In the Fall of 2017 Porter County Library System asked Hennen Library Consulting to prepare a report to evaluate how it compares to similar libraries throughout the country. The Porter County Library Study was compiled by library consultant Thomas J. Hennen Jr. in January of 2018. The report relies on data compiled by individual libraries throughout the U.S. by state libraries and the federal government’s Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS). This report uses the most recent IMLS dataset that was published in September of 2017. Fiscal years vary by state but the 2016 data for Porter County Library are from the calendar year ending 12/31/2015.
We used broad category comparisons as well as historical data for the comparison report. An important part of the research was finding “Best Practice Libraries.”. All of the libraries chosen for comparison were chosen because their performance measures outpaced Porter County’s. We chose them to seek best practices that Porter County can emulate. Each of the selected libraries has high levels of some or all the input and output measures we investigated. Not surprisingly, no one library is best in class for all the measures. Planners looking for best practice advice will want to consider several of them for advice.
After an extensive search, we narrowed the field to just 12 of the over 9,000 libraries in the U.S. Based on further examination of the metrics, we chose three of that dozen as “Best Practice Libraries.” Our intent was to prepare questionnaires tailored to the specific findings of our research for each of them. The libraries are:
- Carmel Clay Public Library in Indiana,
- Calvert Library in Maryland, and
- Lakewood Public Library in Ohio.
For a PDF of the report, see Porter County Best Practice Questionnaire Responses April 2018
For the completed questionnaires for each library see the links associated with each library listed below.
Map of Best Practice Libraries Selected
Calvert County Library Maryland
What stood out for this library was that even in this select group of 12 Best Practice libraries, its average of input measures was well exceeded by its outputs. The square footage of its buildings was on the low end of the spectrum with very little recent capital improvements. Spending was somewhat higher than Porter’s. Staffing was very comparable and historically stable. It is bucking the trend on reference with growing use. We were especially impressed with a very complete and current long-range plan that was made available for the public. That allowed us to ask pertinent questions on Calvert’s strategic planning in light of already stellar performance.
The library is similar to Porter in a number of ways. It is a County Library with multiple branches that is close to an urban center (Washington, DC). Its population density at 428 per square mile is similar to Porter’s 491. At 91,000, its service territory is smaller than Porter’s 168,000. On the other hand, household income at about $96,000 is higher than Porter’s $63.000. The county has one of the highest median household incomes in the United States. The median home value of $341,000 is nearly twice Porter’s rate.
The Calvert County seat is Prince Frederick which is where the main library is located. Calvert County is included in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area.
For the completed questionnaire, see:
Carmel Clay Library, Indiana
Like all libraries in Indiana, this library is organized as a district library. Unlike Porter, it does not serve most of the county in which it is located. Four other library districts in the county serve various communities ranging in size from about 5,000 to 140,000. The library has a single library building and a bookmobile.
At 81,000 Carmel Clay’s service area is smaller than Porter’s. It’s population density at nearly 1,700 per square mile is nearly 4 times Porter’s rate. Median household income ($106,000) is higher than Porter’s $65,000. It’s median home value is at $306,500 is 80% higher than Porter’s.
Carmel is a suburban city in Hamilton County, Indiana, located immediately north of Indianapolis. It has been one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. In 2012, Carmel was selected as the “Best Place to Live in the United States” by CNN Money magazine, and received the same designation by Niche.com in 2017. It is the fifth-largest city in Indiana.
The library’s input measures best Porter’s but so do its outputs. With an input average in the 90th percentile, it delivers a 94th percentile output rate. Its building size is smaller on a per capita basis than Porter’s but only marginally so. Although its operating spending over the last 25 years has been higher than Porter’s its capital expenditures have been markedly lower than either Porter’s or the Best Practice libraries group. We sought further information on this point.
Its print materials spending and holdings are lower than Porter’s. We were particularly struck by the rapid population growth of the Carmel Clay service population when compared to its staffing level. While population doubled in the timeframe we considered, full time equivalent staffing levels stayed remarkably stable. Since circulation has been growing with its population, we wondered how the library has coped. Circulation per FTE at over 33,000 annually was higher than that of any of the Best Practice libraries and twice Porter’s rate. We noted also that its rate of visitors had not kept pace with population changes and that circulation increases came from more items checked out on average at each visit. We asked what has been driving this trend. We also wondered why the library’s rate of public Internet uses per were higher than usual.
For the completed questionnaire, see:
Library Director: Bob Swanay
Carmel Clay Public Library
55 4th Ave SE
Carmel IN 46032-2278
Lakewood Public Library, Ohio
Nearly all of Lakewood’s metrics are the highest of any of the libraries in the Best Practice group. Even with an input rate in the 97th percentile, its outputs averaged in the 99th. Its building size is about the median for the libraries considered. Its cumulative operating and capital expenditures are very similar to Porter’s. It had a major budget reduction in 2008 and appears to be still spending less today even before adjusting for inflation. Its print materials rate is much higher than Best Practice or Porter rates. Staffing is relatively stable but higher than Porter’s on a per capita basis.
One thing that especially stood out at first was the rate of circulation and visits per capita at Lakewood. Closer examination revealed that this was probably partly the result of heavy use by non-residents of Lakewood’s legal service population. When measured on a per registered borrower basis rather than a per capita basis, the use rates were closer but still higher. We asked if this very high rate of crossover borrowing was a factor in long-range planning and budgeting.
Perhaps the most notable metric at Lakewood was in the area of programming. The 2016 program attendance of 120,000 was 7 times Porter’s rate. We wondered about that until we looked at that until we looked at their 55-page Fall/Winter program guide listing hundreds of programs. It is simply awe inspiring. We asked for information on designing and implementing such an ambitious programming schedule. Public Internet terminal use was also notable with a rate of uses per terminal far above the norm so we asked about this as well.
Lakewood is a city in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. It is one of Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs and borders the city of Cleveland to the west. It is part of the Greater Cleveland Metropolitan Area. It is the third largest city in Cuyahoga County. Lakewood’s population density (9,420) is the highest of any city in Ohio and is roughly comparable to that of Washington, DC. By comparison, Porter County’s population density is 393.
For the completed questionnaire, see: