April 21, 2018

LJ Index 2013: Beyond the Stars

If you think the LJ Index of Public Library Service is not useful to your non–Star Library, guess again. There is a multitude of ways in which you can use your library’s LJ Index score and its underlying per capita statistics (circulation, visits, Internet computer use, and program attendance). First, locate your library in this spreadsheet. Review your library’s LJ Index score and the four per capita statistics on which it is based. Consider which statistic(s) is contributing most to, or dragging down, your library’s score. Then, ask the following questions:

How far below the Star Libraries is your library’s LJ Index score?
Are there obvious explanations for your library’s score or those of Star and other libraries with higher scores? Perhaps your library has a larger service area population than other libraries, and this depresses your library’s per capita statistics. Or perhaps some of the libraries with higher scores reported suspiciously high per capita statistics relative to other libraries in your spending peer group. (Reminder: We use the national public library data file released annually by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. We never delete, “correct,” or otherwise edit the data. No data set is perfect, including this one.)

What are Star Libraries doing differently from what your library is doing?
Another library’s higher LJ Index score may be a statistical artifact explained away by its suppressed population (i.e., a lower official population than its actual users would suggest—most often associated with resort communities or suburban enclaves). If that is not the case, however, it might be worth visiting the websites of higher-scoring libraries or giving your colleagues at those libraries a call to ask how they are achieving such high per capita service output. You might learn something that could be emulated easily at your library. Or you might learn something about their library’s circumstances that biases the LJ Index toward them.

How does your library rank on the LJ Index within a specific subset of libraries in your spending peer group?
The most obvious subset of libraries, at least in the larger spending peer groups, is the ones in your own state. You might find that your library ranks highly within your state, even though it is not a Star Library nationally. For example, in many of the larger spending groups, there are states with one or two, if any, Star Libraries. If, however, you limit your focus to libraries in that group from your own state, you might find that your library is among the top five or ten libraries.

Similarly, you might limit your review of LJ Index score rankings and underlying data to spending-peer libraries that are similar to yours in some additional meaningful way: the same legal basis (city, county, library district), the same setting (urban, suburban, rural), the same outlet configuration (single outlet, multioutlet), or the same staffing configuration (with or without an American Library Association–accredited MLS librarian).

If you conduct this type of analysis and determine that your library’s LJ Index score is “number one” (or five or ten) within some subgroup of your spending peers, feel free to brag about it, if you wish, knowing that we will back you up, as long as you do it clearly and accurately. Just remember that, in the context of this project, the label “Star Library” is one we reserve for those so identified in this article and on the LJ website.

The data (LJ Index scores and their underlying statistics) and analysis tools needed to conduct this type of analysis are readily available in Bibliostat Connect, Baker & Taylor’s web-based, graphical statistical analysis product. Your state library agency may subscribe to it for all public libraries in your state. If you are not certain about its availability or how to access it in your state, contact the state data coordinator at your state library agency for more information. If your state does not subscribe to Bibliostat Connect for you, your library can subscribe to it on its own. To pursue that alternative, contact Jan Robert Anderson at 801-228-7032, or jan.anderson@baker-taylor.com.

The LJ Index and its Star Library ratings provide a national perspective on the relative status of all rated public libraries. As we acknowledge in the LJ Index FAQ, there are many factors that affect a library’s score and its potential for achieving a Star rating. Getting something useful from the LJ Index project for your library may require closer examination, focusing on libraries that are most like your own.

The findings of such a locally oriented analysis are more likely to benefit your library as you seek to use output measures (along with input and outcome measures) in planning, budgeting, marketing, and evaluation efforts.

Likely and Hoped-For Changes

In 2014, there is a strong possibility that the LJ Index will be re-designed for the first time since its inception. With luck, in 2015, another redesign will be needed.

In 2013, IMLS and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) agreed to add the first new output measure in several years: circulation of electronic materials, or e-circulation. The definition for this new output measure reads as follows:

Electronic Materials are materials that are distributed digitally and can be accessed via a computer, the Internet, or a portable device such as an ebook reader. Types of electronic materials include ebooks and downloadable electronic video and audio files. Electronic Materials packaged together as a unit and checked out as a unit are counted as one unit.

As a result, for the first time since the inception of the LJ Index, there is an impending opportunity to modify its design better to reflect what public libraries do today. As soon as the annual IMLS file includes data on this new output measure, that data will be analyzed along with the current LJ Index measures (circulation, visits, program attendance, and Internet computer use). Alas, that is not likely to be next year, as—in the ordinary course of such things—only some states will have had time to add the new measure by then. Please take this issue to heart if you are a chief officer or a state data coordinator at a state library agency or the person who will be deciding when your local library starts reporting e-circulation in your state survey. The sooner a new measure like e-circulation is reported, the better, particularly when it is a measure that is not really new at all for most public libraries. Perhaps, with some special effort, all states could report it next year. That would enable the LJ Index to evolve that much more quickly.

E-circulation is only one of several new output measures needed for the LJ Index to become truly up-to-date in reflecting more fully the range of public library services. Two other new output measures have been discussed in the recent past, and as a result, a handful of early adopter states added them to their surveys. Colorado is one of those states, and the two other measures are library website visits and Wi-Fi access usage. In another article in this issue of LJ (page TK), an analysis of Colorado data on these two proposed measures with current LJ Index measures is reported. We believe it makes a strong case for adding those two measures to all of the states’ public library surveys and thus to the IMLS annual data file.

Please read that article, and—if you agree with us—contact IMLS and the chief officer and state data coordinator at your state library agency, and let them know you think it is time to adopt these output measures. These and other potential new measures are under discussion, and they need your input.

In a few years, the LJ Index could be based not just on per capita statistics for circulation, visits, program attendance, and Internet computer use but also on e-circulation, library website visits, and Wi-Fi access usage. When this happens, the LJ Index will make tremendous strides in better reflecting the ever-broadening range of public library services. At present, there is a huge statistical blind spot in what we know about what public libraries do for their users. The motivation to shed long-overdue light on the digital services of public libraries should provide plenty of incentive for finding ways to overcome any obstacles to collecting such new measures.

» Next page: “All the Stars, State by State”

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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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