Public libraries spend only 11 cents of every budget dollar on books or materials of any kind.
The percentage of the budget is also trending down, from 25% in 1942, to 16% in 1989 to 12% in 2010.
But at the same time:
Books are booming. The number of titles published has increased from 11k in 1950 to 46k in 1990 to 328k today.
And people are buying them, from 955m in 1975 to 3.1b in 2009 – that is an increase from 4 per capita to more than 10 per capita per year.
Wow. So while the public was doubling its book purchases, public libraries were cutting their expenditures by 32%.
Indeed, in the past twenty years the public library share of the book market has declined from 4% to 1%.
Yes, circulation is going up (or it was until recently) but more than 30% of that is videos and DVDs… and the money spent on books is focusing on bestselling, popular titles.
So, where does this leave us?
Well, in the UK where they are a few years ahead of this curve, circulation is going down (no reliance on DVDs) and visits are going down, and local government is closing libraries.
Coffman has a vested interest here. His business relies on libraries that are used and supported.
He proposes that we first acknowledge that there is a problem.
Then, look to alternate sources of funding for the new and shiny pieces like maker spaces. Assure that we are serving the majority who want a great selection of books before we divert limited funds.
Then, seriously examine operations for savings…
Does he have a point? I wonder if we don’t need municipal audits of operations unless we are serious about examining operations. It is cheaper to buy a book and have it delivered to the client’s home gratis in 48 hours than go through most interlibrary lending systems. Bookstores can process materials far less cheaply than us, even as we move to bookstore “classification systems”. Have we examined our delivery routes for efficiency? Do we match the appropriateness of assignments for qualifications and experience? Why are shelvers permanent employees and working at the busiest (and least efficient) times?
The list goes on and on. Operations are largely inefficient because no one knows any better and has no idea of operations research or systematic study. Our leaders run multimillion dollar businesses with little background or training in assessing operations processes. Strange.
I don’t have the answers but Coffman raises yet another important question.