Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Judging a library by its circulation


This article in the U-T San Diego  article (that’s Union-Tribune) on the new San Diego library.  The headline alone is generating buzz by advocates on both sides of the issue of funding public libraries: Half of library’s books unused in last year: 20,000 unused since at least 1990s, taxpayers still paid to move them.

The article reflects a growing problem in journalism today – the blurring of the line between news article and opinion piece.  The article is located under the segments, Watchdog->Data Watch.  This implies that the author is, effectively, watching out for the community by looking at its data with an unprejudiced eye.  But the headline and the first few paragraphs belie this implication:

A grand, $185 million public library is set to be dedicated downtown on Saturday, with Wi-Fi and fiber-optic technology, computers and e-readers, terminals set up for patrons to FaceTime with staff, and a multimedia gaming area for teens.

Oh, and it will also have books — you know, heavy items fashioned from dead trees, many of which the public has shown little interest in reading for years.

More than half of the books in the stacks had not been used in the previous 12 months when the old library on E Street closed on June 9, according to a data review by U-T Watchdog. Taxpayers still spent $450,000 moving the whole collection to the new domed building on Park Boulevard.

About 19 percent were last used in the 2000s. And about 5 percent, or more than 20,000 books, had last been used sometime between 1985 and 1999.

The tone of the article is a bit insulting, with the author writing that the information was “obtained…under the California Public Records Act,” as if this issue is something that libraries are trying to hide.  But she does refer to some relevant and accurate information, including data from the Pew Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

And while the author does include one quote from the San Diego Library Director, as well as two library patrons who support the public libraries, considerably more space is given to two individuals with quite different opinions.  Missing entirely from this article was the mention of the many library services that are provided to the community.

As Collection Assessment Librarian, I am concerned about demonstrating the worth or value of a library’s collection.  While circulation is a rather shallow and uninformative measure of this value, it is a necessary but not sufficient component.  So I’m neither surprised by these figures, nor do I dismiss the author’s concerns.  There is opportunity cost in purchasing books – we could have spent the money on different titles, different kinds of information resources, used the space for storing different things or for study groups, etc.  But then, how do we know if we made the right choices?  That is my primary mission.

Interestingly, the article included a poll question: When did you last check out a library book?  The options were:

  • This year
  • Last year
  • Last decade
  • The one before that

I took this poll so that I could see the results: 81% were for This Year.

 

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2013 by in Assessment, LIS Data and tagged .
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