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Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)

I like to post about anything that’s good that helps prove the value of libraries.  Hopefully this author won’t mind me promoting his self-published book in case you missed it.  Check out the value analysis from Walt Crawford about U.S. public libraries based on the latest IMLS data (FY2010 Public Library Data Tables released by the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS) at the end of July 2012).  You might want to purchase the full report (highlghting below is mine):

Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13)

Source:  Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large ISSN 1534-0937 Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media
Selection from Cites & Insights 12, Number 9: October 2012

“This book gathers key metrics for public library support and use, arrives at a Benefit Ratio based on conservative estimate of the value of various countable library functions and provides ways for a given library to compare itself with roughly 510 libraries serving a similar legal service area population (LSA), a few dozen libraries within that group with similar funding, and other libraries in its state. A library can also compare itself to libraries with similar funding across the nation.”

Public libraries represent excellent value propositions, quite apart from being at the heart of healthy communities large and small. Public libraries typically yield several dollars in benefits for every dollar in expenditures. Public libraries also need better funding to do better work—and unless they have separate funding agencies, must compete for that funding with other agencies at the local and state level.

Public libraries need to tell their stories, stories that are distinct for each of the more than 9,000 public libraries in the U.S., to improve and maintain funding and to assure healthy futures. This book won’t tell your library’s story, but it should provide a resource to help you tell your library’s story—specifically, how your library’s doing on measurable metrics (compared to other libraries) and why it deserves better funding to do even better.”

Read the full article at Cites & Insights for more.

Walt Crawford highlights some of the results on his blog:

Overperforming and well-appreciated

Calculating conservative benefit ratios for countable/reported public library benefits, half of the U.S. libraries in FY2010 were in the sweet spot, delivering $3 to $5.99 in benefits for each dollar spent–and about 10% were well-appreciated (with such strong uncountable benefits and presence that they’re funded well enough to have benefit ratios below $3). But that leaves 28% seriously overperforming and probably stretched very thin (delivering $7 and more per dollar spent)…and 8% delivering more than $10 in benefits per dollar spent, which doesn’t seem sustainable. Lots more in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. Read more about it here.”

Better funding = more circs: The broad picture

Chapter Two of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) ($11.99 PDF, $21.95 paperback, $31.50 hardbound) gives the overall picture for 8,659 U.S. public libraries in FY2010 for each of ten metrics. I find that the 15 tables on pages 22-26 paint an interesting picture of American library funding and usage even before breaking libraries down by size.

Circulation per capita

By my reckoning, the largest piece of calculable public library benefits is still circulation–58% of the total in my simplistic calculations. And circulation per capita correlates very strongly with funding per capita. That makes sense: Libraries with better funding are typically open more hours (so people can borrow items), have better and more contemporary collections (so people want to borrow more items) and are likely to have better displays, reader’s advisory and other features (so people are enticed to borrow items).

When you look at circulation per capita on a benchmark basis–that is, dividing libraries by the number of items circulated per potential patron–the numbers are fairly clear and compelling:

  • 38% of the libraries circulate at least 10 items per capita; 25% at least 13 (that is, more than one a month)–and 6% at least 24 (at least two per month).
  • As you go down in circulation per capita, the median expenditures per capita also goes down–but even faster, so that the benefit ratio (strongly based on per-cap circulation) gets lower.
  • So, for example, the 24+ elite are typically well-funded (median expenditures per capita $75.82, in the top funding bracket) but also have a high benefit ratio (median 6.8). Those circulating 10-12 items per capita have median expenditures of $38.40–and median benefit ratio of 5.57. It’s a clear drop in each bracket, going down to the fortunately-small 6% of libraries circulating fewer than two items per capita: median expenditures $11.76, median benefits 4.61.

Looking at circulation from an expenditures viewpoint, the numbers are equally clear–in a manner that a graph might not show, since (as you’d expect) some libraries circulate more items relative to funding than either.

But as you move down in funding brackets from the highest ($73-$399, where median circulation per capita is 18.88 and the 75%ile is 26.65) to the lowest ($5-$11, with 2.60 median per capita circulation and 75%ile of 3.74), there’s always–in every one of the ten expenditure brackets–a drop for 25%ile, median, and 75%ile. But the brackets overlap, as you’d expect–e.g., the 75%ile for libraries with $53-$72 expenditures per capita (19.46) is higher than the median for $73-$399, but significantly lower than the top category’s 75%ile.

It’s a detailed version of “libraries that spend more do more” in the largest and clearest measure. If your library spends $31-$35 per capita and circulates 9 items per capita, you’re just above average for your expenditure category–and you’d be below average for libraries spending $36-$42 and in the top quartile for libraries spending $21-$25.

The numbers seem to move in two-bracket jumps–that is, the 75%ile for one spending bracket, typically 10% of the nation’s libraries, will be roughly equal to the median for two brackets higher. The 75%ile–the point at which one out of four libraries is doing better–is 7.67 for libraries spending $17-$20, where the median for libraries two brackets higher ($26-$30) is nearly identical at 7.69.

What’s that all mean? Your library can make the case that better funding, with the kind of effective spending that good public libraries should have, will lead to significantly higher use.

This post has some additional information on the book.”

You can order a copy here at Lulu:;jsessionid=6D3EB020C2E7FBD430E1A48FF33A6D52

Give Us a Dollar and We'll Give You Back Four (2012-13)

“Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) is available in three versions, all with precisely the same content:

·         An $11.99 PDF may suit most libraries’ needs best, especially smaller libraries. The page size is 6×9″, so it should be easy to read on a desktop, notebook, tablet or ebook reader. There is no DRM: your library owns the book. (If your library or consortium believes patrons might find the book interesting, you’re welcome to put it on your ebook server: no contract required. It’s your book.)

·         A $21.95 trade paperback (cover shown above) is printed on cream 60# book stock and should be an easy book to read and use. This may be the best version for library consultants, larger libraries for whom an extra $9.96 doesn’t make a big difference and the secondary audience of library people who will find the tables interesting on their own.

·         A $31.50 casebound hardcover is the most permanent form. I believe any library serving a library school should own this book. It’s not only the first book out based on the IMLS FY2010 tables, it offers a distinctive set of comparisons of relatively small groups of libraries.

All three versions are available from Lulu, Lulu frequently has sales during weekday periods (most often announced on a Monday and good through that Friday), typically offering 15% or 20% off. You might go first to the Lulu home page and look for a coupon code, then search for “Give Us a Dollar” to get to the books. You can buy and download the PDF immediately. The trade paperback will typically take a week or so to reach you; the hardcover may take an additional week.”

A dollar a week? Actual public library spending

Reference transactions, such as they are

Libraries that can do more, do more

Program attendance: overall notes

Give Us a Dollar: A budget table in detail

Public libraries and personal computers (1)

Public libraries and personal computers (2)

A narrative clarification on reference transactions

Busyness in public libraries

Thoughts on individual library data

Libraries serving fewer than 700 people


It’s great that Walt Crawford took the initiative to do the analysis and publish his results.  Public libraries should be able to benefit by quoting the research and comparing themselves to the national cohorts.  



Posted on: September 17, 2012, 9:24 am Category: Uncategorized