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Displaying Per-Circ Costs

   May 17th, 2011

Unit Price TagYou know how stores display the "unit price" along with the retail price for items? I like this mandate, and often use that unit price to decide whether or not to buy something (or at least, which size to buy).

I was talking with some colleagues recently about bringing this practice into the library world. We decided the data we'd like to display is the cost of the book, with the "unit price" being the cost of the book spread out over the number of times the book has circulated.

Since it would constantly be changing, it'd be hard to show this on shelf (or spine) labels. But, it should be a pretty easy thing to add to the catalog's item display.

Item cost is generally not something shown in the record, but I thought if you made it somewhat interactive and interesting, people might be curious about "cost per circ." But what we couldn't decide was this:

  • would patrons be more likely to check out a item with a low unit price, because it's a better "value" to the community, or
  • would patrons be more likely to check out item with a high unit price, because it's a better "value" to them (as the item hasn't been used very much and is therefore of higher perceived quality)

I couldn't decide, or really even decide if it would influence my check out decision one way or another. But I do know that I would definitely be curious to look at this number every time I checked an item out.

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10 Responses to “Displaying Per-Circ Costs”

  1. deirdre_lyon Says:

    This is totally fascinating! I can’t say that I would expect it to change my checkout habits, although I think it might raise awareness about how library budgets.

  2. John Says:

    This is an interesting concept. I’m curious as to whether or not you would simply divide the cost of the book by the number of times that it has circulated, or if you would include the acquisition, cataloging, re/shelving, and circulation costs into the equation?

  3. walt crawford Says:

    I’m not sure it would affect my checkout habits or if I’d even want to know this, but must ask the next logical question: So, you gonna do the same thing with your databases? Show the cost of each successful transaction? (Not just a search, but evidence of finding/using a result?) Might be interesting. (And, for some libraries & some databases/aggregators, might be horrifying…)

  4. Karen Muller Says:

    I wonder about a page from the social media world and interpreting a circulation as a “like”. It stresses the value of the item, rather than a declining number that might be misread as “of little value.” OTOH, I get cross with my library’s e-book app that has a clunky browse mechanism, unless you want to look at only the “popular” titles, which have long waiting lists. (And all such systems beg the question of the book people take out because they think they should read it and return it unread ….)

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @deirdre: you have the best website name ever

    @John: I think it’d be simpler to just use cover price, because that’s what patrons would pay retail – but if we are going to be totally accurate, then yes, it should factor in processing costs, but also whatever discounted vendor price we pay.

    @Walt: I actually do track that for my own purposes, and am working on making it public via http://lisvendor.info – I just need to reread through all our contracts to see if any of them prohibit it.

  6. Jeff Scott Says:

    I always like playing with numbers like this. Something similar is a budgeting process called Activity Based Costing that looks at return on investment. You would include not just what the book cost, but also the staff time and other costs to put the book on the shelf. It’s fun to look at performance in this way and definitely shows the public how efficient libraries are.

  7. laura k Says:

    I think it would be very useful for library staff to see cost per circ, but far less useful or meaningful to library users. However, showing circulation numbers alone (or perhaps circ per week or per year) would be potentially really interesting to users. I also think it might be interesting for users to see cost to the library for items, as in, not just the retail price of the book but the cost of cataloging, processing, acquisitions, etc. So many library users have no concept of how much work (and by extension $$) goes into getting books on shelves.

  8. Stephanie Willen Brown Says:

    Related to this & @Walt’s comment, I often tell people how much we spend on journals in my small branch library (~$20,000) and how much we at the University spend on databases (“millions of dollars”). Neither is inaccurate, and neither violates any individual vendor agreements. Students’ eyes always pop when I mention these figures. I’m not sure exactly what my point is — other than that libraries aren’t free, despite the way it seems to the user.

    I am enjoying this related discussion – I think the cost per circ is fascinating.

  9. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Karen: I don’t see why a “Like” feature wouldn’t work – the more interactivity and patron engagement, the better.

    @Jeff: I’d love it if our ILS could handle all of that – currently for us though, our accounting tracking is separate from our ILS, which is also separate from a spreadsheet I use to track things on my own. It could, and should, all be integrated, which would make various costing methods easy, and likely, easy to make public.

    @laura: I agree, it’d probably be more of a curiosity thing than anything. But I like the idea of displaying full item stats – price, total cost (including processing), number of circs, cost per circ, last circ date, etc – most people might give it a miss, but I’m fascinated by data, and I think plenty of other people would be, too.

    @Stephanie: that is phenomenal – my entire reference budget, including databases, is <$22,000, and our periodicals is about $12,000. I agree that putting out hard numbers, in some kind of useful context, would be very enlightening to most people – not just the amounts, but how efficiently we can offer as much as with do with as little as we get.

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