The Nation's Best Library Systems

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Evaluating Performance

Rating the nation's libraries is not an easy task. How do you quantify the performance of more than 7,400 library systems throughout the country? Yet that is the task Library Journal undertook in it's 'Index to Public Library Service 2010'. Intended to serve as a resource that library systems can use to advocate for funding, the report identifies 258 'Star Libraries' that are exemplars other systems can look to for improving services.

Because libraries are so diverse in size, the Library Journal report designates the nation's systems into nine categories based on annual expenditures. The largest libraries exceed more than $30 million in expenditures. The smallest libraries evaluated have expenditures of more than $10,000 but less than $50,000.

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Regardless of size, the criteria upon which libraries were judged remained the same. Ratings accounted for annual patron visits, circulation, program attendance and Internet usage. Full results of the report appear here, but in the category for the largest libraries, five systems earned five-star ratings. In order of rank, they were Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma (OH), Columbus Metropolitan Library (OH), Seattle Public Library (WA), Denver Public Library (CO) and Cleveland Public Library (OH). Library lovers in Ohio sure are fortunate!

Success Factors

In addition to rating libraries, the 'Index to Public Library Service 2010' also revealed some important factors that foster library success. Funding, unsurprisingly, was important, as was having a facility capable of drawing people in. Libraries that scored well in the report had healthy collections of print, audiovisual and electronic resources. Making Internet access more widely available was also an important factor for success, as were strategic planning and targeted programming.

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Another fact to emerge from the report: More people than ever are turning to libraries for information and entertainment, a trend many librarians attribute to difficult economic times. Many people, especially those without home Internet access, also turn to libraries for support in searching for a job. Expanding immigrant populations in select communities are also adding to upticks in library usage.

A more troubling trend to emerge from the report concerned funding. At a time when libraries are more important than ever, municipal and state budget cuts are jeopardizing services at systems throughout the country. Library Journal hopes that the 'Index to Public Library Service 2010' will be successfully used by these systems to demonstrate the importance of libraries to local officials.

Check back tomorrow to learn more about how funding cuts are affecting the nation's libraries.

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