Guidelines for Collection of Public Library Nonresident Usage Statistics


An Overview
Establish Uniform Definitions
Statutory Responsibilities for Reimbursement of County Nonresident Library Payments
Categories of Residence to be Used for Data Gathering
Data Collection Procedures


Certain nonresident usage statistics are needed in order for county library plans to meet the statutory county library planning requirements.  The Division recommends that regional public library systems work with their member libraries and counties on procedures for the collection of adequate nonresident usage statistics.  Local library policies and procedures should be established for collecting the library usage statistics needed to receive county payments.  It is important that these procedures be applied uniformly throughout the county and system.  The definitions and guidelines below help to achieve the goal of accurate and comparable statewide nonresident usage statistics.

It is essential that data be collected in a manner which can withstand scrutiny by your county and adjacent counties. If your library has rigorous procedures for confirming the place of residence of each user, your county as well as adjacent counties will probably have no problems accepting your data.  By statute, a county clerk may have access, upon request, to all "books and records" used to determine both the annual library material loans to county residents who do not maintain a public library and the total annual library material loans per Wis. Stat. s. 43.12 (4).  However, the identities of individuals using the library are protected under Wis. Stat. s. 43.30.


An Overview

In order for counties and systems in Wisconsin to monitor local public library use patterns, there must be common agreement on how to define "public library use."  The most commonly adopted measure of public library use is circulation. Circulation of physical library materials is the measure of nonresident use for which Wisconsin counties are currently required to provide payment of at least 70 percent of cost per Wis. Stat. s. 43.12.  Admittedly, circulation of physical library materials represents only one aspect of the range of services offered by public libraries. Libraries also offer a wide range of other services to residents and nonresidents alike: downloadable and other online resources, reference service, programming, in-house use of material, computer access, wireless Internet, and so on.  For reasons of accuracy, consistency, and simplicity, circulation is nevertheless accepted as a reasonable measure of the use of library services relative to the total service provided.

  • Tracking of library checkouts is generally considered to be more accurate than other measures of use.  Libraries have more experience gathering this data, nearly all libraries track the use through automated systems, and there is greater consistency from library to library with regard to this measure than other measures.
  • Patron use of the full range of library services generally correlates with circulation. If circulation statistics indicate that a particular category of library users account for 25 percent of total circulation, it is generally accepted that that group would also account for approximately 25 percent of usage of the full range of library services.
  • A costing model that focuses on one measure—circulation—is simpler, easier, and less costly to administer than one that factors in a wider range of library services.
  • A data model that incorporates other, comparatively new and emerging services such as downloadable content or wireless Internet use is not collected or measured consistently throughout the state.

Today, circulation statistics are generally accepted as a reasonable representation of the total service provided by libraries, and the total operating costs divided by total circulation is generally accepted as a reasonable estimate of the overall unit cost for library use.


Establish Uniform Definitions

The purpose of library use statistics is to determine the use made of a public library by persons from the home community and those residing in areas outside the primary taxing district of the public library. To complete this task it is necessary to learn the residency of nonresident users and to measure the circulation to each identified group. Adopting the following definitions will better ensure comparability of collected data within the county, within the system, and statewide:

  • Public library use. The circulation of a legally established public library's materials (physical checkouts) to users of that public library.  Although public libraries provide a wide range of services, for practical reasons of data collection, circulation is now the measure that state law provides for total library use.
  • Circulation transaction. The act of lending an item from the library's physical collection to a registered user, generally (although not always) for use outside the library. This activity includes checking material out and renewing the loan of materials previously borrowed. Each of these is reported as a circulation transaction. Items included are those circulated from all library units (such as main library, branches, bookmobiles, and book-by-mail programs) administered by the library board. Interlibrary loan items provided to the library and then circulated by the library to a registered user should be included, but interlibrary loan items sent to other libraries are not to be reported as circulation transactions. "Bulk loans," such as the placement of collections of materials in a nursing home or preschool, are not to be included. Circulation of a multi-part item representing a single title (such as a book-on-CD title containing more than one disc) should be counted as a single circulation transaction.
  • Library taxing unit. A municipality that has established a public library under Wis. Stat. s. 43.52; a group of two or more municipalities that have established a joint library under Wis. Stat. s. 43.53; or a county taxing as a consolidated county public library under Wis. Stat. s. 43.57(1).  Residents of a county who reside outside these library taxing units are not residents of a library municipality.
  • Residency of user.  The residency of a user must be properly identified and classified in order for a library to tally resident and nonresident use.  In most instances, classifying residency is not complicated and is based on identifying the taxing jurisdiction to which the patron pays taxes to support library service. Residents of a joint library comprised of municipalities are considered residents of that particular library taxing unit.  Residents of a town that is not part of a joint library but instead makes annual "contributions" to a municipal library are not residents of a library municipality; rather, they are considered county residents of municipalities which do not maintain a library.
  • Resident user. A resident borrower is an individual who resides within the library's legal service jurisdiction. Each library will define resident borrowers according to local policy. Some libraries may consider as a "resident borrower" an individual who owns property in the jurisdiction of the library taxing unit, even though the individual may maintain a primary residence elsewhere, arguing that the individual, as a local property owner, is supporting the library through taxes. For purposes of usage statistics, such individuals may be considered resident borrowers, if this is the policy adopted by the local library board.


