Posts Tagged ‘public libraries’

Average Distance to Public Libraries in the US

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

A few months ago I had a new article published in LISR, but given the absurd restrictions of academic journal publishing I’m not allowed to publicly post the article, and have to wait 12 months before sharing my post-print copy. It is available via your local library if they have a subscription to the Science Direct database (you can also email me to request a copy). I am sharing some of the un-published state-level data that was generated for the project here.

Citation and Abstract

Regional variations in average distance to public libraries in the United States
F. Donnelly
Library & Information Science Research
Volume 37, Issue 4, October 2015, Pages 280–289
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2015.11.008

Abstract

“There are substantive regional variations in public library accessibility in the United States, which is a concern considering the civic and educational roles that libraries play in communities. Average population-weighted distances and the total population living within one mile segments of the nearest public library were calculated at a regional level for metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, and at a state level. The findings demonstrate significant regional variations in accessibility that have been persistent over time and cannot be explained by simple population distribution measures alone. Distances to the nearest public library are higher in the South compared to other regions, with statistically significant clusters of states with lower accessibility than average. The national average population-weighted distance to the nearest public library is 2.1 miles. While this supports the use of a two-mile buffer employed in many LIS studies to measure library service areas, the degree of variation that exists between regions and states suggests that local measures should be applied to local areas.”

Purpose

I’m not going to repeat all the findings, but will provide some context.

As a follow-up to my earlier work, I was interested in trying an alternate approach for measuring public library spatial equity. I previously used the standard container approach – draw a buffer at some fixed distance around a library and count whether people are in or out, and as an approximation for individuals I used population centroids for census tracts. In my second approach, I used straight-line distance measurements from census block groups (smaller than tracts) to the nearest public library so I could compare average distances for regions and states; I also summed populations for these areas by calculating the percentage of people that lived within one-mile rings of the nearest library. I weighted the distances by population, to account for the fact that census areas vary in population size (tracts and block groups are designed to fall within an ideal population range – for block groups it’s between 600 and 3000 people).

Despite the difference in approach, the outcome was similar. Using the earlier approach (census tract centroids that fell within a library buffer that varied from 1 to 3 miles based on urban or rural setting), two-thirds of Americans fell within a “library service area”, which means that they lived within a reasonable distance to a library based on standard practices in LIS research. Using the latest approach (using block group centroids and measuring the distance to the nearest library) two-thirds of Americans lived within two miles of a public library – the average population weighted distance was 2.1 miles. Both studies illustrate that there is a great deal of variation by geographic region – people in the South consistently lived further away from public libraries compared to the national average, while people in the Northeast lived closer. Spatial Autocorrelation (LISA) revealed a cluster of states in the South with high distances and a cluster in the Northeast with low distances.

The idea in doing this research was not to model actual travel behavior to measure accessibility. People in rural areas may be accustomed to traveling greater distances, public transportation can be a factor, people may not visit the library that’s close to their home for several reasons, measuring distance along a network is more precise than Euclidean distance, etc. The point is that libraries are a public good that provide tangible benefits to communities. People that live in close proximity to a public library are more likely to reap the benefits that it provides relative to those living further away. Communities that have libraries will benefit more than communities that don’t. The distance measurements serve as a basic metric for evaluating spatial equity. So, if someone lives more than six miles away from a library that does not mean that they don’t have access; it does means they are less likely to utilize it or realize it’s benefits compared to someone who lives a mile or two away.

Data

I used the 2010 Census at the block group level, and obtained the location of public libraries from the 2010 IMLS. I improved the latter by geocoding libraries that did not have address-level coordinates, so that I had street matches for 95% of the 16,720 libraries in the dataset. The tables that I’m providing here were not published in the original article, but were tacked on as supplementary material in appendices. I wanted to share them so others could incorporate them into local studies. In most LIS research the prevailing approach for measuring library service areas is to use a buffer of 1 to 2 miles for all locations. Given the variation between states, if you wanted to use the state-average for library planning in your own state you can consider using these figures.

To provide some context, the image below shows public libraries (red stars) in relation to census block group centroids (white circles) for northern Delaware (primarily suburban) and surrounding areas (mix of suburban and rural). The line drawn between the Swedesboro and Woodstown libraries in New Jersey is 5-miles in length. I used QGIS and Spatialite for most of the work, along with Python for processing the data and Geoda for the spatial autocorrelation.

