Public library ratings

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There are several national systems for rating the quality of public libraries.

United States[edit]

The basic public library statistics (not rankings) are published by the National Center for Educational Statistics; the most recent version was published in July 2006, using data from fiscal year 2005.[1] As of October 1, 2007, the Institute of Museums and Library Services assumed responsibility for the publication of public library statistics.[2]

A commercial product, Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings Information (HAPLR), is prepared by Thomas J. Hennen Jr. [2], Director of Waukesha County Federated Library System in Wisconsin. It is published annually in the November edition of American Libraries, and rates over 9,000 public libraries in the United States based on this data.[3] Libraries are ranked on 15 input and output measures with comparisons in broad population categories.

An alternative system (the LJ Index of Public Library Service) developed by Keith Curry Lance and Ray Lyons, was introduced in the June 15th 2008 issue of Library Journal. Libraries are rated on four equally weighted per-capita statistics with comparison groups based on total operating expenditures. The four statistics, library visits, circulation, program attendance, and public internet computer uses, were chosen based on correlation analysis. The system awards 5-star, 4-star, and 3-star designations rather than library ranks, due to recognized imprecision of the library statistical data. The LJ Index measures how the levels of services a library provides compares with other libraries. Creators of the LJ Index stress the fact that it does not measure service quality, operational excellence, library effectiveness, nor the degree to which a library meets existing community information needs.


The HAPLR ratings have drawn significant criticism and praise from members of the library community.

In Library Journal, Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke notes that the statistics that HAPLR relies on are misleading because they rely too much on output measures, such as circulation, funding, etc. and not on input measures, such as open hours and patron satisfaction. He adds "To give HAPLR some credit, collectively, the libraries in the top half of the list are definitely better than the libraries in the bottom half, but when it gets down to individual cases, which is what HAPLR claims to be able to do, it doesn't work." [4]

However, John Berry III, in a Library Journal editorial said "Unfortunately, when you or your library receives any kind of honor, it stimulates the flow of competitive hormones in your professional colleagues. This jealousy rears its ugly head in many ways. We've suffered endless tutorials on the defects in Hennen's rankings. So what? They work!" [5]

In a 2008 article in Public Libraries Ray Lyons and Neal Kaske argue for greater recognition of the strengths and limitations of ratings.[6] They point out that, among other factors, imprecision in library statistics make ratings scores quite approximate, a fact rarely acknowledged by libraries receiving high ratings. The authors also note that HAPLR calculations perform invalid mathematical operations using ordinal rankings, making comparisons of scores between libraries and between years meaningless.

A 2006 Library School Student Writing Award article questions HAPLR’s weighting of factors, and its failure to account for local factors (such as a library’s mission) in measuring a library’s success, the index’s failure to measure computer and Internet usage, and its lack of focus of on newer methods of evaluation, such as customer satisfaction or return on investment.[7]

Keith Curry Lance and Marti Cox, both of the Library Research Service, take issue with HAPLR’s reasoning backwards from statistics to conclusion, point out the redundancy of HAPLR’s statistical categories, and question its arbitrary system of weighting criteria.[8]

Hennen responded to Lance and Cox in the same issue of American Libraries,saying their "thesis seems to be that the job of comparing libraries cannot be done, so I am at fault for having tried. Somehow, unique among American public or private institutions, libraries are just too varied and too local to be compared. Yet despite these assertions, the authors urge individuals to use the NCES Public Library Peer Comparison tool ( to do this impossible task." [9]

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

There is some interest in developing an index in Australia and New Zealand[10]

Great Britain[edit]

Great Britain adopted national standards, and in 2000 the Audit Commission began publishing both a summary annual reports of library conditions and individualized ratings of libraries. Audit Commission personnel base the reports on statistical data, long-range plans, local government commitment to the library, and a site visit. The Audit Commission is an independent body. Every library is assigned a score.[11]


Bertelsmann Publishing partners with the German library association to produce BIX, a library index quite similar to HAPLR. The main difference between BIX and HAPLR, is that BIX was designed to provide comparisons of one library to another in a given year as well as over time. HAPLR compares all libraries to one another only during a given year.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Library Statistics program site Index
  2. ^ IMLS Library Statistics - Public Library Publications
  3. ^ Library Statistics Program [1].
  4. ^ Scheppke, Jim. (1999-11-15) “The Trouble with Hennen”, Library Journal 124 (19): p. 36, ISSN 0363-0277
  5. ^ April 15, 1999 Archived June 7, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Library Journal
  6. ^ "Honorable Mention: What Public Library National Ratings Say" (Nov/Dec 2008)Public Libraries p.36-41.
  7. ^ Nelson, Elizabeth. (Winter 2007) “Library Statistics and the HAPLR Index” by Elizabeth Nelson Library Administration & Management 21 (1) : p. 9, ISSN 0888-4463
  8. ^ Lance, Keith Curry and Marti A. Cox. (June/July 2000), “Lies, Damn Lies, and Indexes”, American Libraries 31 (6): p. 82, ISSN 0002-9769
  9. ^ American Libraries; Jun/Jul2000, Vol. 31 Issue 6, p87, 1p
  10. ^ Alan Bundy in APLIS, the Australasian Public Library and Information Science "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-07. Retrieved 2007-09-18.
  11. ^ Audit Commission - homepage Archived 2005-11-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ English version[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]