New PLA Benchmark Briefings allows for library peer comparison

For Immediate Release
Mon, 02/22/2021


Scott Allen

Deputy Director

Public Library Association

American Library Association

CHICAGO —The Public Library Association (PLA) has launched the Benchmark Briefings to support public libraries’ access and use of data. The free resource translates data from the Public Libraries Survey (PLS) conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) into accessible infographics to ease library peer comparison across key characteristics.

“Although the PLS data are freely and publicly available, they are not always utilized to their full potential,” said Linda Hofschire, chair of ALA’s Measurement, Evaluation and Assessment Committee. “We hope these resources will make it easier for public libraries to see themselves and their data in new and useful ways to benchmark, plan, and advocate.”

In the briefings, infographics highlight key measures commonly used by public libraries when making decisions about library investments: expenditures, staff, collections, circulation, visits and programs. The data are organized by library and community characteristics to better enable libraries to quickly benchmark themselves with others with similar attributes. For instance, 25.5 percent of public libraries are considered suburban and had a median of 11 FTE staff and hosted a median of 107,313 visits in IMLS fiscal year 2018. Or, library districts had a median of $44 per capita expenditures and a median of 471 program attendees per 1,000 residents in FY18.

The characteristics used for peer comparison include: library legal basis (e.g., municipal or district), region, locale (city, suburb, or rural), community members identifying as persons of color, and community members age 25 or over with a college degree or higher. Demographic characteristics are based on the census tract in which the administrative entity is located and come from the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.

PLA is creating further learning opportunities to demonstrate how libraries may utilize this resource, as well as additional tools in development.

The Benchmark Briefings were developed using IMLS fiscal year 2018 Public Libraries Survey data by members from PLA’s Measurement, Evaluation, and Assessment Committee (MEAC), PLA staff, and the American Institutes for Research.

About the Public Library Association
The Public Library Association (PLA) is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 10,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. For more information about PLA, contact the PLA office at 1 (800) 545-2433, ext. 5PLA, or