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Library Circulation Surpasses 3 Million

Mon, 08/22/2005 - 10:15am by josie

Last year we announced that items circulated during the 2003-04 year passed the 2 million mark. This year, we circulated just over 3 million items. This new circulation record represents a 33% increase and the highest annual percentage of increase in the Library's history.

We are also experiencing growth in other key areas. Our buildings were visited 1.3 million times, an 8% increase. Attendance at programs increased 14%, over 51,000, and more individuals used library computers than ever before...223,000 logins represent a 37% increase over last year.

The need to expand our space and adapt to the needs and interests of the community is clear. Let us know what you need from the Library.


What's wrong with it? How is a renewal different than returning a book and checking it out again the next day? Both involve a transaction and the book being unavailable to anyone else.

I read a lot and have 16 items checked out right now in a Darwinian rotation. I renew everything online about once a week. When an item comes up as not renewable, I decide whether to move it to the top of the stack, or to return it unread. When I return an item unread, I usually put in a new request for it.

What are we trying to measure? How do other libraries count circulation? If everyone counts a renewal the same as a "new" circulation, then the numbers are roughly comparable. I say roughly because I would use a different system if I had to visit the library, or even call, to renew, and my circulation would go down dramatically.

If the purpose is to report the highest number possible, then the current system is probably optimal.

I'm curious, though, what is the trend in "new" circulation? That would be items circulated, not counting renewals. Are we setting records there too? How about new circulation per capita?


Mark, you have to realize that your methodology is probably not usual, and yes, I suppose they could count renewals separately but as someone said above, a transaction that takes the books out off the shelf is a circulation transaaction, so it gets counted.

I don't think their goal is to artificially inflate numbers at all. The increase is simply the by-product of a terrific service that has greatly improved my library experience.

Congratulations! What a great quantitative measure to back up what we (your visitors) see every day: a phenomenal library experience.

I agree with Tmad's comment. I don't know what I would do without the AADL. Certainly, I would spend a lot more of my hard-earned on books than I do now.

I am wondering if there are better metrics than circulation to measure success, or that would reveal services the AADL would be wise to offer or enhance.

As we all know, the Internet changed everything. Focusing on the number of physical items circulated as a measure of success seems short sighted as it is unlikely to be where the action is as we move forward.

I know that Josie and Eli think about these things a lot more than I do. What metrics are *you* looking at to assess future success?

Other ways a library tries to gauge if its meeting its goals is by asking people to fill out surveys from time to time, getting them to fill out little forms after programs, and counting foot traffic. But surveys only capture a small chunk of users, and may not be representative of the whole commuity, while foot traffic can be hard to quantify.

I sometimes wonder at how lucky I was to grow up in a town with a thriving library. Libraries with grants to fund technology or programs usually have to statistically account for whether or not the grant has been put to good use. When their grants run out, so does the service.

When I visited the Les Cheneaux Islands Community Library in Cedarville I was asked to write how much time I had used the wireless internet access, so as to demonstrate that the grant money was being put to good use. I made my whole family get cards there even though I could have checked out books for them, because the more cards issued by the library, the more funding they were elligible to recieve(whether this was funding from the UP Library consortium or the government or whatever, I don't know). If they use the library but don't bother to sign in or get a card, they are invisible to the bean-counters.

I certainly appreciate all of the attention our circulation figures are getting on the blog. We do count renewals as a transaction and have for years. That means that our percentage increases over the past years is based on an "apple to apple" comparison. Whether renewals should be counted as a transaction equal to the primary check out is a question that is batted around in our industry. Most libraries count renewals because the material is in use and not available for check out.

The difference between our increase in building usage and circulation is due to the success of online services, including renewal. We don't limit renewals if requests are not outstanding on items either. It doesn't make sense to us to require the return of an item simply to have it reshelved and then checked out again to the same patron, or worse, to have an item returned when multiple copies of the title and format are available.

By drawing attention to increases in circulation, building usage, program attendance, and computing usage, I had hoped to highlight some of the factors that play such a key role in our determination that space should be expanded and services developed to meet community need and demand. I'm very happy to see this conversation take place.

We are looking at other ways to measure community satisfaction and we do hold focus groups and conduct surveys for major changes. Suggestions for other types of interaction and what we should be asking are welcome.

Josie, thank you for this additional information. My desire is for the library collect and apply statistics that are both accurate and meaningful. I did not intend to detract from the obvious success of the library, and I apologize if I gave that impression.

I understand why you would say that this is an apple to apple comparison since you have always included renewals in the total circulation number. However, the breakdown could be important. For example, if primary checkouts increase by 10% and renewals by 50%, then something else is going on and they are not all apples.

