Freckle Project Looks at 2019 IMLS Data

Guest Blog by Tim Coates, Principle Investigator, Freckle Project[email protected]

Last week the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS)  published their latest data for public libraries in the US, for the year 2019. These will be the last annual figures before libraries were
affected by the Covid 19 Pandemic.

Once again the figures show a widespread fall in use of library services in the way that they are measured. This decline has been going on consistently for ten years as is shown in the slides attached to this

They raise questions about the way library service performance is measured and why individually and collectively action is not taken to improve the picture they present. The figures also show clearly that the
the decline has not been caused by any shortage of funding

There is a common view that library performance should not be measured by simple usage figures, but in my report "The Freckle Report 2021" I suggest that usage numbers cannot be ignored because they do describe the view of the public about whether libraries are useful. I argue there that the question is not so much whether the figures are valid, but rather what more information is needed in order to provide a better picture of the diverse use of libraries in the community

The report shows that these declines are not limited, but they are widespread in libraries across America. There almost no states or large library systems that are exempt.

The figures show the huge amounts of money that libraries have spent on digital material in the last decade and the report questions whether the value of that investment has been properly scrutinised.  The figures show the extent to which use of print material has suffered because of the commitments to digital material, and more importantly,  how much use of printed publications is essential to the core popularity of using public library buildings. If people don't visit libraries, eventually they will be closed. These new figures reflect the same view.

The report also suggests that public libraries need collectively to create a much more cooperative relationship with the publishing industry because the numerical reality is that libraries need
publishers much more than publishers need libraries.

These are challenging questions for the library sector. They ought not to be denied or ignored, because to do so will eventually invite serious questions about the investment in public libraries. The report recommends clear actions that need to be taken and there is nothing in these recent figures that would change those views.

In the slides I have included - for caution-  two which show the extent to which the public library service in the UK has been closed, having fallen out of favour with both the public and politicians who fund it.

The report is called "The Freckle Report 21: Diverse or Digital?" - The direction of public libraries.  ISBN 978-1-84381-064-3

I am grateful for the support and encouragement in this work given by the Everylibrary Institute and the help they have provided in bringing it to the attention  of the library and publishing communities in the United States

Please download and review your copy of "Freckle Review of 2019 IMLS PLS Data" slides (opens PDF)

Tim Coates, [email protected]