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Survey of Library Systems: Membership vs. Population (Fresno County)

Updated on July 17, 2017

Preferace

Well this certainly isn't New York Times Bestseller Reading, that's for sure. But it does account for some research I did for a community I worked for. I was asked for one of the smaller towns in our county to provide some figures of how Fresno did compared to other communities like it throughout the nation. Although the numbers may have changed, at the time the figures were discouraging.

This is most of my original report - which the then Director - cut down. I was informed that the figures could reflect poorly and have political undertones and I tried to argue that the numbers were statistics which are solid facts. The (former) director cut the report down to shreds and asked me to submit a one and a half page document which portrayed the county in a favorable light. Although I didn't agree with this woman's decision, I had little choice in the matter.

I tried to retrieve most of the data for this report and the writing. It's unedited and pretty dry, but paints an accurate picture of what 2015 looked like for these library systems.

I regret not being able to answer the reference question with honesty to the small community council that asked me for the data. I was embarrassed to hand in the report that I did. I don't work for that organization any longer and I don't know who may be interested in this data anymore - if anyone at all.

But this is the work I did - which was censored.

A Survey of Libraries: the Number of Active Card Holders

in Relation to Community Populations.

The purpose of this brief report is to present a survey of various library systems across the country with respect to the number of card holders in their service areas. These numbers will be compared to the Fresno County Public Library system which has 298,441 card holders (as of 2013) out of 938,035 (fiscal year 2013) county residents - roughly 31%. In most cases numbers will be rounded off and the details of this report are not completely conclusive and are presented for general comparison purposes only. The purpose of this document is in response to a reference question presented by the Mendota City Council received by myself during a WOW! Library Department presentation on July 22, 2014. When informed that approximately one out of every three people in the County of Fresno has a library card the council asked how this figure compares with other libraries throughout the country.

I should just preface this with the fact that it was an effort to answer a local council member's queries about the success of our local system's (Fresno County) library compared to other systems nationwide. As a researcher and a former public librarian, I was excited to have had such a question brought to my attention and saw it as my duty to answer the question as thoroughly as possible. Those of you who are not librarians may be chuckling now, but this is what we do in our profession. I should thank those systems who provided answers to my questions - I made many direct contacts where information was not readily available online. I should also note that some of the details of my report were originally censored - or attempted to have been censored - by certain authority figures for some peculiar reason or another.

This report is one made with my own efforts and personal research and should not be considered an interpretation of anyone or any organizations current practices. It is also designed to be for entertainment purposes and an exercise in creative writing, rather than a complete summary of facts - even though much of the information included may be accurate.

Table 1 displays the results of the ten largest public library systems in the United States, according to the American Library Association (ALA) – (http://open.salon.com/blog/jrobertg/2009/07/23/weekly_10_the_10_largest_public_libraries_in_the_us)

Table 1: The population statistics of the top ten library systems (by collection size) according to the ALA


 
 
 
 
 
Rank
Library System
Population
Card Holders
Percentage
1
Boston Public
4,640,000
550,000
11.90%
2
Cincinnati � Hamilton County
804,520
588,544
73.10%
3
County of Los Angeles
3,358,197
2,962,775
88.20%
4
Detroit Public Library
730,000
200,706
27.50%
5
Queens Borough
2,300,000
900,000
39.10%
6
Free Library of Philadelphia
1,526,006
533,587
35%
7
Los Angeles Public
NA
NA
NA
8
Chicago Public
2,175,000
1,072,433
49.30%
9
New York Public
3,440,000
2,300,000
66.90%
10
Brooklyn Public
2,500,500
1,200,000
48%
 
 
 
 
 
 
Fresno
955,272
298,441
31.20%

Interpreting the figures for Boston Public Library may present certain difficulties in measuring and comparing this system to other library organizations since in the state of Massachusetts any resident may obtain a library card from the city of Boston. The Boroughs of New York (Brooklyn and Queens) and NY Public also have similar issues with their cardholders. In most jurisdictions, member policies require proof of municipal residency. In the situation involving the boroughs of New York City, for example, one may live in any of the aforementioned areas of the metropolitan area and obtain a card at any one (or all) of the separate Boroughs, even though they are distinct and unique library systems. The above table was included in order to present a comparison between the County of Fresno and the largest library systems in the United States.

In order to obtain the figures, the libraries were consulted directly, either by telephone or web reference email. Most libraries did respond fully to all inquiries. However; personnel at some locations were difficult to reach – there either was no answer when telephoned or no further response than the standard notification that one’s query was received when an email was submitted. In other instances, voice mails were left on telephones or staff were addressed directly with the assurance that an answer would be provided in the future. In some cases, the latter never panned out.

The following table shows the top ten counties by population in California. According to a report provided by the site California Demographics, (http://www.california-demographics.com/counties_by_population). Fresno, according to this site, ranks tenth in size, by population in California. In some cases, obviously, the county’s population and the number of persons in the service area, are not comparable. This is especially true in some of the urbanized counties, where numerous metropolitan regionss are within proximity of each other or in counties where there are many populous cities. Alameda County, according to Census statistics, has a population of 1.55 million residents, but the official library service area includes about 557,000 customers Others in the county may be official residents of their local city libraries or may even outside of the County Library service area, even though they reside within the county boundaries. The table’s intention however is to provide a list that shows a comparison of the percentages of actual card holders to potential eligible members within each library jurisdiction.

