Search This Blog

Friday, April 18, 2014

Libraries-to-libraries not apples-to-apples

What's the participation rate among libraries?  I estimated 40% of libraries get funding.  Now comes the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) and says: More than 90% of U.S. Public Libraries Have Used E-rate.

OK, you know what my first complaint is going to be: the small "r" in "E-Rate."  I have found librarians to be generally very precise, especially when it comes to words, so it's especially disheartening to have them in the opposing camp in my campaign for the Big R.

How did we arrive at such different numbers?  At least part of it can be explained by semantics.

First, we used different definitions of "library."  When I calculated 40% of libraries, I used the ALA's number of administrative units, while the IMLS used the number of library buildings.  It's analogous to the mess we're in because "entity" has more than one meaning.  In Form 471 terms, I based my calculations on Block 1 data, while the IMLS used Block 4 data.  So I based my calculations on 9,000 library administrative units, while the IMLS based their calculations on 16,000 library buildings.

Second, I looked at how many libraries are using the E-Rate, while the IMLS looked at how many have used the E-Rate.  The IMLS is saying that 90% of buildings appeared in Block 4 on at least one application from Funding Year 2002 to FY 2012.  I said 40% of library organizations appeared in Block 1 in FY 2009.

Fortunately, we can remove the effect of the second semantic difference, because the precise folks at IMLS supplied a graph showing participation each year.  So looking at just FY2009, I said that 3,672 of 9,225 library administrative units were in Block 1 of a Form 471, while the IMLS says 11,181 of 16,392 library buildings were in Block 4 of a Form 471.

If we assume that all the libraries that didn't apply were libraries with only one location, we're almost in agreement: I say 5,553 "libraries" (meaning administrative units) weren't on an application, while the IMLS says 5,211 "libraries" (meaning buildings) weren't on an application.  Of course, that assumption is overstated.  While I would think that libraries with multiple branches are much more likely to apply than one-building libraries (because multi-site libraries probably have higher phone and Internet costs, so it's worth the hassle of filling out the forms or the expense of hiring a consultant), I am certain that there are multi-location libraries that do not apply for E-Rate.

Our numbers also differ because of likely miscounting:
  1. I didn't count libraries in consortium applications, so I probably missed some libraries.  Those applications would have only the consortium lead in Block 1, but could theoretically have hundreds of libraries in Block 4.  There were 439 consortium applications, but a consortium made up of only libraries files as a library, so I missed only libraries which were in a consortium with non-libraries.
  2. IMLS is probably counting locations that are not libraries.  I used one definition of "library," the IMLS used a different one, but USAC has a slightly different definition.  In Block 4, a bookmobile is a "library."  So is a location that is strictly administrative.  The IMLS blog was just an "initial investigation," I doubt they dug into the 11,181 locations on those forms to ensure they were included in their list of 16,392 libraries.  So they might be overcounting a little.
So while our numbers seem wildly disparate at first glance, we really aren't that far apart.  So choose whichever number suits your purposes.  If you want to show that libraries are underserved by the E-Rate, use my 40% number.  If you are more interested in showing how great a benefit the E-Rate has been to libraries, use the IMLS 90% number.

No comments:

Post a Comment