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September 22, 2003

I have to wonder if the Google search engine on the Internet is more powerful than I’d thought.

I searched for “Dublin” and Google answered: “Did you mean: dublin hotels, dublin core, dublin ireland, or something else?”

How did Google know that right beside me I had a report from OCLC, which is in Dublin, Ohio, where the meeting took place that gave the Dublin Core its name?

I was about to summarize that report for this column, as soon as I’d finished my fantasy of a last-minute fall trip to the British Isles.

The Dublin Core is less exotic than it sounds. It has nothing to do with Dublin, Ireland, as you noticed, and the core is but a set of standards for describing Web-based resources. The description is known as metadata.

(“Where’s the remote?” you mumble. But wait …)

The OCLC Online Computer Library Center provides electronic library services to over 45,000 libraries around the world.

They did this report. They do lots of reports. This one is called “Libraries: how they stack up.” It looks at the economic impact and activities of libraries worldwide.

For example, in the U.S., libraries spend $14.0 billion annually. This is less than is spent on magazine advertising, $16.2 billion, but more than consumers spend on buying videos, $12.3 billion, or in bars and taverns, $13.3 billion, or on sneakers, $13.6 billion.

It’s kind of a mixed bag of comparisons, but it shows the relative sizes of some industries. And there’s a reasonable enough relationship among them. If you’re not at the library, you’re probably at home watching videos, or at a bar drinking, or on the road running off the beer.

The estimated worldwide expenditure on libraries is $31 billion annually. Or about a month’s worth of war.

One heading in the report says, “Libraries as logistics experts.” It has a military twang to it, but it’s about library checkouts. There is a logistical side to the work. Public and academic libraries in the U.S. circulated 1,947,600,000 items in a year. Two billion checkouts!

I suppose they couldn’t resist comparing libraries to Amazon, the online bookseller. Amazon has 30 million customers; U.S. public libraries have 148 million cardholders.

I was amazed more that Amazon has had 30 million customers than that libraries have five times that. Nobody wants a town without a book store, and yet … oh, well.

U.S. libraries now circulate 5.4 million items per day, while Amazon ships an estimated 1.5 million items per day. I’m happy about library use, but I’m amazed again at Amazon.

Also an interesting comparison: libraries vs. FedEx. It’s a draw at 5.4 millions checkouts per day vs. 5.3 million shipments per day.

Here’s one that shocked me. The total number of volumes in libraries around the world is estimated at 16 billion, or about 2.5 books per person, they say.

What shocked me was the glaring implication of the ratio. When did we get over 6 billion people on the planet? I haven’t been paying attention. I know some people thought it would be twice that by now, but nevertheless. Wow. Hi, everyone.

In case you’re wondering, the ratio for public libraries in the U.S is 2.86 volumes per capita. By state, Vermont leads at 5.09. Colorado is 33rd at 2.63. Salida’s ratio is 3.87.

Wait, I’ve strayed from statistics in the report … but the information was so easily found through my public library, I couldn’t resist.


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