The process of developing a master facilities plan for the Dayton Metro Library included a detailed analysis of libraries in the United States that closely resembled the Dayton Metro Library and its twenty-one locations. The facilities study team examined 2007 peer data compiled by the Public Library Association through its 2008 Public Library Data Service study.
The results of this study found that the Dayton Metro Library had generally more branches than its peer libraries. While the large number of locations provides convenience, patrons find these branches smaller than those in our peer communities. Despite their small size, the Dayton Metro Library branches are more heavily used and a disproportionately larger amount of space must be devoted to collections, exasperating the remaining space for library users. The branches are tuned best toward providing large quality collections for patrons to visit, browse and check out items. The branches are deficient in providing space for computer users, space for quiet reading, meeting space for library programs and space for use by community groups.
The size of the Main Library falls into a second class when compared to the peer group.
Of the 900 public library systems in the United States that contributed to the annual survey, the study team identified nine libraries that most closely matched the Dayton Metro Library based upon five general criteria: 1) population served of less than one million and higher than 300,000 residents, 2) annual expenditures of less $40 million and higher than $20 million, 3) number of branches totaling less than thirty and more than ten, 4) operated a central library 5) represented a service district with urban/non-urban diversity. The results of the analysis found the following nine Midwest and eastern United States public libraries that most closely matched the Dayton Metro Library:
Since population was chosen as the first order of selection of the nine libraries in the peer analysis, it is not surprising to see the Dayton Metro Library ranked near the middle. It is useful to note that range in size between the smallest and largest libraries is over 250%. Inclusion of libraries from southern, western and New England states probably would have reduced the range a certain degree; however the similar nature of Midwestern and eastern states felt more comfortable to the review team.
Many branches with first rate collections
The nine peer libraries were compared to the Dayton Metro Library by a number of input measures such as the number and size of its branches and the number of volumes held. The Dayton Metro Library’s count of 20 branches ranked higher than the average (13) with the Dayton Metro Library having two or three branches more than its two close in-state peer libraries in Akron (18) and Toledo (17).
The Dayton Metro Library also ranked higher than most in the number of volumes held ranking just above Akron and just below Toledo. Allen County Public Library’s count of items is skewed higher than other libraries due to its world class collection of genealogical materials comprised of 500,000 items in microfilm formats and an additional 350,000 genealogical books. When these special collections are excluded, the total collection is much closer to that of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library but still higher than the Dayton Metro Library.
Despite the large number of branches and their robust collection sizes, Dayton Metro Library branches did not rank well as compared to peers when measured by total amount of square footage or the amount devoted to its branch system. A comparison of total square footage of the ten libraries demonstrates that the Dayton Metro Library falls into a second tier of libraries.
The lack of square footage for the Dayton Metro Library is exacerbated by the larger than average number of branches providing services. When the average square feet devoted to branch service is calculated the Dayton Metro Library ranked lowest with the average size of its branches at 9,035 sq. ft. In comparison, the Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg has an average branch size of 16,767 sq. ft.
Smaller but busier
In addition to looking at the input size of libraries, output measures were also compared to aid in evaluating the effectiveness of the peer group. Nationally reported statistics such as circulation, visitors and program attendance are most often cited measures of library use. It was found that by most measures, the Dayton Metro Library ranked much higher than its peers. The Dayton Metro Library ranked first in total circulation with a total of nearly 7,000,000 items in 2007. This was more than 12.5% higher than the next highest circulation statistics of libraries in Toledo and Charlotte. 2009 and 2010 counts exceeded 2007 counts used in this study.
Visitor counts for the ten libraries in the study show the Dayton Metro Library measures up favorably when compared with most of the other libraries in the peer group. The visitor count for the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County may be difficult to compare to the peer group. It shows the largest number of visitors and this can be partially expected due to the larger number of residents, larger number of branches and larger branch sizes. However, their counts are substantially higher than any library in the peer group as it includes counts of visitors to ImaginON, a major children’s museum and theatre affiliated with the Library.
Still, when looking at the remaining libraries in the study, the Dayton Metro Library outpaced all other peer institutions with the exception of the Louisville Public Library.
Onsite program attendance figures for the ten libraries shows the Dayton Metro Library as having a considerably lower amount of attendance than Charlotte, Akron and Louisville but in the same range as that of most of the other libraries. The program attendance numbers for the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County also reflect the impact of ImaginON, the Charlotte Children’s Theatre.
Residents also find the Dayton Metro Library branches busier than residents in our peer communities. Key objective measures such as the number of checkouts and the number of visitors show that Dayton Metro Library branches are among the busiest. When use of the branches are compared on a per square footage basis, the intensity of library use measures far above the other libraries.
Space for books but not for people: a special look at use per square foot
The peer analysis using common criteria such as size of buildings, and counts of commonly reported transactions, shows the Dayton Metro Library performing positively when compared to the other libraries in the analysis.
However, most of the charts listed above only imply that Dayton Metro Library locations suffer from overcrowding. The crowded conditions of the Dayton Metro Library facilities is most easily demonstrated by conducting comparisons on a per square foot basis. A quick calculation as to the number of books, movies, music and other documents shows that the Dayton Metro Library devotes considerably more space to its collections than for other uses.
The implications are clear, with the Dayton Metro Library branches showing the highest percentage in branches devoting excessive space for collections, the amount of space left for other patron uses is probably far less than its peer libraries.
The Dayton Metro Library should be extremely proud of its annual circulation counts. As reported above the Dayton Metro Library has higher totals than all in the peer group. The higher counts can be explained by the large collection sizes, and its high funding for the full range of new materials including books, music and videos.
A better understanding of the nature of the user experience at the Dayton Metro Library is found by counting circulation per square foot, which shows an even larger gap when compared to similar data from the peer libraries.
Since the Dayton Metro Library is already devoting a larger percentage of its space to collections, then the space that is left for people must be even busier when circulation counts are included.
As with overall square feet devoted to library service, the main library building in downtown Dayton also finds itself ranked in a second tier when compared with the other libraries. The four larger libraries in the study have substantially more space devoted to their main libraries averaging just over 300,000 square ft. The smallest three libraries in the peer group have an average closer to that of the Dayton Metro Library.
These extreme differences can be partially explained by the distribution and urban/suburban makeup of each of the peer library systems. Certainly the strength of the branch system has an impact on library service when the largest city dominates the service area of the library district.
Allen County Public Library’s large central library is explained partly due to the fact that Ft. Wayne represents over 70% of Allen County’s total population. As a comparatively small city, it makes sense that 70% of its library space is devoted to its main library. In a similar fashion, Toledo represents over 60% of Lucas County and devotes nearly 60% of its total square ft. to its main library facility. At the other extreme the Ocean County Public Library does not have a large central city and its main library is the smallest of the peer group but this coincides with the small size of the largest city in the county.
The City of Dayton by comparison makes up only about one third of the total population of the Dayton Metro Library service area. Dayton Metro Library’s large branch system provides a significant part of library service and while the Main Library represents 38% of its total space, most of that space is devoted to centralized services, including all administrative areas, technical services, information technology, central receiving and storage.
A new survey scheduled to be mailed in February 2011 will collect main library specific data from the peer group.