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

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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Your Library is a Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

   November 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Library Calculator Cereal BoxI've mentioned the Library Use Value Calculator a few times, including that the ALA liked it so much they added it to their Tough Times Toolkit (under Making the Case).

Now they've gone one better - the ALA partnered with Safeway to take the Library Calculator out of the virtual world and bring it to the breakfast table.

The artwork [pdf] on the back of their cereal box looks great*, and it certainly gets the point across (I think the "get rich" angle is odd, but I guess that's marketing). It seems fairly intuitive, lists useful facts, and also includes a nice library-related quote from Barack Obama.

Check out the ALA's webpage, the box itself [pdf], and if there's a store near you that carries Safeway cereal, look for it. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any in New England.


*Also good is that it satisfies my cereal box rule: whatever is on the back of the box should be interesting enough to keep you occupied for as long as the cereal inside the box lasts. I mean, those little mazes they put on the back of some boxes might keep me occupied for the first bowl, but what about all the subsequent mornings I eat that cereal? See, if I were president philosopher-king, the world would be a whole lot different.

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Demonstrating The Value of Libraries

   June 30th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Update 7/13/09: Final state budget lightens hit to Ohio libraries

Save Ohio LibrariesThis post is unfortunately timely - by now you've heard of the cuts facing Ohio libraries.

I haven't said anything about this because it's been covered elsewhere, but it really worries me. I have friends and family that both work in and regularly use Ohio libraries. And I know how badly a 5% cut affected my library this year - I can't even imagine a 50% cut.

The value of libraries is difficult to illustrate (one might say immeasurable), which makes proposals like Gov. Strickland's possible. Libraries need to make a special effort to demonstrate our role and importance in our communities.

Two years ago I posted about the Library Use Value Calculator - a tool to let patrons calculate how much their library use is worth to them. I've been working with the ALA on version 2.0 of the library calculator (as part of their Tough Times Toolkit), and even though it's still in beta, I wanted to get it out there.

The new version looks and works the same, it's just easier for libraries to implement. Instead of having to muck around with coding, libraries can now embed it in their website web 2.0-style, just by copy/pasting a bit of code (like a YouTube video).

Please check out the new calculator, and add it to your library website - let me know if you need help. And if you are in a position to do so, please Support Ohio Libraries.

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Worth Their Weight

   May 23rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

cover of the Worth Their Weight report from the ALCThe topic of economic justification of libraries seems omnipresent, and looms over libraries of all sizes.

I recently wrote about the Library Use Value Calculator on my library's website, which is a simple tool that tries to give the cost of libraries some context. It shows just how much money a patron would have to spend in order to receive the same materials and services outside the library, in an effort to make the tax money they spend on the library a bit more tangible.

I bring this up again because, earlier this month, the Americans for Libraries Council released a report called "Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation" (info; pdf [1.3M]). It's 104 pages long, and provides "an overview of the cutting-edge field of library valuation, or models for expressing a library's multiple contributions to its community in dollars and cents."

I haven't read the whole thing, but I did read page 24 - where they mention the Chelmsford Library and the Library Calculator.

Chapter 3 of the report is titled "Examples Illustrating Methodologies and Trends," and under Section 3.6 - Encouraging Developments, they cite how we adapted for our website the Library Value Calculator from the MLA, and that it subsequently spread to other libraries as a valuable tool.

So, hooray for recognition. But more importantly, the report covers many aspects of library valuation, including valuation methods and tools, tips from the private sector, and additional case studies and examples from other libraries. Any library facing budget issues or closure might benefit from this report.

More Library Valuation resources:

Thanks to staff from the Montgomery City-County (AL) Public Library for point out this report to me.
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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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