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Christina's LIS Rant
Friday, April 30, 2004
  What metrics to use for modern libraries (public and others)?
There's been a lot of hype recently about a UK Libri Report saying that if trends continue, the libraries will be out of business in less than 20 years (found on ResourceShelf and elsewhere).
While I agree that libraries need to be open more hours and need to be clean and welcoming, I'm not certain I agree with the tripling of the book budgets. The main metric the author uses is book circulation. Virtual reference services, electronic library services, and telephone reference services are not charted. Likewise, library visits are to the physical location, not to the electronic location. I argue that the cost per visit is not a good measure because it does not take in to account the rising journal subscription costs, the electronic usage of resources, and the in-library use of materials.
Also, the report states that libraries have started programs recently to better serve the disadvantaged, "but they are not what, in market research, the majority of the public say they want." Of course! How much of the public would vote to have welfare? Do parents want their tax money to serve their local school or to be shifted to a poorer district? We all complain that "Johnny can't read" but do we want to spend our tax money preparing young children to read through library programs?
As for the customers heading to the library and not finding what they're looking for. 50% is a STANDARD number (and actually better than in many academic libraries). See F.W. Lancaster on shelf availability in If you want to evaluate your library..., 2nd ed., (Champaign, Il.: U of Ill. GSLIS, 1993). Specifically, see pages 129-135. The book must be owned, it must be checked in, then it must be shelved, and it must be where the customer is looking for it (not on display or in reference by accident...). Did the person rating the Hampshire library ask a reference librarian or just go to the shelf? The 90% standard the author sets is arbitrary and wrong. Libraries can't possibly buy (or even rent) enough copies of the hot new best sellers to meet demand. What happens to the pallet of Dr. Phil books when the customers move on to the LA Diet?
I agree that libraries should be open later on Sundays. From my little bit of experience, it's a matter of rushing people out at 5pm.
About the facilities. In the U.S. you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You're part of local government so cleaning goes to the lowest bidder and the branch manager is in charge but has no say in the contracts. When we finally get bond issues to build a new library, then people complain that it was money that should have been spent on books or staff or schools or highways.
About materials processing:
Libraries label all the books they handle so that they can be easily identified when returned from loan and replaced on the correct shelf. Yet the jacket of more than 95% of books makes perfectly clear where they should go.There are very few books that need a further identification.

Ok, so this is clearly, blatantly wrong. How about children's vs. YA vs. adult? Can you tell that from the cover? How about the 158 section? How do you arrange stuff in there? The back covers all say "self help." Maybe the author should realize that processing is more because the books are supposed to last. They have antitheft devices, they have plastic covers, they are tracked individually (not just by title)...
This turned into somewhat of a rant, but it gets down to this: the author is comparing libraries to for-profit bookstores. They have distinctly different missions and structures. I believe in treating the patrons like customers, marketing our materials and services, but that's as far as I'll take it. I hope a British librarian takes a stand against this report locally.
 
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This is my blog on library and information science. I'm into Sci/Tech libraries, special libraries, personal information management, sci/tech scholarly comms.... My name is Christina Pikas and I'm a librarian in a physics, astronomy, math, computer science, and engineering library. I'm also a doctoral student at Maryland. Any opinions expressed here are strictly my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer or CLIS. You may reach me via e-mail at cpikas {at} gmail {dot} com.

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Christina Kirk Pikas

Laurel , Maryland , 20707 USA
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