Missouri Public Libraries: An argument with data and graphs. Part 1

Why Libraries are Important and Relevant in Missouri Today

Libraries and librarians are very good at telling the personal, anecdotal stories about why libraries are important.  But the reality is that when it comes to legislative fiscal support, it’s all about the numbers. When legislators have to make budget cuts, they are looking for areas that have the least impact on voters who will remember on election day.  Over the next two posts, I’m going to take a look at the numbers and argue that libraries are important to all Missourians (voting or not), and that they actually have a deep impact on the state in ways that are not easily quantifiable.

So pay attention Governer Jay Nixon and the Missouri legislature– this is facinating stuff!

Library coverage in Missouri extends to 91.4% of the population and you can see here that the coverage extends to almost the whole state of Missouri. There are 3.3 million registered borrowers with 364 public outlets with 27 bookmobiles, which means that there are more libraries in Missouri than there are McDonald’s restaurants (342 in number).

Missouri Library Coverage AreaLibraries in Missouri consist of large consolidated systems that are usually located in urban areas and small town single libraries, which you can see here, when visualized by annual budget runs the gamut between large and small.

3So what do Missouri libraries offer? Well, books, of course!  And DVDs, CDs, downloads, ebooks, children’s books, databases, magazines, eserials, and all manner of different materials for people to use and/or check out.  Libraries offer librarians to answer questions, computers and internet, quiet study spaces, children and teen programming, research resources, job resources and a community, a safe place where people can interact.

5So what should libraries offer?  According to a Pew Research Study in 2013, Americans believed that the items below were very important or somewhat important to what libraries should offer. Strangely enough, this includes: Librarians to help people find information, books to borrow, access to computers and the internet, programs and classes for children and teens, quiet study spaces, research resources and job or career resources.  (More Pew Research Studies- these are fascinating).  

As you can see, Missouri libraries offer the goods and services that people think are important.  Nailed it!

6Well that’s great, you say, but we all know that today’s libraries aren’t very relevant.  No one uses libraries anymore. I’m not a public librarian, I’m an academic librarian, but I talk about public libraries I hear these three phrases:

    • I can just Google everything I need
    • I can download books on Amazon
    • I haven’t used a library since I was a kid

These are common perceptions that people have, but actually in Missouri, libraries are extremely relevant.  And by the way, don’t you think that if YOU used the library as a child, OTHER CHILDREN are now as we speak using the library?  
Missourians use libraries.  In 2014 there were 3.4 million registered borrowers, which is more than the approximately 3 million voters in the 2012 election.

There were almost 3.8 million reported reference transactions.  These are questions that people asked of staff members, and they are not the “Where’s the bathroom,” variety, but questions  that require some degree of knowledge or expertise to answer. Library staff answer questions that help people with their information literacy, questions about where to go to find out how to create home-based businesses, or find medical information, questions about recommending books, or how to find websites or research relevant to a topic, and yes, how to unjam the printer.

There were almost 7 million uses of public internet computers, more t9han the total Missouri
population of 6 million, or even the population of the areas that are serviced by libraries which is 5.5 million. This is not just people going online to look at Facebook, although that is definitely a resource that libraries provide, but it’s also about students who come to the public library to do homework or research, people who pay taxes, bills, apply for jobs, create resumes, and do all the things that others with internet connections at home are able to do.  Want to know more?  
Digital divide– it’s a real thing.

Libraries also offer children’s programs that are very well attended. As you can see, the entire population of children in Missouri who are under 17 years of age is around 1.4 million, and the attendance rate is well above that. Children and teen programs includes story hours, but also programs that promote early learning literacy that set children up for success as they continue along through school.  This includes after school tutoring and teen engagement and leadership.  Better educated and socially adjusted children make better future employees and employers in the state.  

The next post will discuss the cost of libraries to the taxpayer, as well as the impact of the deep 2015 budget cuts.

Attribution notes: All of the data about Missouri Library usage came from this wonderful Missouri State Library statistics webpage. The data is provided in pdf AND excel format, so thanks Missouri State Library for being so awesome! Missouri population information was compiled from the US Census.  You can find data from the US Census here or here (a more friendly search format). Data from the Pew Research Study came from here, and is essentially a re-creation of part of an existing chart for illustrative purposes. All graphs and charts are made from Tableau.

