|This is an expanded version of the cover feature that appears in the Nov. 1, 2012 issue of Library Journal.|
We are very pleased to present the results of the fifth edition of the Library Journal Index of Public Library Service (LJI), a measurement tool that compares U.S. public libraries on the quantities of services they deliver. The 2012 LJ Index, brought to you by Baker & Taylor’s Bibliostat Collect and Connect, is based on Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) data for 2010.
This year, 262 libraries have received Star designations based on their service output. Over the five editions there have been 1,296 Star awards conferred upon 455 libraries representing 44 U.S. states. On average, 259 Star Libraries have received these designations per edition (the number varies by year owing to occasional ties). Though a significant number of libraries post repeat performances, turnover in the annual roster of Star Libraries has been moderate. In any given edition, about 200 libraries received repeat Star honors (though not necessarily the identical Star count), while roughly 60 additional libraries earned new star designations.
An impressive 111 public libraries received Star awards in all five LJI editions, and 30 select libraries earned 5-Star ratings in all five editions. See “All the Stars, All Five Editions” for a table of all Star Libraries to date; a number of noteworthy examples from the “5 Stars, 5 Editions” group representing a variety of expenditure categories appear following the table on that page.
Call for new output measures
Even with such examples of success, describing the contributions that public libraries make to their communities remains a challenge. On this very topic, if you will indulge us, we would like to quote from our November 2009 article: “One clear and positive lesson from these distressing economic times is that we need richer, more relevant data to demonstrate the value of library services.” Not that this idea originated with us. This has been the sentiment of public library directors for some time. For instance, in the past, directors of Star Libraries have emphasized the need for more electronic measures, such as counts of Wi-Fi access; percentage of time public Internet terminals are available; library website, database, and ebook usage; and so on. Meanwhile, directors are becoming more cognizant of the need to document services more creatively and thoroughly.
To this end, Worthington Public Library (OH) director Chuck Gibson explains that his library now counts what they call “inreach” services, miniprograms that arise spontaneously between staff and patrons. For example, if a group of young families in the children’s area asks about books, children’s librarians often start a book talk program on the fly. They can also draw on ready-to-go crafts that relate to early childhood literacy. “Previously, we didn’t count these interactions as anything more than user visits. Now we record patron participation in these activities,” Gibson says.
Susan Considine, director of Fayetteville Free Library, NY, describes how many library services go undocumented time and again, or, at best, get pigeonholed as catchall reference services. Yet, libraries invest significant amounts of time and talent into activities, such as collaborations with other community agencies and resources, that never make it into the official statistical tallies reported to state library authorities annually. Considine, president of the Public Library Section of the New York Library Association, and her colleagues have scheduled a forum on this pressing issue at the association’s annual conference this month. It is their hope that progress can be made on defining statistical categories and measures “that will better reflect today’s public library activity and the impact of this activity in the communities that we serve.”
We are gratified that the LJ Index uses traditional library statistics to promote the mission of libraries and to confirm how libraries contribute to their communities. And we will continue to campaign for the identification of more relevant and up-to-date output measures to serve this same purpose. Surprisingly, despite the dramatic changes in public library services over the past five years, no new output measures (e.g., library website visits, Wi-Fi usage) have been forthcoming in the annual national data from IMLS, and only a small handful of states have begun to collect data on new output measures. Before next year’s edition of the LJ Index, we will be examining new data from those states to assess whether any of the new measures correlate sufficiently strongly with the established LJ Index measures to encourage their adoption nationwide.