|Himmell and Wilson Report Response|
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Findings - Prologue
When Virginia is taken as a whole and library input measures are compared to other states, the Old Dominion State ends up looking, at best, average. For example, using the fiscal year (FY) 2003 statistics (the most recent comprehensive statistics available) collected through the Federal-State Cooperative System (FSCS) and compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, Virginia ranks 25th among the states in Operating Income per Capita ($28.41). The state ranks 27th on Materials Expenditures per Capita ($ 3.95) and 29th on Total Staff per 25,000 Population (11.73).
The picture is somewhat similar on the "output" side. The Commonwealth ranks 30th in Visits per Capita (4.38), and, in what should be considered a tribute to hard working library staff members across the State, 15th in Circulation per Capita (8.48).
However, a closer examination reveals that characterizing Virginia’s performance on common measures of library service as "average" is somewhat misleading. While the statewide Operating Income per Capita may be $ 28.41, the annual statistics reported by Virginia libraries for FY 2004 shows that income per capita for library operations ranged from $ 8.25 to $ 136.72. While the statewide average may be 8.48 circulations per capita, this measure varied among libraries from 1.26 items per person to 28.72 items per person.
The wide variation in both input and output measures raises questions regarding both the quality of library services offered in some libraries and the equity of library and information services offered across the Commonwealth.
It is also instructive to note that the library reporting the highest income per capita for FY 2004 was also the library with the highest circulation per capita. The library reporting the lowest operating income per capita, while not the lowest in the state in circulation per capita, was nevertheless solidly in the bottom quartile for this measure. It is obvious from a review of statistical data that, while operating income doesn’t necessarily translate directly into quality library service, nevertheless, money matters.
How much money is available for providing public library services and how that money is distributed are obviously important. Although state aid accounts for only about 10% of library budgets statewide, it is, nevertheless, critical to the success of most public libraries in Virginia. This fact is underscored when it is recognized that many libraries are almost entirely dependent on state aid for the purchase of new materials.
Another important question confronting Virginia’s public libraries is "Who speaks for libraries?" The twin topics of advocacy and public awareness were frequently raised as issues by members of the public library community. There are many evidences that the recent (and understandable) focus on public safety and security and on K-12 education have resulted in a marginalization of public libraries in the eyes of the public officials, and perhaps, even in the eyes of the general public.
The consultants believe that the findings and recommendations growing out of this study can be organized into four major categories. They are:
• QUALITY OF PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICES
• EQUITY OF ACCESS TO QUALITY PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICES
• ADVOCACY/PUBLIC AWARENESS
There are many specific issues that need to be addressed if Virginia is to be successful in "…assuring that the Commonwealth’s public libraries are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century as valued community resources responsive to the rapid change in technology and society." However, we believe that the four categories listed above provide a framework for organizing and understanding these issues.
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