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There’s a new Special Interest Group in town

Come check out the new MALA ILL SIG.  What is that? Read below for more details:

Welcome to the Interlibrary Loan world!.

Ok, this is a shameless plug for a committee I’m on.  But really, it’s free, and right now we’re getting ready to accept applications for the committee.  Go get some professional development.  Go learn about ILL.

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What I did…

okRecently my colleague (slash supervisor) and I presented at the 2013 Missouri Library Association Conference in St. Louis.  We discussed how to make big library design changes for little or no cost.

I’ve included a link to the Prezi presentation and the blurb below. The Prezi is mostly pictures.  Note that in proper academic style below, the secondary title is about two-thirds longer than the primary title.


In the summer of 2011, a small, private academic library began to redesign the library’s physical space in order to reflect a changing philosophy of public services. This process began with a revamp of reference and instruction services which had positive results, and started a change in the shape of the circulation and reference area. In 2013, the Public
Services department revisited the circulation area, focusing on both staff utility and the patron experience. Working on a limited budget, we had to prioritize what would have the most impact for the least amount of money. This new model was generated by examining and touring nearby public and academic libraries and configuring existing furniture
to determine the circulation area’s footprint before any purchase was made. This presentation focuses on the decision making process of redesign and addresses structural limitations, budget considerations, ergonomics, and safety concerns as well as design and function. The presenters will also discuss successes and missteps along the way, and future initiatives.


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Awful Library Books

Awful Library Books.

This is one of my favorite blogs.  The fact that it is run by librarians means that I can read it at the reference desk without feeling guilty, even if I have pretty much nothing to do with collection development.

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Libraries good. Kander bad. Missouri sad.

You’re fired!

In late March, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander proposed cutting 13 Missouri State Library positions.  This is actually a pretty dramatic cut for the state library.    But what has librarians shocked is not the proposed cuts.

Let’s face it, this is an era of recession and recovery.  Layoffs and budget cuts are a way of life.  They make us sad, but they don’t make us hate Jason Kander.  I don’t know whether he recognized the importance of libraries in the community, or the role that his library system plays in facilitation and assistance to all the public, private and special libraries across the state.  And really, that doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that he doesn’t know what librarians do.  

He did not consult with any of the state libraries, or even the library directors about this decision.  According to Kander “My staff researched for months before this reorganization. (And) we determined that too much of the money was going to staff, administrative costs and little-used programs, so we eliminated those inefficiencies”  (This quote came from here: http://www.newstribune.com/news/2013/apr/06/kander-defends-plan-local-librarians-are-unhappy/ . I did the bolding all by myself!)

And this, my friends is where the problem lies.  He did not allow librarians to do what they do best: research and answer questions.  Stating that his staff did the research is like telling a college professor you did all your research via Google and Wikipedia.  And nothing angers a librarian more than making decisions about her job without allowing her to do proper inquiries (preferably using Boolean Operators). Because Kander has declined to meet with the Missouri Library Association to talk about these cuts, which will go into effect July 1, 2013, MLA wrote a strongly worded and well-researched letter to express their outrage: http://molib.org/news/040213-pressrelease-sosresponseletter.pdf.  Holy library anarchy, Batman.

The bottom line is this: I, as a librarian who lives and votes in Missouri, am not happy with both Kander’s method of making cuts and his refusal to sit down and talk with a library association or any librarians about the job cuts. Likely those talks would not have changed anything other than make librarians feel like their voices had been heard.  But not even meeting with them- that seems very arrogant.  Kander, you will not be getting my vote.

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Julie Garwood, I’m Breaking Up With You

A romance break up just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Julie, we need to talk.  There was a time when I loved you. It was a simpler time back then. I never had to justify my joy in reading romance novels. No one really cared, and if they did, then I didn’t.

Back in your historical romance days, I had a beloved shelf devoted to your books- well thumbed paperbacks with bent covers and creased spines.  It was the dark ages, back in the 1990s, when a person actually had to “dial up” from a telephone line to get to the internet.  The world wide web was in its infancy, only drug dealers and doctors had beepers (yes, beepers!) never mind cell phones, and apps weren’t even a twinkle in their programmers’ eyes.  So instead of hopping onto Amazon.com (which wasn’t born until the mid-nineties), I haunted the bookstores scouring the racks for your new releases and backlist. I couldn’t handle the months-long waitlist at the public library, I had to have those books in my hot little hands as soon as possible.

