March 17, 2018

LJ Index 2014: What’s Next for the LJ Index & Star Library Ratings

When we conceived the LJ Index in 2008, neither we nor anyone else in the public library community would have imagined we all would have to wait five years for a new output measure to be mandated for U.S. public libraries. Many factors explain this output measures “drought”: the shift of federal responsibility for public library statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to IMLS; the daunting pace of technological change affecting public libraries; and the new, often all-consuming interest in outcome measurement among public library administrators and stakeholders. In any event, the drought appears to be over, as at least two new output measures are likely to be added to the federal Public Library Survey over the next two years.

In 2015, IMLS will be reporting the first data (for 2013) on e-circulation. When data on this long-awaited data element becomes available next year, the LJ Index design will be reevaluated with an eye to possibly adding e-circulation per capita to the existing four per capita statistics. Given that it will be the first reporting year for this new data element, there is no guarantee that e-circulation per capita will correlate sufficiently with per capita visits, circulation, public Internet computer use, and program attendance to justify a redesign of the index. That is, however, our hope.

In 2016, if the current trajectory of deliberations and decision-making by IMLS and the state library agencies are fulfilled, another new output measure is expected: Wi-Fi access usage. We expect that a reanalysis of the LJ Index design including these new output measures will justify their inclusion.

Jose Aponte, director of the San Diego County Library (the 2012 Gale/LJ Library of the Year), offers the following observations about these impending opportunities to expand the LJ Index data set. “The current LJ Index and Star Library ratings are significant, and it has taken the library profession years to constructively adapt to them. Therefore, going forward, I would be hesitant to layer in new data elements without a clear analysis of how they relate to the current four outputs. The Star Library ratings have fostered a sea change in how we collect and interpret data in public libraries and have served as a huge step forward for our business model. Handle with care.” Be assured, that is precisely what we plan to do.

These imminent developments are very exciting, not only because of their implications for the LJ Index but also in light of the public library community’s evolving understanding of and engagement with outcome measurement and what that means for the continuing relevance of output measurement. Alan Kirk Gray (Darien Library, CT) offers an insightful and very realistic perspective on the relationship between output and outcome measurement: “I’m not confident we will ever be able to identify the one truly critical outcome we all should be seeking: to measure the successes that our users experience with the resources we provide and they select. Thus output measures that record the increase—especially longitudinally—of actions that suggest our users are achieving the success they seek would be a set of indicators that we are on the right track. These activities to be measured would be such things as satisfying an increase in requests for more complex and narrowly focused resources (interlibrary loan and databases, for example), growth in the number and intensity of individuals and groups meeting in spaces provided by the library; increased use of the more complex software provided on our PCs; more complex projects completed in our digital labs; increased attendance at programs suggested by our users. If we count and evaluate the drills and bits our users select, we’ll know as much as we reasonably can about what kind of holes they’re ending up with. So it’s not just more, it’s what kind of more. Life is complex, and we don’t have much of a future staying on the quiet side, being a refuge from the real world, and counting it a success if we provide more beach reads. Let’s go all in and become a partner in our users’ success.”

» Next page: “Changing Constellations”

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

Ray Lyons ( 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
Keith Curry Lance ( 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

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  1. Correction: “Jose Aponte, director of the San Diego Public Library…” He’s a great director but at the San Diego County Library (SD County). Our interim Director is Misty Jones, at San Diego Public Library (SD City). [Speaking only for myself] Thanks!

    • Meredith Schwartz Meredith Schwartz says:

      Thanks Michael! And I just saw that Misty’s appointment has been made permanent, congratulations! We’ll fix it above and run a correction in the next issue.