or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Highlighting the Value of Library Use

   May 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Here's a more in-your-face twist on the Library Value Calculator. Another library in my consortium figured out how to display the total cost of a patron's items on their checkout receipt, and since we never let a good idea go to waste, we adopted it in my library, too.

Basically, it's a little macro that pulls the cost figure from each item's record, adds them all up, and provides a total. We present it in kind of a cutesy context, but the intent is to show people how much they save by using the library. Check it out:

receipt with cost

Our phrasing is deliberate - if people bought the items themselves, they'd get to keep them (which obviously isn't the case with libraries). Also, we only print out receipts if people ask for them (to save on paper), so I'm not sure what impact this will have - we'll see.

Also: speaking of valuable things, I'm off for the next week to see my family over Mother's Day weekend (hence all the audiobooks I'm checking out above). So no Reference Question of the Week this week, and I'll be back next week.

Update 5/17/12:
This is how I was able to add this to our receipts - as far as I know, this only works with Evergreen version 2.1 and later. If you have a different ILS, contact your vendor and demand they offer it:

  1. In Evergreen, open the Receipt Template Editor
  2. Choose the checkout template
  3. At the bottom of whatever you have in the Line Item, add this:
    <span style="display: none;" sum="sum1">%price%</span>
  4. Somewhere in the footer, add this:
    You saved: $<span sumout="sum1" fixed="2"></span>
    (or whatever you'd like it to read. Also, the fixed="2" rounds to two places.)
  5. Click the Save Locally button

Keep in mind that if the items checked out somehow don't have price values assigned to them, the receipt will read "You saved: $0.00" at the bottom.

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Library Use Value Calculator Updated

   March 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Little Professor calculatorThis post isn't about the current ebook debacle, because Bobbi and Kate are doing a better job than I could.

This is just a quick announcement that I've updated the Library Use Value Calculator - here's a rundown of the changes:

  • Updated costs, in conjunction with staff from the MLA
  • Added lines for ebooks* and music downloads
  • Removed the distinction between magazines/newspapers browsed in library and those checked out (my feeling was, if they used them at all, it counts)
  • Changed some wording and reordered the services to (hopefully) make things more clear - materials at the top, services at the bottom
  • Added additional instructions on how to host or modify the calculator code yourself

I also wanted to add a "Share on Facebook" link, but I haven't tackled that yet. If anyone is looking for a project, let me know.

All of this is available at http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/librarycalculator. If you already had the calculator embedded in your library website, the updates will take effect automatically.

If anyone has any questions, or needs help with the calculator, please let me know.


*Ironically. Perhaps I need to add more javascript so that if someone enters a number higher than 26, the calculator automatically adds additional copies to the cost.

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The Cost (and Value) of Libraries

   April 10th, 2007 Brian Herzog

I liked Jessamyn's post about the high cost of everything. Databases are expensive, and intangible, which makes it trickier to justify them. But librarians are often challenged to justify our existence in general, and the burden is usually on us to convey to the public how valuable libraries are.

This talk about how much things cost reminded me of the Library Use Value Calculator. This tool lets patrons enter their library usage (how many books they check out, how many reference questions they ask, etc), and see a dollar figure of how much their library usage would cost them if they had to pay for it "retail."

The calculator we use started as a spreadsheet developed by the Massachusetts Library Association, which I then converted to javascript to be more interactive. The Maine State Library then approached me, asking if they could edit my code and make available a more accessibility-enabled version with installation instructions.

They did, and since then it has spread. Here's a list of library websites that either feature or link to the calculator (if I missed you, please include a link to your library in the comment section). Below that are a few other blogs and websites that mention the calculator, including Library Journal and PLA.

If you're a librarian and looking for a tool to justify your existence, this might be a way to give people actual numbers. Feel free to modify and reuse the calculator code yourself, and let me know if I can help - [email protected]

Libraries using the Library Use Value Calculator

People talking about the Library Use Value Calculator

Again, If you're a librarian and looking for a tool to justify your existence, this might be a way to give people actual numbers. Feel free to modify and reuse the calculator code yourself, and let me know if I can help - [email protected].

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