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Statistics

February 16, 2015

At the county clerk’s office, I slapped my postcard down and said, “I want a new registration, and I want it now.” My friend smiled, but the attempted joke was timely: It had been a cranky day at the recorder’s office.

She thought it might be planetary alignment—some days, something brings in a disproportionate number of angry people. We agreed that anger, if nothing else, is contagious.

This is well-known. News media and politicians use this fact quite consciously. Your mother said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Which is the wisdom of understanding karma—that our intentions and actions have consequences, often beyond our understanding.

Humankind has known this a long time. An ancient poem by Nagarjuna said: “Imagine a magician/Who creates a creature/Who creates other creatures./Acts I perform are creatures/Who create others.”

Acts are thoughts, words, deeds. Let us proceed kindly. Of course, the day at the county clerk’s office could have been a mere statistical fluctuation. Bumps in the road to keep us alert.

Do we really want predictability? Just enough to feel safe. Or, to make next year’s budget. I was surprised to learn that many libraries in the Prospector library network change annually from being net lenders of books, etc., to net borrowers. And back.

I’d brought up the idea of changing the way the library courier fees are assessed. Salida Regional Library has consistently been a net lender, and so we feel that courier bills based on total traffic is unfair.

But other libraries, which go back and forth, would rather a more predictable bill, mostly for local political and budget reasons. And these libraries have much higher courier traffic, and bills, than we do, so our complaint carries no clout for now.

But it’s the season for statistics, with our annual report to the State Library due soon. Some people pore over statistics all year. I don’t; library use has proven fairly predictable over the years, and so far statistics confirm our own sense of what’s going on.

E.g. it’s quieter at night than it used to be, and busier during the middle of the day. Demand for computer time has leveled off and even dropped (more people have their own devices).

Circulation has leveled off after many years of growth, and that’s harder to sense day by day because our work flow has changed with Marmot and Prospector courier traffic and because the nature of daily demands has changed. Things continue to feel busier because the nature of the individual help people need has changed.

Not only have the different kinds of material formats libraries collect increased (e.g. books, DVDs, CDs, MP3 CDs, plus all the downloadable digital formats), so have the kinds of devices people use … and need help with.

But, in collecting some data for our annual report, I poked around a little and made a report on the most popular titles. But that was wrong—most of the top 100 are magazines or video series as a result of the “titles” have many “items” (issues) attached to them. So the total circulation for the title is higher.

FYI, the top five magazines are, in order: People Weekly, The Week, The New Yorker, The Economist, and The New Scientist.

Running the report only for books, we find that in the top ten, Kent Haruf has three titles: Benediction (#1), The Tie That Binds (#7), and Eventide (#9). And this is good and proper.

More numbers later.

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