Map Example - Northern Delaware

The three tables I’m posting on the resources page are for states: one counts the 2010 Census population within one to six mile rings of the nearest public library, the second is the percentage of the total state population that falls within that ring, and the third is a summary table that calculates the mean and population-weighted distance to the nearest library by state. One set of tables is formatted text (for printing or just looking up numbers) while the other set are CSV files that you can use in a spreadsheet. I’ve included a metadata record with some methodological info, but you can read the full details in the article.

In the article itself I tabulated and examined data at a broader, regional level (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West), and also broke it down into metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas for the regions. Naturally people that live in non-metropolitan areas lived further away, but the same regional patterns existed: more people in the South in both metro and non-metro areas lived further away compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country. This weekend I stumbled across this article in the Washington Post about troubles in the Deep South, and was struck by how these maps mirrored the low library accessibility maps in my past two articles.

The Geography of US Public Libraries

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Last month my article on the geographic disribution of US public libraries was pre-published online in JOLIS, with a print date pending. I can’t share this one freely on-line, so if you don’t have access via a library database (Sage Journals, ERIC, various LIS dbs) you can contact me if you’re interested in getting a copy.

Title: The geographic distribution of United States public libraries : An analysis of locations and service areas
Author: Francis P. Donnelly
Journal: Journal of Librarianship and Information Science (JOLIS)
Year: 2014, Volume 46, Issue 2, Pages 110-129
ISSN: 0961-0006
DOI: 10.1177/0961000612470276
Publisher: Sage

Abstract

This article explores the geography of public libraries in the United States. The distribution of libraries is examined using maps and spatial statistics to analyze spatial patterns. Methods for delineating and studying library service areas used in previous LIS research are modified and applied using geographic information systems to study variations in library accessibility by state and by socio-economic group at the national level. A history of library development is situated within the broader economic and demographic history of the US to provide insight to contemporary patterns, and Louis Round Wilson’s Geography of Reading is used as a focal point for studying historical trends. Findings show that while national library coverage is extensive, the percentage of the population that lives in a library’s geographic service area varies considerably by region and state, with Southern and Western states having lower values than Northeastern and Midwestern states.

Keywords

Geographic information systems, geography, public libraries, service areas, spatial equity, United States

This OCLC flier (How Public Libraries Stack Up) piqued my interest in public libraries as community resources, public goods, and placemaking institutions. If the presence of a public library brings so much value to a community, then by extension the lack of a public library could leave a community at a disadvantage. This led to the next set of logical questions: how are libraries distributed across the country, and which people and communties are being served and which aren’t?

I took a few different approaches to answer these questions. The first approach was to use (and learn) spatial statistics so the overall distribution could be characterized, and the second was to use spatial extraction methods to select census areas and populations that were within the service areas of each library, to see differences in how populations were served and to study these differences across different states. The LIS literature is rich with research that uses GIS to study library use, so I provide a thorough summary of what’s come before. Then after I had the results I spent a good deal of time researching how the contemporary pattern came to be, and coupled the research on the history of public libraries with the broader history of urban and economic development in the United States.

I had a few unstated motives – one of them was to learn spatial statistics, with the help of: OpenGeoda and its documentation, this excellent book on Spatial Data Analysis (for theory), these great examples from Spatial Justice, and invaluable advice from Deborah Balk, a Professor of Spatial Demography with the CUNY Institute for Demographic Research.

One of my other goals was to use only open source software – QGIS, GRASS, and OpenGeoda, which was also a success. Although in my next study I’ll probably rely on QGIS and Spatialite; I found I was doing a lot of attribute data crunching using the SQLite Manager, since the attributes of GRASS vectors can be stored in SQLite, and I could probably save time (and frustration) by using Spatialite’s features instead. I did get to learn a lot about GRASS, but for my purposes it was overkill and I would have been just fine with a spatial database. I was definetely able to sharpen my Python skills, as processing the American Community Survey data for every census tract in the US manually would have been crazy.

In a project this size there are always some pieces that end up on the cutting room floor, so I thought I’d share one here – a dot map that shows where all 16,700 public libraries are. In the article I went with a county choropleth map to show the distribution, because I was doing other county-level stuff and because the dimension restrictions on the graphic made it a more viable option. The dot map reveals that libraries are typically where people are, except that the south looks emptier and the midwest fuller than it should be, if libraries were in fact evenly distributed by population. As my research shows – they’re not.

US Public Libraries


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