Summer 2001

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From The Desk Of The Sub-committee Chair

Senator Hugh T. Farley

Summer 2001 issue of Trustee

Librarians have long kept detailed statistics, but measurement of a library's "success" has been elusive.  Trustees, many of whom live by metrics in their "day jobs," have found that measurement can often be a useful tool.

Two recent studies use metrics in attempts to measure the success of libraries.  One, undertaken by a Wisconsin librarian, rates the nation's public libraries using an index computed from 15 commonly-reported input and output measures.  The second, a Working Paper authored by New York State Librarian Emeritus Joe Shubert, offers insights into numbers reported by state libraries.

Hennen's American Public Library Rating (HAPLR) index is the brainchild of Thomas J. Hennen, Jr., director of the Waukesha County Federated Library System in Wisconsin.  Hennen's "scorecard" creates a score based on weighted measures such as expenditures per capita, visits per capita, and circulation per capita.  Public libraries are ranked within ten population categories.

Critics of Hennen's work point to the limited measures available (national data are  unavailable for Internet use or electronic access in libraries, while nearly a quarter of the nation's public libraries have not fully reported standard data) and to uncertainties about the use of comparative measures at all within the context of varied library needs of localities.

Hennen discusses his work in an article in the November 2000 American Libraries, and at his website (  The website also contains a detailed discussion of his methodology, and, of course, the rankings themselves.

New York's large public libraries, by the way, do not fare well in the HAPLR index, with no New York institutions among the top ten in the four largest population categories.  Our State's small libraries, on the other hand, shine -- sweeping the 999 and under population group with six of the top ten rated libraries.

Another use of library statistics is a Working Paper developed by New York State Librarian Emeritus Joe Shubert for presentation to the Steering Committee for the Survey of State Library Agencies in March 2001.  Joe's purpose was to demonstrate the use of existing nationwide State Library Agency data for public policy research, but specifically not to advise on current issues.

The Working Paper selected a comparison group of 12 states (including New York) which provide high state financial support for libraries, operate large state libraries, or both.  Data were then displayed among the states and between the 1999 and 1994 reports.

New York is the largest State Library Agency, with 2.44 million books and serials volumes (a third larger than second place New Jersey), and 11,136 serials subscriptions (more than any other, and one of only three of 10,000 or more).  Among the 12 comparison states, New York devoted the most state funding per capita ($5.11) for library aid.  Only two other states provide $4 or more per capita.  In a telling comment on the effect of data selection, the paper points out that although Massachusetts was excluded from the comparison states because it does not operate a state library, that state reports state aid per capita of $7.71.

On the other side of the coin, New York's standing among the 12 comparison states is not as high on some other measures.  For example, Connecticut, Michigan, and Pennsylvania each have more on-site Internet workstations in their state libraries than does New York.  And New York's expenditures for statewide database licensing ($375,000) fall well below most of the other comparison states.  Michigan, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania each spend over $1 million on this information resource.

As we promote the value of libraries, we will face reasonable requests for facts and measurements.  These two studies illustrate some of the possibilities, as well as the challenges, of available library metrics.

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