the 12 years from 1998 through 2009 and remained closed, with nearly all of those 32 libraries serving tiny groups of people. (That study is documented in two issues of Cites & Insights, my free ejournal at citesandinsights.info: April 2012, citesandinsights.info/civ12i3.pdf, and May 2012, citesandinsights.info/civ12i4.pdf.)
The study of closing libraries reminded me of speeches I’d done many years ago at state library conferences, discussing the health and diversity of libraries. In preparation for some of those speeches I would download current library spreadsheets from the state library and do some analysis of funding and circulation. I consistently found that better-funded libraries did more—and quite a bit more, sometimes showing more cost-effectiveness than less well-funded libraries. I wondered what I’d find with a slightly more sophisticated analysis of the whole nation’s libraries. This book is the result.
The book explores library benefits and expenditures along several different axes: population (the legal service area for each library), library budget (total operating expenditures), per capita spending, state-by-state, and benefit ratios. For each axis, nine or ten sections offer further breakdowns along a different axis, so that a library can see how it does compared to similar libraries.
As discussed later in the introduction, I’m not trying to replace the HAPLR ratings, LJ’s Star ratings or studies done by state libraries and other groups (and IMLS’ own reports). I’m hoping to provide another perspective that can be a useful complement—and I’m specifically trying to avoid choosing another set of Celebrity Libraries. I’m much more interested in the health and community service provided by 6,000+ libraries “in the middle” (those neither very well nor very badly funded) than I am in 10 or 100 “stars” or “best libraries.”
One caution: If you really, truly hate numbers, you will find this book impenetrable. There are a lot of tables, designed to be brief (typically no more than eleven rows and five columns of data) and clear. I think there are 335 tables in all, as well as four graphs. (There could be hundreds or thousands of graphs, but I believe tables are far more compact and, for this data universe, more meaningful.)
I’m pretty sure at least one of the chapters is redundant or irrelevant. I’m nearly certain some data presentations (maybe most) could be improved. It may be that sharply reducing the number of tables and providing a textual précis for some tables would better serve libraries. I’m hoping—I believe—the concept is useful and the overall content is helpful. But that’s not really for me to say.
The book will be available at least through July 31, 2012 and probably at least through August 31, 2012. If the consensus of those offering feedback and responding to the survey is that it’s useful, then it will continue to be available until it’s replaced by a more refined version based on 2010 IMLS data, probably two to four months after that data becomes available.
I hope this book—at least in a later version—will be worthwhile for a few hundred public libraries and library-related agencies. A few academic librarians interested in how low-level statistics can be used to look at public libraries may also find it worthwhile. How low-level? The fanciest statistics in the book are median figures and one particular correlation, called “correlation” in the book (“correl” in Excel) and based on Pearson’s Coefficient. On the other hand, it’s based on working with 14 columns of source data from each of more than 9,000 rows and preparing 18 new columns of derivative measures for each row.
I wrote two recent books that I do believe your library needs at least one of, both from major library publishers. The first has been around since last summer and should be even more relevant (to all academic libraries, most special libraries and some public libraries) with the successful petition at Whitehouse.gov; the second has been around since January and should be beneficial for every public library and many academic libraries.
This Special Report from ALA Editions (2011, ISBN 978-0-8389-1106-8) is a fast 80 pages (8.5x11") that will get you up to speed on open access and point you to places to learn more. It’s $45 from ALA Editions (cheaper for ALA members) at http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=3281 and also available as an ebook ($36) or combined print/ebook bundle ($53). ALA Editions ebooks ordered directly are actually .zip files containing ePDF, ePub, Kindle (.prc) and MobiPocket (.prc) versions.
Here’s what the ALA Editions page says:
Academic libraries routinely struggle to afford access to expensive journals, and patrons may not be able to obtain every scholarly paper they need. Is Open Access (OA) the answer? In this ALA Editions Special Report, Crawford helps readers understand what OA is (and isn’t), as he concisely
Analyzes the factors that have brought us to the current state of breakdown, including the skyrocketing costs of science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) journals; consolidation of publishers and diminishing price competition; and shrinking library budgets
Summarizes the benefits and drawbacks of different OA models, such as “Green,” “Gold,” Gratis,” “Libre,” and various hybrid forms
Discusses ways to retain peer-review, and methods for managing OA in the library, including making OA scholarly publishing available to the general public
Addressing the subject from the library perspective while taking a realistic view of corporate interests, Crawford presents a coherent review of what Open Access is today and what it may become.
You can also buy it as a “NOOK Book” directly from BN.com for $30.24 or a Kindle edition from Amazon for $28.44
This 184-page 6 x 9" paperback from Information Today, Inc. (2012, ISBN 978-1-57387-430-4) shows you and your patrons how to create quality print books using the tools they already own (typically), with no up-front investment: It’s designed for the millions (or tens of millions) of family stories, oral histories, local histories and other worthwhile books that may only make sense for one, five, fifty or a hundred people to buy.
This book is $49.50 from ITI at infotoday.stores.yahoo.net/librarians-guide-to-micropublishing.html (with a 40% discount through July 30, 2012 if you use the code LGMP1 when you order it from that link). I’m particularly fond of the hardcover version—produced using the tools the book discusses—but you can also order any of a wide variety of ebook versions using links on that ITI page (or directly from various booksellers). For example, the Kindle version is currently $24.75 at Amazon, the Nook version is $37.80 at Barnes & Noble (bn.com), Sony wants $24.75 at the Reader Store and Kobo wants $27.89 at its bookstore. Here’s what it says on the ITI page:
In this timely book, Walt Crawford explains the how, what, and why of libraries and community micropublishing. He details the use of no-cost/low-cost publishing tools Lulu and CreateSpace and equips librarians to guide their patrons in the production of quality print books. He offers step-by-step instructions for using MS Word to design and edit manuscripts that can be printed in flexible quantities via on-demand technology.
No stone goes unturned as Crawford demonstrates how, with a little attention to detail, anyone can produce books that rival the output of professional publishers. His advice is geared to making it easy for librarians to support local publishing without any additional budget, and libraries purchasing the book are granted permission to reproduce and supply key sections to their aspiring authors.
There’s a chapter on academic libraries, since the techniques discussed could also work for libraries creating virtual university presses or, perhaps more widely, libraries creating new OA journals (since there’s an easy way to create an annual print version of an OA journal, with no upfront costs, for the authors and libraries who want it—as some journals are already doing).
Cites & Insights Books, my Lulu bookstore, now includes not only my self-published books but also my wife’s genealogical and family history books. It’s getting a little crowded, especially because Lulu now splits off PDF versions as separate listings.
On July 1, 2012, or shortly thereafter, I’m going to clean up the site a bit, initially by deleting the PDF versions of Cites & Insights itself. Those versions were only there as a way for people to support C&I, which hasn’t happened—although it’s also true that the annual index now appears only within the annual volume. The print volumes will continue to be available (for a while at least). I may also delete the PDF versions of the two remaining liblog books. If you want any of these in PDF form, now’s the time to act.
Comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2012 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.
All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License.