Great American Public Libraries: The 2004 HAPLR Rankings; Two New Measures Supplement This Year's Assessment of the Nation's Public Libraries

By Hennen, Thomas J., Jr. | American Libraries, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Great American Public Libraries: The 2004 HAPLR Rankings; Two New Measures Supplement This Year's Assessment of the Nation's Public Libraries


Hennen, Thomas J., Jr., American Libraries


Has the economic downturn affected library performance? Will Hennen's American Public Library Ratings (HAPLR) finally include building size and electronic resources? Did many of the same libraries top the rating scales again? In this sixth edition, I will try to address these and other issues. Many librarians look forward to the ratings; others dread or deride them. Last year's summary appeared in the October 2003 American Libraries (p. 44-48), while the rating numbers are treated more fully on my website at www.haplr-index.com.

The U.S. economic downturn is mostly affecting the input side of the ledger for now, and that is to be expected. There is a lag between budget cuts and the decline in library usage that we are just beginning to see. Denver Public Library has been at the top of the list for several years running, but this year--partly due to budget cuts--it slipped to third place. We can expect more of that if library revenues continue to decline.

Separate measures

I have still not incorporated the available electronic-resources data into the ratings themselves (see p. 58-59), but I have indicated a separate ranking for the top five libraries in each population category in this article and will include more detail on my website. The data are still too skewed to incorporate into the HAPLR general ratings.

The Federal-State Cooperative Service (FSCS), which gathers the data on which HAPLR is based, has finally started including building statistics. That will be great news for architectural planners. I have not incorporated this area into the HAPLR ratings, but if I ever do, it will undoubtedly be in the form of a litmus test; a library either passes with a threshold square footage or it does not. More likely, the building data will continue to be reported separately.

State comparisons

Table 1 indicates the relative 2003 and 2004 rankings for each state. The scores weight the population of library communities, so that a high score for a populous community in a state weighs more heavily than one for a less populous community. There is usually little movement from one rating year to the next, but a few states always move in the ratings. Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina, and South Carolina advanced by more than two positions. Minnesota, Montana, and Oklahoma fell by more than three positions.

Building-size comparisons

Building size is a key measure of public library service, but incorporating the data directly into the HAPLR rankings may not be possible in the near term, even though FSCS has started collecting it. More than one out of six libraries still have not reported their building size for FSCS purposes. Four states (Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, and Nevada) have not reported building size for any libraries. Only 27 states reported building size for 90% or more of their libraries.

The data here can be refined further, of course, and building planners have been asking for this for a long time. In Hennen's Public Library Planner, I used comparisons for Wisconsin in the section on building planning because the federal data were not yet available. Questions on comparative building sizes are asked repeatedly during any library building program.

Still, the data available will prove extremely useful for planners. Consider the data in Table 2, which shows three measures: square feet per capita, books per square foot, and square feet per Full Time Equivalent staff. A library with a measure in the first quartile is in the bottom 25% of its peers, while one in the third quartile is in the top 25%. As population size declines, all three measures increase; the trend is less marked for books per square foot. The smaller the library, the higher the space provided. Economies of scale are at work in larger operations.

The table shows only three population categories, rather than the usual 10, for purposes of building comparisons. …

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