March 29, 2017

LJ Index 2015: Do-It-Yourself Projects with LJ Index Data

In late July 2015, one of the coauthors of this article—Keith Curry Lance—participated in the inaugural Research Institute for Public Libraries (RIPL) in Colorado Springs. During an “office hours” opportunity for participants to confer with RIPL speakers, a participant from Mississippi posed an interesting question: Given that there are no Star Libraries in our state, is there any appropriate use we can make of the LJ Index scores and data? The answer to that question is an enthusiastic yes!

While the Star Library ratings tend to garner the lion’s share of attention to this annual project, the LJ Index scores—which are reported online for all eligible public libraries along with the data on which they are based—can be used separately.

There is just one firm rule: the LJ Index scores are only meaningful within each of its expenditure categories. Scores from two different spending categories are not comparable, as they are based on different group averages. So while it is fair game to look at any subsets of libraries that one can identify with available data, it is never appropriate to mix libraries from different expenditure categories.

Within spending groups, however, you may opt to look at how your library ranks on its LJ Index score among a wide variety of self-selected peers: libraries with the same legal basis (city, county, district); in similar settings (urban, suburban, rural); with similar outlet structures (whether or not there is a central library, number of branches); with similar size staffs (numbers of librarians, total staff); and the like.

Such comparisons can be made most easily in Bibliostat Connect, the graphical statistical comparison software offered by Baker & Taylor, the sponsor of the LJ Index. Bibliostat Connect is the only authorized source of dynamic online access to the LJ Index scores of your library and others like it. Otherwise, you will find multiple downloadable files of LJ Index/Star Library rating data on the LJ website.

Library directors and boards need not stop at examining how their libraries rank overall based on the LJ Index score. It might be useful to consider how a library ranks on individual output measures.

Following is an example of an appropriate claim about the LJ Index scores of libraries that are not among the national Stars.

ljx151101webStarLibsDIYTbl1Mississippi

Mississippi has ten public libraries that report $1 million–$4.9 million annually in total operating expenditures. The libraries with the top three LJ Index scores (in parentheses) in that spending peer group are Jackson/George Public Library in Pascagoula (426), Hancock County Library in Bay St. Louis (425), and the Library of Hattiesburg (419). While these three Mississippi public libraries are not national Star Libraries, they can claim and publicize that they are the state’s top three libraries in their expenditure category on the LJ Index.

Ask the right questions

At whatever level LJ Index scores and associated data are examined, library directors and boards are encouraged to ask probing questions about why figures compare as they do, such as:

  • How are your services, staff, facilities, and users different from ours?
  • What might your library be doing differently from ours that helps to explain our statistical differences?
  • How do you count outputs differently than we do? As a result, just how comparable are our figures on a particular statistic?

» Next page: “E-Circ Not Ready for Prime Time”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Keith Curry Lance & Ray Lyons About Keith Curry Lance & Ray Lyons

Keith Curry Lance (keithlance@comcast.net) is an independent consultant based in suburban Denver. He also consults with the Colorado-based RSL Research Group. In both capacities, he conducts research on libraries of all types for state library agencies, state library associations, and other library-related organizations. For more information, visit http://www.KeithCurryLance.com.
Ray Lyons (raylyons@gmail.com) is an independent consultant and statistical programmer in Cleveland. His articles on library statistics and assessment have also appeared in Public Library Quarterly, Public Libraries, and Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. He blogs on library statistics and assessment at libperformance.com.

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