I didn’t mind that your characters were Mary Sues. Heck, I didn’t even know what a Mary Sue was.   As an uncritical female reader in her late teens, I didn’t know what emotionally manipulative writing was, and I certainly didn’t care about historical accuracy. I just knew that I wanted to be those characters with their handsome Scottish Highlanders or Earls or whatever. You delivered what I was looking for: steamy love scenes, happy endings and heroes who weren’t emotionally or verbally abusive (I’m talking to you Diana Palmer).

 We seemed destined to be together- we were both from Kansas City and still lived in the area. You’re books were light reading in the sense of not filled with Sturm und Drang and overwrought emotional angst.

 But then, in the 2000s, you left historical romancelandia for contemporary fiction world.  I wasn’t mad at you for this decision. Historicals were languishing and I also began to foray into new areas.  As the genre was no longer selling as well, contemporary “action” romances were gaining in popularity. Also, if you slapped a non-romance cover on a book and sold it in the suspense section, you could get some new readers who would never have to know they were reading a *gasp* romance author. It’s the Sneaky Pete of bookselling, and I can appreciate a good hustle.

 But my enjoyment of your historicals did not translate into your contemporaries. Julie, to use a cliché, we just began to grow apart. It’s not you, it’s me.  Ok, it is you, but it’s me as well.  As the years went on, I became a much more critical reader.  I began to realize there were better authors out there, and I could find escapism in really interesting genres (hello urban fantasy, you sexy thing you).  And as I changed, well, you didn’t.  I could still see the same plots, the same tropes, the same awkward information dumps, the same Mary Sue characters. Writing is supposed to evolve with practice, not stay static.  I know that I’m a better writer than I was 15 years ago- why can’t you be as well?

We have been drifting apart in the past 10 years.  You went from being a serious relationship- a must buy in hardback, to a wait until paperback, to is it available in the library, to where we are today.  Oh sure, we hooked up in Amazon recommendations or once in a while, when I was between books and I was swayed by your good reviews.  But I just finished reading your latest book, Sweet Talk, and I realized I can’t keep doing this anymore.  Sweet Talk is, frankly, not your best effort.  It was incredibly wooden.  I think it is the introductory book to a new trilogy/quadrology.  You know I’m a sucker for trilogies.  I will keep on reading until every last book is finished just to complete the set.  But this time, I couldn’t bring myself to care.  Even the framing device was way too contrived. I’m not even going to try to bring real science into this but the mysterious disease the Pips had? The mysterious cure? This is romantic fiction, not science fiction.

The biggest sin of all was the complete lack of romantic tension between the hero and the heroine.  I actually skipped the steamy scenes because I was bored.  Skipped.  Steamy.  Scenes.  There is something drastically wrong when your readers aren’t reading the naughty bits. But the popsicle thing? Yawn. It has been done before with with more humor and steam.

So maybe I’ve just outgrown you, or maybe you’ve gotten stale.  Either way, I believe it is time to part ways.  A clean break is best. I’m un-friending you on Facebook.  Please don’t send me any late night emails advertising your latest novel. If we happen to meet up at Goodreads, I will be “not interested,” but I will not give you a bad review.  While I may sneak down to the basement to peruse some of your better works from an earlier era, I will keep the past in the past.

I’m sorry Julie.  We’ll always have Saving Grace. And Honor’s Splendour*.  And For the Roses**.  Sniff.

Good luck in your life,

A Discerning Reader

*why the British spelling for splendor and not for Honor, even if Honor is the name of the character?

**but not the Clayborne Brides, that was way too uneven with barely sketched-out characters and  a too blatant attempt to capitalize on For the Roses.

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Print and Electronic Textbooks

For Many Students, Print Is Still King – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Although I am *ahem* a little older than a college student, I think that many  have the same reactions that I do.  For pleasure reading and browsing, an ebook or online reading is great (even preferable).  But for actual studying, the print copy works best. Having the tactile experience of physically highlighting or flagging something with a post it creates a sense-memory that I just don’t get with an ereader.

The emphasis in technology has been on getting the ereader to “disappear” as you become lost in the story.  To consciously learn, retain, and be introduced to new ideas can be an uncomfortable process. This, coupled with usually less-than-stellar writing makes it very difficult for a textbook to disappear.


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