Friday, January 24, 2014

Your library ranking

Yesterday I  summarily dismissed a German University's study of the best libraries in the world. I felt there could be nothing fundamentally solid in analysis based on data without experience. It is not that they could not say something meaningful about their top U.S. library, Chicago, based on statistical information, but for them to make even the barest judgement of whether Chicago's library is terrible, mediocre, or brilliant in any actual sense, without walking into the place, is a lie. A big fat German University lie.

But I am forced to admit it is very easy for a person who grew up watching Hogan's Heroes reruns to call a bunch of Germans liars. When it has come to my own national library magazine carefully bestowing anywhere from zero to five stars to all the country's libraries I have figured they must at least sort of know what they're up to. Don't they?

Nope. They'd get on very well with the Germans.

Wait! I cry. But my library system got three stars! I thought almost for sure my extreme helpfulness with troubled old men who want Laurel and Hardy movies was made known to the Library Journal crew of analysts.


Their small handful of parameters appears mostly to do with per capita check outs, per capita visits, per capita program attendance, and per capita internet use. That's about it. In one minute I could think of ten vastly better parameters on which to judge a library. I could do it while making a tempeh and kale sandwich. Given a few days I could come up with thousands of better parameters. But let's just go with a random ten:

1. Are the bathrooms private?

2. How many Nero Wolfe books are there on the shelf?

3. What can the librarian who buys CDs tell you about Jack White off the top of his or her head?

4. How many procedural steps must one go through to get on an internet computer?

5. What is the total number of weird and extremely interesting things in the library?

6. If you ask a librarian a flippant informational question do you get a flippant answer or a detailed one.

7.  How many hours are they open?

8.  How much local, community event information is posted there?

9.  How does the place smell?

10.  How many places are there where you'd really like to sit for awhile?

11.  Do they have Ulysses by James Joyce?

Oh, right. I'll stop, but I could go on, and on, and on, and on. And I probably will, at the least provocation.


  1. Perhaps I should print this out and use it as I guide as I visit Every Library I Can. I'd give extra weight to #10.

    1. I'm delighted you find it useful, Ellen. I have a full library test evaluation system coming out monday, but it's a bit, um, silly, but very accurate! Either way your examination system of Libraries is the most reasonable and virtuous of all: going to lots and lots of them and poking around.


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