Harper Collins and some more numbers


In response to some of the criticisms I’ve seen leveled in Teleread comments and quite inaccurate blog posts from those more sympathetic to the publisher side, I have been interested in the numbers but hadn’t made time to pull stats because that just isn’t something I work with normally– my libraries’ fantastic Collection Development team has that thoroughly under control.

However, I got motivated very quickly after seeing Jason Griffey’s post on the subject which left me unsettled for two reasons:

1. I feel like it could be misrepresented as undermining the library case.

2. It samples from an institution that is in no way representative of the institutions most affected by the Harper Collins decision. Public libraries serve those who can’t afford to go to college period and those who are no longer in school. It is the effect on these populations that drive us to be concerned about this recent attack on a necessary public good. And while I am not the best at keeping up with publishers, it appears to me that Harper Collins’ target market isn’t primarily academic.

I also think Jason is absolutely right that treating the digital like the physical is insanity of the highest order though. We need new models and perhaps by pulling together data we can have some better conversations on what the future could and should look like.

So, thanks to the help of our Collection Development Librarian and Horizon master extraordinaire, Logan Macdonald, I have some numbers to compare.

My public library system has 7 branches and a bookmobile and serves a large county in a mixed urban and rural setting. We have a pretty good mix of demographics in nearly every category you could think of. Because of funding and philosophy changes in the last 3-5 years, much of our collection is new and so these numbers don’t typically represent materials that have been in circulation for 20-50 years. These are almost exclusively materials purchased since 2007.

Logan has this to add, “As a percentage, our numbers are probably low compared to other libraries due to our ‘popular browsing’ collection development policy.  We usually weed things before they get old enough to have more than 26 circs.”

Once I subtracted the CDs and DVDs from the circ numbers he gave me, I found 7566 items in our collection that had circulated 27 or more times. Just for kicks and giggles, I also identified that 942 items had circulated 53 times or more (we would have had to buy them twice).

Jason ends up with a number of $12.99 average for an item, and although I agree with one of the comments on the post that $25 is probably a more accurate number, for argument’s sake I’ll use 12.99.

If we were to have to replace these materials under a 26 use policy, this would cost our library system $110,518.92. A number Logan tells me is very close to our total adult nonfiction budget for 2011.

That’s why public libraries are concerned. To give you an idea of how large of an impact this is– our collections budget was $1,135,664 in 2009, according to the statistics from Colorado’s Library Research Service. Throughout the state of Colorado for 2009, materials budgets ranged from $4,577,200 for the Denver Public Library system to a mere $232 for one small rural library. (Yes, you read that number right– TWO HUNDRED THIRTY TWO).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I believe that despite some assertions that we don’t matter economically to publishers– it’s clear by their actions that we do. It’s easy for librarians to say, “3 or 4% doesn’t matter”, but to a business person 3 or 4% is important, especially when you’re talking about a number in the millions of dollars. (And others agree).

So let’s compare numbers– what does this look like in your library?


ADDENDUM: I was asked to add some information to this post, so here’s what else I’ve got: Our total number of items is 383,353 (288,793 excluding CDs and DVDs) and our total number of circs in 2010 was 1,715,538 (1,111,850 excluding CDs and DVDs). As far as age for our circ data– it goes back to when we automated in 1969, but as I mentioned almost all of our materials are less than 3-4 years old. An additional problem with dates for us is that Horizon does not store statistics per item on an annual basis unless the period is set up ahead of time, and right now the only periods are pre-Horizon and post-Horizon.