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Systems Librarian


Circ and Pat Stats

Public Libraries Annual Circulation Performance & Patron Statistics

by Joe Kirsch 


It is curious that, despite their core role, the circulation statistics have been accorded relatively little attention by writers. I believe we should keep in mind the power of circulation statistics in demonstrating return on public investment by way of public services. Libraries measure a number of different statistics throughout the year to determine the success of their work, not the least of which is the circulation. Circulation is essentially the count of items (books, cds, dvds, etc.) that are checked out of the library. Therefore, a library with high circulation numbers is a library that is well used by its patrons/community. And isn’t that the point, after all? So while the number of visits to the library is important, and the number of participants in the library programs that are offered throughout the year, circulation is a number that most libraries feel is demonstrative of community impact.

What is the core function of a Public Library

Why is library circulation so important?
I strongly believe that core function of any Public Library should be circulation. The circulation function in libraries involves every patron/user of library materials and the successful performance of the function is a measure of the effectiveness of all other duties to which librarians devote themselves. The best equipped library located in the most modern plant and staffed with the most capable librarians would be a mausoleum of recorded knowledge if the circulation function was omitted. The processes and services which result in bringing users and library materials into productive relationship is the circulation function in libraries. Obviously a library user must have access to material before he can make use of it at all, but given access, the library material must be what he needs before the relationship between user and material (library) can be productive.

Yes, the oldest and most common measure of performance is overall circulation performance and active patron figures (statistics). I am of the opinion that circulation performance and patron statistics are still today the most accurate, verifiable and meaningful statistics and as such they should play an important part in helping the Library Management to measure the success of a library. In many respects, the number of books/items actually borrowed from the library is a sure sign of its value within a community as circulation always has been an integral part of the public library’s core function. Circulation statistics should appear in library budgets, provincial reports, annual reports, etc., as they draw a clear picture of the effectiveness of a library and how well the library was serving its community.

Circulation statistics of public library books/items is an important indicator

   Because circulation statistics are a meaningful, accurate, feasible measure of library use;

   Because circulation statistics indicate the community’s relationship to a library and in using library materials;

   To assist libraries in administrative, management, and planning activities;

   To allow individual libraries to compare themselves effectively to others in terms of development, provision of services, and use;

   To provide libraries with a means through which to assess, compare, and make decisions regarding collections resources in general and future collections development decisions in particular. 

Today, the educational and recreational potential of public libraries is greater than it has ever been. While public libraries are stocked with literally millions of books and other resources, the ultimate goal —their use—is not achieved. This raise questions about the circulation process in relation to basic professional objectives. Our current state of affairs should serve to remove the blinders from even the most naive librarians.

Librarians should be realistic
For many years most libraries have been penny-wise and pound-foolish, particularly in circulation procedures. The methods and procedures used have too often been complicated, devious, and difficult. Too often, procedures have been adhered to with the sole purpose of preventing some possible evil deed on the part of the reader; he might do this or that, out of line with accepted good practice. Greater emphasis should be placed on how we are to simplified procedures for the patron/user/borrower.

Front desk circulation staff can build or destroy the reputation of a library
Circulation staff are the good-will ambassadors of the public library. Their best efforts will be in vain, however, unless the institutional public relations are also kept in good repair. No matter how competent and pleasant a library staff member might be, he can never improve public relations if he is obliged to follow unsound policies or adhere to outmoded practices. He may become well liked and highly respected as an individual but until the library administration sets its house in order, the institution will be shunned by dissatisfied and irate patrons. Policies and practices, then, together with rules and regulations determine the matrix in which institutional public relations are molded.

Return of library books

Fines are considered by some librarians as a source of income but generally the purpose of a fine system should be to ensure the prompt return of books by the end of loan period. A fine is a fine and never enhances a library's public relations. The circulation department of a library probably loses as much good will through the assessment of fines as it would from employment of short-tempered staff members. In spite of this, most librarians believe that library fines must be assessed to insure the prompt return of books. Their point of view has never been fully proved; library fines may actually be ineffectual.
  No borrower retains goodwill towards a library that charges him a R40 fine on a R24.99 book even though he may accept full responsibility for late return. If a delinquent borrower can be made to realize that a library does not benefit from accrued fines, he may not feel too bitterly about the assessment, but he is still not going to accept it graciously (Is there a librarian in South Africa who can truthfully say that he does not mind paying a fine for a traffic violation?).

While librarians stress the fact that circulation statistics of transactions tell only a partial story of circulation operations (other statistics include door count, activities in the building, program attendance, internet use within the library, telephone renewals, reference questions, etc.), nevertheless it is frequently the only method of demonstrating the library functioning to the community.

 Date: 17 March 2012


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