If total circulation were to increase while primary circulation remained flat or even declined, I would draw a very different conclusion than if the reverse were true, or if the two increased at the same rate. Most important, I would allocate the budget very differently. I assume that you have access to this breakdown and are making intelligent decisions based on that information. Will you share the breakdown with us?

Another thought ... if you are comparing years where renewals were limited to years where they were not, that would skew renewals and total circulation higher.


Mark, Thank you for your support and your comments have been taken as constructive. I am aware of how many ways statistics can be misinterpreted and our intention in collecting, comparing and posting data is an honest attempt to measure effectiveness. Because we have not always collected the same information in the same way, I can't give you the granularity you are seeking. I can promise you that neither the administration nor the Board will make decisions based on incomplete data.

I can only stress again that my posting a sampling of statistics was not intended to be taken as a comprehensive assessment of what is happening at the Library. The posting included statistics that were as important but not directly related to circulation. I simply wish to let the public know how well used the public library is in Ann Arbor. This is not the case everywhere and deserves to be celebrated.

It's not necessarily the case that having potentially endless renewals actually has a dramatic impact on circulation. For one thing, a huge portion of items being checked out are hot new items that cannot be renewed. Secondly, most people allow themselves only a certain amount of time to read/watch/listen to an item...I mean, if I haven't read the book after 6 months, I'm not going to keep checking it out any more because I know I can get it again if I ever decide that I do want it! Thirdly, at least some of those items will eventually be wanted by someone else, so even if you have checked out "Turkey Taxidermy: Celebrate Thanksgiving Year-round!" for 5 months, it could eventually appeal to another likeminded patron.

Library statistics are much more complicated than just a sum total, but having a general figure as a bench mark, or bragging point, is fine. I think it's great that the AADL gets so much use...I remember seeing a chart in USA Today that about 6 books are checked out annually per capita. I wonder what it is in Ann Arbor?

"Secondly, most people allow themselves only a certain amount of time to read/watch/listen to an item."

People may vary in how frequently they renew, though. You could easily write a script that would renew everything for you once a day, and I don't think the current system does anything to discourage that. So if two people both checked out a book for six weeks, it's possible one could do it with only 1 renewal while the other renewed every day of the six weeks.

I've never gone to that extreme, but I do find myself hitting "renew all" a little more frequently as time goes on. Hard to imagine that doesn't skew the circulation numbers a little, given the increasing ease of renewals.

Josie, I love the library and you are doing a great job. I love the new web site and use it all the time. Mary Barnett

I will comment for both my husband and myself. I am checking out MANY more books (I do mainly books on CD now) now that I have an iPod and can listen to them while I commute. I don't really have time to sit down and physically read a book. The fact that I can reserve online is a boon. When I read a good book or music review, I look online to see if the library has it, or has it on order, put a reserve in and then ONLY go to the library when the book is on the hold shelf for me at my branch. So my actual library holdings usage has increased greatly.

My husband, who is a history and mystery addict used to buy books--he now checks them out of the library, now that he is retired and money counts.

Being able to renew online is great. Receiving email notices as things are coming due, rather than afterwards (which you used to do) is terrific.

Keep up the good work. We are two library members whose use of the library has increased a lot in the past year. Please keep trying to get the CD version of books as well as the paper.

Based on a circulation figure of 3,234,113 and a population figure of 155,611 our Circ per capita for the 04/05 year was 20.78 (or 20.8 to round it off). For 03/04 it was 15.6.

Well, that was productive. Thanks for the input.

I'd just like to day that Ann Arbor has the best public library that I've ever had the pleasure to patronize. My family is doing its part to up circulation; thanks in part to your wonderful children's section, my four-year-old son has become an avid reader and checks out a stack of books every week.

Thanks to all the fantastic library workers, and especially the maintainance staff that keeps all the branches looking so great!

I would be interested in seeing a breakdown of this increase in circulation based on type of media, for example, books in comparison to DVDs and videos. I noticed the original post stated "items" not "books".

Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems the DVD collection has improved greatly over the past year, with a better selection than ever.

It seems to me the educational quality of some of these offerings though, being standard Hollywood fare, is fairly questionable (unless one is a film student). While I think it's great that folks can count on AADL for the entertainment value, the increase in circulation would not be as impressive to me if a large percentage is derived from this sector.

The hardcover adult book collection remains the most popular and accounts for 29% of the total items circulated. This is a 32% increase for this collection area from the previous year. Youth hardcover books accounted for 16% of items circulated an increase of 20% from 2003/04. DVD circulation rose 120% from the previous year to rank third with 13% of the annual circulation figure.

Part of the mission of the public library is educational, but clearly entertainment is in high demand. We are pleased to be able to provide both, especially when they overlap, as so often happens when one reads a book or views a film.

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