Some public libraries are situated in grand new buildings while others are located in shabby brick buildings from the early 70’s. Some public libraries focus strongly on new and innovative library services and others are run in a much more traditional fashion. But regardless of all other aspects – how much does the economy of the library influence its usage?
Oppland County in Norway consists of 26 municipalities with populations ranging from between 1,400 and 30,000.
It is well known that the funding of the libraries in Oppland in general has declined over the last couple of decades. The common opinion, at least amongst librarians, is that this has had a negative impact on their usage. Are they right about this?
All libraries report a substantial amount of data every year to the National Library of Norway. In an attempt to find out if there really is a connection between funding and library usage, we’ve looked at the relevant data from all the 26 public libraries in Oppland in 2013. The results of this investigation were published in the report Library statistics 2013 – public libraries in Oppland.
The parameters investigated
All parameters used to establish if there was a connection between funding and usage of libraries needed to be directly comparable. Some expenses, for instance rent, may vary considerably between libraries and are thus not considered here.
An obvious parameter to look at is staff costs. High staff costs per capita may indicate longer opening hours or more varied activities, for instance. If so, this parameter can be expected to indicate a higher usage.
The average personnel cost per capita in 2013 was NOK197, with a variation ranging from NOK107 to NOK503.
The media expenditure
Apart from staff costs we believe that the other main factor that can potentially influence the usage of the libraries is the total media expenditure.
In 2013 the average spending on media products per capita in Oppland was NOK39, but between libraries this varied from NOK22 to NOK126. We wanted to relate these parameters to an indicator of the total activity of the libraries.
Telemark Research Institute has defined Library Usage (LU) per capita as:
Library usage = (visits per year)+(loans per year)
number of inhabitants
This ratio is the one we have chosen to use in this investigation as the dependent variable. The average LU in Oppland in 2013 was 9.6, with a variation ranging from 4.1 to 19.3.
Library funding and usage
To determine the connection between library funding and usage, we have used a regression analysis. This is a quantitative analysis of relationships between an independent variable, in our case staff costs or media costs, and one or more dependent variables (here: LU per capita). A perfect correlation between two variables will give a coefficient of determination (r2) equal to 1, while the r2-value will be zero if there is no correlation at all.
Both staff costs and media costs were positively correlated to LU, but there were no indications in our data material that one of the variables had a clearly more significant influence on LU than the other. To produce a single independent variable we have therefore taken the square root of the product of these variables and called this a “Total Funding Indicator” (TFI): TFI = √ personnel costs × media costs.
More general applicability
In figure 1 we can see that there is a clear relationship between TFI and LU, indicating that the opinion of the librarians was in fact correct. If more money is spent on personal resources and media resources, the total usage of the library also increases.
We also have data from 1993, and it is particularly interesting to look at the development of two municipalities since one of them had a very high level of funding in 1993 and much lower in 2013, while the opposite was the case for the other one.
Both of these municipalities move nicely along the regression line (figure 2). These observations strengthen our belief that the model we have produced using the variables funding and usage may have a more general applicability.
Show me the money!
The results of this investigation have shown that the municipalities that invest in the library acquire a cultural institution of higher value for its inhabitants. No other factors than the level of funding assure a high usage of the library.
Our model can be used to predict what will most likely happen if the funding increases or decreases, and might thus be a valuable tool for the management of the libraries.
We have looked at municipalities in Oppland, but have come to the same conclusion as Vakkari et al. (2014) who compared library usage in Finland, Norway and the Netherlands. They suggested that the major factor explaining the differences in usage even at country level was the resources invested in library services.
Mostly about money
The library is the most appreciated public service we have. All owners of libraries speak warmly about the services they provide. However, if we compare Norway with for instance Finland, it is obvious that Norwegian libraries have a large unused potential. To be able to release this potential more resources are needed.
It’s not all about money, but it is mostly about money. The librarians are clearly right – fine words are not enough, so it should come as no surprise if they shout the same demand as Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money!”