Statutory Responsibilities for Reimbursement of Nonresident Library Usage

Wisconsin Statutes determine the units of government responsible for reimbursement of library use by nonresidents. Following are the statutory responsibilities for different categories of nonresident usage:

  • Users who reside in the same county but live in municipalities that do not maintain a library.  Per Wis. Stat. s. 43.12, financial support for serving these residents (at a level of at least 70 percent of operating costs) is provided to the library by the county.  Operating costs do not include federal expenditures or capital expenditures.
  • Users who reside in another municipality that maintains a library that belongs to your same system.  Under the terms of system participation, member libraries must guarantee access to all other system residents per Wis. Stat. s. 43.15(4)(c)(4).  Some county library plans and system plans account for this usage in their payments.
  • Users who reside in other counties in your system and live in municipalities that do not maintain a library.  Under the terms of system participation, member libraries must guarantee access to all other system residents per Wis. Stat. s. 43.15(4)(c)(4).  If the residents are in adjacent counties to yours, then per Wis. Stat. s. 43.12, financial support for serving these residents (at a level of at least 70 percent of operating costs) is provided to the library by the adjacent county.  Operating costs do not include federal expenditures or capital expenditures.
  • Users who reside in another municipality that maintains a library that belongs to your same system. This represents use by residents who have their own "home" library either inside or outside your county but choose to borrow from other libraries in the same system. Under system membership requirements, libraries must guarantee open access to all other system residents - Wis. Stat. s. 43.15(4)(c)(4). These usage statistics should be reported to the respective "home" library communities and to the system. Some county library plans and system plans may provide payments for this usage. 
  • Users who are residents of other states. The statutes do not address public library service across state borders. Libraries may establish their own policies concerning usage by residents of other states.


Categories of Residence to Be Used for Data Gathering

Participants in this data-gathering effort must agree upon the specificity of information needed. Consistency of the data-gathering categories will improve the usefulness of the data.

  • At the very least, within the home county, borrowers should be tracked according to the library taxing jurisdiction in which they reside. This would include residency categories for patrons who reside in each of the municipalities in the county that support a public library, plus a category for all residents in the outlying county area.
  • Home county borrowers may be further classified according to their town of residence. This means a more complex data gathering strategy than is required, but produces a clearer understanding of geographic use patterns within the county.
  • For other counties within your system, the annual report to the municipality and state will require, beginning with the report for 1998, that usage statistics be reported for each county, broken down according to users who are residents of library communities and users who are not. These statistics also need to be reported to other counties in your system so their county library plans can comply with the new Wis. Stat. section 43.11 requirement that each county library plan provide reimbursement for use of system libraries by residents of each county who do not maintain their own library.
  • Borrowers who live outside your system could be identified by home county, home community, the county where they pay their library taxes, or public library system. A more detailed classification of cross-system users is necessary only for immediately adjacent counties because cross-county borrowing declines rapidly as distance increases. The annual report to the municipality and state will require, beginning with the report for 1998, that usage statistics be reported for each county adjacent to your county, broken down according to users who are residents of library communities and users who are not.
  • Libraries should be aware that they may not receive reimbursement for service from any taxing jurisdiction for which they do not keep accurate usage statistics.


Methods of Data Collection

Actual usage counts are always preferable to survey estimates. All surveys, no matter how extensive and sophisticated, will have a margin of error. Almost all automated circulation systems can be configured to capture actual usage data and automatically break it down by residence category. All that is usually required is that patron records include data fields indicating the towns, villages, cities, counties, and states where significant numbers of patrons reside. Provided that patron records are accurately coded by residence, properly configured automated circulation systems can keep highly accurate and detailed records of usage by patron residence. This is a significant advantage of automated, as opposed to manual, circulation systems. All libraries should periodically ask patrons whether they still live at the address shown on their card or in the library database, in order to ensure accurate statistics by residence category. We recommend that this be done at least once a year. Annexations by a library municipality require recoding of the patron residence category for any library patrons affected by the annexation.

Up-to-date plat books and grid maps for the relevant counties help with most questions of residency. Libraries should also have on hand the most current municipal boundary maps that cities and villages produce.

Procedures for accurately coding each patron's residence category and keeping those records accurate over time should be established by each library.

(Libraries that will not be conducting manual counts or surveys can skip the remainder of this document.)

Libraries with manual circulation systems can also keep actual counts of usage by patron residence categories; however, the added staff time required will be significant. In addition, the greater the number of patron residence categories used, the greater will be the staff time required to count each separate category. Libraries that keep actual manual counts by patron residence typically use a code on the library card that indicates the residence category of each patron.


Let me know if you have any questions.

Denise Anton Wright
Public Library Administration Consultant
WI Dept. of Public Instruction
Division for Libraries and Technology
125 S. Webster St. Madison WI 53707-7841
(608-266-7270, fax 608-267-9207)