Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Liars figure

One of the things I find interesting in reading library section of the proposed capital budget is how every single project is justified by referencing the “Library Facilities Assessment/Master Plan of December 2004”. Basically, the description or justification for each project says “hey, we’re doing this because the Library Facilities Assessment/Master Plan of 2004 says that we should.”

I took a look at the executive summary of the LFA/MP which is posted on the library website. This document contains what I consider to be a significant distortion of library use statistics:

One noteworthy comparable area is the “percent of population who have library cards and the circulation of library materials per card holder.” Ninety-five percent (95.4%) of Howard County residents have library cards. Each of these cardholders borrows on average at least 21 items a year. [Page 3]

…and later…

The need to increase the library space for Howard County is especially significant given the extraordinarily high proportion of residents who use their libraries regularly, which at 95%, is among the highest in the nation. By the year 2030 the County’s population is projected to grow to 320,000. At that point the Library will need a total of 320,000 SF of library space to adequately serve County residents. Therefore, HCL needs to add at an additional 142,000 SF of space over the next 25 years. [Page 8]

The library reports that 245,000 people have library cards. I believe that is about 90% or so of the Howard County population. I also agree that the AVERAGE number of items checked out per cardholder is about 21 items per year. However, I think the point of these statistics is to leave the impression that the majority of county residents are using the library on an annual basis. This is plainly false, and library management is certainly aware of this. In fact, library documents admit that less than one third of library cardholders check out even a single item from the library in the course of a six month period. I doubt that even half of library cardholders check out a single item in a year.

I would love to see detailed statistics of library use, because I strongly suspect that a relatively small number of residents are using the heck out the library. But I guess that is too much to ask when we are deciding how to spend only $100 million in a county where money grows on trees.


Anonymous said...

90% seems unrealistic. On the other hand, I've never seen libraries as crowded as those in Howard, and I visit all 6 with some regularity.

I suspect people are doing things other than checking out books and the writer wanted to figure that into the equation.

Freemarket said...

I see your point, but I doubt that half of library cardholders "regularly" use the library but don't check out a single book, DVD or CD all year.

But if that is the case, the library is just an internet cafe where you are not allowed to drink coffee. It's not worth spending millions of public dollars on.

Anonymous said...

If that number is accurate, it may be because people from other counties can get a Howard library card. I have one and never lived in Howard. I often wonder, if Howard has the best library system, why is so much money needed each year to make it better?