January 25, 2001
Director, Communications & Public Information
Massachusetts Libraries Ranked Third in Nation
Massachusetts public libraries were ranked third in the nation, according to a recent article in American Libraries.
The rating was based on data collected from 9,000 public libraries in the United States. Using this data, author Thomas J. Hennen, Jr., created the Hennen's American Public Library Rating (HAPLR) index, which ranks libraries based on input measures such as collection size and output measures such as circulation. The HAPLR index is based on 2000 data collected from libraries by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners as part of the U.S. Department of Education Federal-State Cooperative System (FSCS).
Among the Massachusetts public libraries ranking in the top ten for their populations were the Newton Free Library, 50,000-99,999; Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, 25,000-49,999; G.A.R. Memorial Library in West Newbury and the Vineyard Haven Public Library, both in the 2,500-4,999 population.
According to Edward Bertorelli, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the HAPL rankings are no surprise. "It is a great pleasure to have Massachusetts libraries ranked third in the nation, with four in the top ten for their population categories." According to Keith Michael Fiels, Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, "The Hennen rankings validate what we've always known here in Massachusetts: we have some of the best libraries in the country." Fiels adds that recent statewide efforts over the last decade have made Massachusetts libraries even stronger.
Both Bertorelli and Fiels agree that the ratings are far from a perfect indicator of the quality of library service on an individual library basis. Both would like to see hours open added to any ranking, and both were quick to emphasize that there was no 'official' report card for Massachusetts' libraries. They were quick to add that Massachusetts has many fine libraries in addition to those cited in American Libraries.
Massachusetts has 373 independent public libraries serving 348 municipalities, and an additional 118 branch libraries, chiefly urban areas. "This is one of our real strengths here in Massachusetts," according to Fiels, "nearly every single community and every neighborhood in Massachusetts has a library. This is not the case in most other parts of the country." The HAPLR Index uses six input and nine output measures. The author, Thomas J. Hennen Jr., added the scores for each library within a popula-tion category to develop a weighted score. The population categories change at 1,000, 2,500, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, 50,000, 100,000, 250,000, and 500,000.
The HAPLR Index is similar to an ACT or SAT score with a theoretical minimum of 1 and a maximum of 1,000, although most libraries score between 260 and 730. FSCS statistical data such as cost per circulation, visits per capita and funding per capita is tabulated to produce the HAPLR index ratings. Although Hennen warns there is more to quality library service than the HAPLR index rankings, he says he hopes his work fills a need for library and information service accountability in much the same way listings of top-500 corporations do in business. Further information on HAPLR is available at www.haplr-index.com.
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.