Table 2: The library population statistics of the top ten counties in California


 
 
 
 
 
Rank
Library System
Service Area Population
Card Holders
Percentage
1
Los Angeles (County)
3,358,197
2,962,775
88.20%
2
San Diego County
1,345,895
NA
 
3
Orange County
1,571,108
624,331
39.70%
4
Riverside County (Riverside Public)
313,673
265,000
84.50%
5
San Bernardino County
1,214,591
NA
 
6
Santa Clara County
412,000
216,639
52.60%
7
Alameda County
557,378
357,000
64%
8
Sacramento County
1,380,392
670,086
48.50%
9
Contra Costa County
947,822
485,611
51.20%
10
Fresno County
955,272
298,441
31.20%
 
 
 
 
 

Fresno County, where 31.2% of its citizens possess library cards, has the lowest percentage of card holders compared with the top ten counties in the state of California. With the average at 57.5%, the county of Fresno’s library system, appears to be a bit behind. This could possibly be attributed to the large geographic area of the county coupled with the sparse population areas. The libraries and other amenities in the vicinity of Los Angeles or Santa Clara are more accessible than in Fresno. However, this number should not be interpreted as discouraging, but rather one that should inspire the library and other civic-minded organizations to engage the culturally diverse communities, making the effort to connect the library with county citizens.

The following table is of counties whose population is similar in number to that of Fresno County. According to the 2010 United States Census, Fresno is the 48th most populous county in the country. Although the official population from that year is 930,450, the figure of 955,272 is used because that is the most recent figure available and is used by the State Library as the official population of the Fresno County Library system. The table lists several counties whose populations vary slightly when compared with that of Fresno. By using these criteria, a more realistic perception of Fresno County Public Library’s demographic may be observed. The counties included in this survey are listed with their respective ranking according to the US Census survey. A list of the county systems along with their major city is provided for reference purposes.

Table 3: Library systems with a population similar to Fresno



Systems similar to Fresno County by size (population)

 
 
 
 
 
Rank
Library System (Major City)
Service Area Population
Card Holders
Percentage
42
Pima County (Tucson, AZ)
1,000,258
305,856
30.50%
45
Milwaukee County (Milwaukee, WI)
947,733
569,953
60.10%
46
Fulton County (Atlanta, GA)
1,000,000
514,840
51.40%
47
Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, NC)
999,000
253,723
25.40%
48
Fresno County (Fresno, CA)
955,272
298,441
31.20%
49
Shelby County (Memphis, TN)
830,000
450,000
54.20%
50
Wake County (Raleigh, NC)
974,289
401,964
41.30%
53
Eerie County (Buffalo, NY)
919,040
284,440
30.10%
55
Marion County (Indianapolis, IN)
918,977
454,807
49.50%
56
Bergen County (Hackensack, NJ)
1,200,000
650,000
54.20%
58
Prince George�s County (DC Metro Area)
881,138
483,604
54.90%

The Service Area Population’s column reflects either what was listed in the United States Census charts or what was provided by the information professional at the listed library when the census number seemed incompatible. In some situations the libraries, when consulted, provided population estimates, rather than precise figures. Numbers for both the Service Area Populations and the Card Holders were taken from either recently authored reports or are the most up-to-date figures on file with the respective libraries. This should be taken into consideration if there appears to be deviation from official figures that might be available elsewhere when compared with the information provided below.

Fresno County Public Library and the SJVLS consortium

There are nine library organizations that comprise the San Joaquin Valley Library System: Fresno County, Kern County, Kings County, Madera County, Mariposa County, Merced County, Porterville, Tulare City, and Tulare County. A sample of the data concerning card holders and the population served by each separate affiliate is shown below.

Table 4: Libraries in the SJVLS consortium



SJVLS is comprised of the major Library Systems in the San Joaquin Valley

 
 
 
 
Library
Population Served
Card Holders
Percentage
Fresno
955,272
298,441
31.20%
Kern
873,092
167,124
19.10%
Kings
150,181
31,904
21.20%
Madera
153,897
28,922
18.80%
Mariposa
18,467
7,682
41.60%
Merced
264,922
 
 
Porterville
55,490
25,042
45.10%
Tulare City
61,857
29,361
47.50%
Tulare County
338,910
59,905
17.70%

Most libraries in the SJVLS system provided figures slightly different than the numbers indicated by the State Library. In most cases, the figures under the Population Served column were taken from the report provided by the California State Librarian.

In Summary

The major purpose of this brief report was to provide an overview of questions or concerns one might have about the library card holders in a service area compared to the population of that area. What these numbers reflect is not really absolute. One might speculate whether or not a higher percentage of card users translates into whether a community respects or values their local library. In many of the jurisdictions - New York City Area communities for example - there are multiple library systems which one may have access to, which might skew the numbers in one way or another. Following that syllogism - that a higher number reflects the value of the library to the community - one might derive that a low percentage of library card holders translates into the fact that the libraries are not valued in a given area. This should not be a pattern of thinking the reader should adopt, rather that some systems may not have "active users", but are still valued for the programs they offer the comfortable settings or the browsing factors which statistics often do not manage to gather.

For the local community, the average in 2014 was about 35% or 1/3 of the county population actually use the library. Given the efforts to ensure the passage of Measure B, this numbers should be expected to grow in the future, and be compatible with communities similar to Fresno that have a significantly higher library card holder population. (At least one would anticipate or hope for). The fact that that there is a disparity in the number of active users compared to the local population in certain communities should not in any way disparage the effectiveness of the library to succeed in community outreach efforts.

Libraries should be community centers that are highly valued and used by people in the community even though we are well into the digital age. Books are still valuable commodities even though they may slowly be evolving from their hardcopy format into digital creatures. Libraries are senses of place - an environment where everyone can gather regardless of their situation, perspective, or background and be comfortable. They are places where all points of view can be explored. The cornerstone of our democracy. A place of freedom and peace.

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