Do You Believe in Statistics? or What?

Article excerpt

I had a visit to my office recently by a library director whom I've known for years. He was carrying a -sheet of paper with selected statistics from library systems which had judged to be similar to his own, and he wanted to talk about some comparisons which he found to be interesting.

The systems he had picked were fairly similar in their demographics, and all, except his library, had higher per capita circulation, some markedly so. Another statistic which showed a great disparity was the number of titles ordered annually.

His library selected and ordered 34,000 titles annually, and a comparable library with double the per capita circulation, as I recall, ordered 12,000 titles annually.

I was not at all surprised and told him so. With roughly the same materials budget per capita and roughly the same demographics and number of outlets, it was more than likely that his library was spending money on titles rather than copies. The result was that he was buying titles with very little or no use with money that could have been spent for more copies of titles that were much more popular with the users and would be borrowed more often, therefore raising the circulation per capita figure.

There - I have used the nasty word: "popular." Popular books circulate very well, of course, because they are trash. Or at least that opinion seems to spring to the minds of many librarians when they hear the word "popular." To many, it means best sellers, celebrity biographies, and the like. Well, there are a maximum of about 200 of those titles a year, so the library that was ordering 12,000 titles has got to be ordering a lot of pretty good stuff.

I certainly have no quarrel with ordering 34,000 new titles annually if you have so much money that you can buy enough copies of the really useful titles as well as loading up on titles. But you'd better have plenty of shelving for all those marginally read titles, or a program for massive and frequent weeding. Preferably at night.

Another subject this director brought up was the fact that his library had a "floating collection," or some such term, describing a collection that essentially belonged to the library as a whole, and not to any one agency. …