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Investigation reveals problems with library circulation reporting

Part 1 of a Two-Part Series: The Problem

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 11:58 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 14, 2013 11:59 a.m. CDT

The alleged failure of the “honor” system, irregularities in the reporting of circulation numbers and an attempt at equitable sharing have resulted in big changes for the libraries of Jasper County when it comes to the distribution of Jasper County’s rural patron library funds.

The Lynnville Public Library and Sully Community Library have been under the microscope for their circulations reports since December 2011, when an email was sent from now-retired Iowa Library Services Library Support Network Head Sandy Dixon.

“I would like to resolve the extremely high circulation stats from Lynnville (Size A) and Sully (Size B),” Dixon wrote to Iowa Library Services North Central District Library Consultant Jet Kofoot.

For years, the Jasper County Library Board has distributed funds from the county’s Rural Supplemental Fund, which is paid into by rural taxpayers, based on rural circulation numbers each library reported to the board in what many librarians described as an “honor system” process.

The circulation numbers reported by Lynnville and Sully over the years had many librarians calling for a change in the funding process.

“I just want us to come to some kind of an agreement that is going to be fair to everyone,” Newton Public Library Director Sue Padilla said during an April interview.

Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott explained Iowa Code Section 256.69 outlines the way rural patron funding is to be handled.

“(Iowa Code), that’s the formula for the minimum amount,” Parrott said. “As far as supporting the libraries, they can go above it, but they can’t go below it. This (the minimum) comes out roughly to about $50,000. (Most recently) $161,000 is what was budgeted (for rural patrons).”

The Jasper County Board of Supervisors has been giving above the minimum funding requirements for rural patrons, Parrott said.

Citizens are considered a rural patrons if they live in Jasper County but not within city limits. The State Library of Iowa estimates that Jasper County has 12,220 rural patrons. Like every other county in Iowa, Jasper County has to set aside funding for those patrons, as it is a city’s responsibility to fund city library patrons.

Lynnville is classified as a Class A library. If the library’s in-town population is fewer than 500 people, it falls into this category. Lynnville’s current population is estimated at 379 as of the 2010 U.S. Census.

There are currently 500 Class A libraries in Iowa.

Sully is a Class B library, and to qualify for that designation, the in-town population of the area has to fall between 500 and 999 people. The current population of Sully is estimated at 821, also according to the 2010 Census.

There are currently 124 Class B libraries in Iowa.

The State of Iowa, in its 2012 Iowa Public Library Statistic report, considers circulation to be counting the use of physical and downloadable materials by a customer.

Each of the libraries in Jasper County contacted was asked to give its own definition of circulation. Most defined circulation as items that can be checked out of their buildings, including music, movies, periodicals, books and, in some cases, video games. The librarians in Lynnville and Sully both declined to comment for this report.

“For the (Fiscal Year) 2010, Lynnville had a total circulation of 37,420, which is 98.7 circulation per capita,” Dixon said in the 2011 letter. “They are open 23 hours a week and would have had to circulate 32 items every hour they are open to reach this number.”

“For the (Fiscal Year) 2010, Sully had a total circulation of 35,262 and per circulation capita of 43,” Dixon continued. “They are open 24.5 hours a week and would have to circulate 29 items every hour they are open.”

Sue Ponder, president of the Jasper County Library Association and the Prairie City Public Library director, gave her recollection of the events that led her to contacting Dixon about Lynnville and Sully’s circulation numbers.

“Prairie City appoints their city administrator as a Jasper County Library Board member,” Ponder said during an interview in May. “My city administrator and I kind of looked at the funding level, and she had concerns with their inequality.”

Ponder said discrepancies in the numbers took place because there is no universal system for what counts as circulation.

“The fact that it’s not a black and white number means it can be affected by many different things,” Ponder said. “Like procedures within the library (for example). Our renewal period is three weeks, and there are other libraries that are like two weeks.”

“Let’s say a patron kept that book for an additional six weeks, that would be an additional checkout for the same amount of time,” Ponder said. “Some libraries checked out computer usage and others didn’t. It’s just not a good, hard and fast number.”

Padilla echoed Ponder’s concerns.

“We are looking at the different ways libraries are changing,” Padilla said. “We have people coming in bringing their handheld devices a lot. They are basically using the WiFi, which is a service provided by the library, and it’s not being counted for anything. They come in to read the newspapers every day, put a jigsaw puzzle together, listen to the programs or go to story time.

“There are a lot of people who come from rural (locations) and come into the program, and that’s fine,” Padilla continued. “We don’t charge for anything like that. We don’t check anything out, and we don’t keep track of it. It’s just a service provided and a different way people are using their libraries.”

Over the past five fiscal years (2007-2008 to 2011-2012), county funding for libraries has ranged from $137,315 to $146,435 annually.

During that timeframe, the cities that have received the most funding have been Lynnville, Sully and Newton.

The Newton Public Library is one of 18 Class F libraries in the state, which is a library with a city population between 10,000 and 24,999 people. Newton has a population of 15,254, and the library’s average for rural circulation is 29,049.4 patrons served during the five-year period.

During this same timeframe, it received $286,999.04 in taxpayer support, which is an average of $57,399.81 annually from the county, as a part of the distribution of Rural Supplemental funds.

The average amount for Class F libraries to receive in county funding is $42,459 and the maximum is $102,723, according to the 2012 Iowa Public Library Statistic Report.

By comparison, the Class A average was $9,035 in county funds and the maximum amount was $35,598, which is what the Lynnville library received in 2012. The next highest amount of county funding received for a Class A library in 2012 went to the Stacyville library, which received $22,721.

Lynnville has received $154,090.01 in Rural Supplemental funds, or an average of 30,818, over the same five-fiscal-year timeframe as Newton.

Lynnville’s reported five-year average circulation numbers for rural patrons is 15,274.6. The number dropped significantly from 17,095 during the 2010-11 fiscal year to 8,692 during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

While the Lynnville library declined comment for the story, during this timeframe the library’s former longtime library director Linda James retired and Barb Hoogeveen took her place. Hoogeveen was emailed by Dixon in February 2012.

“The (Fiscal Year) 2011 Open Access Report submitted by Linda James for the Lynnville Public Library listed 4,321 transactions,” Dixon said. “We have reason to believe that this is an inflated number. The Open Access Terms of Agreement states that the participating library will ‘Provide additional information for auditing purposes as requested by the State Library.’”

“The purpose of this letter is to request your assistance in obtaining accurate Open Access statistics,” Dixon continued. “After reviewing your circulation statistics for FY11, would you please submit a new Open Access report using the attached form? After we receive the new Open Access report, I will get back to you to discuss next steps.”

Sully’s numbers also came in above average for a Class B library. Class B libraries average $10,080 in county funds and the maximum amount came from Janesville, which collected $27,228 in 2012. Sully received $26,680, which was the second-highest amount.

During the same time frame used for Lynnville and Newton, Sully received $152,416.09 in Rural Supplemental funds, which averaged $30,483.22 annually. That’s three times the average for a library of its size.

Sully’s reported average rural circulation number was 12,945.2 rural patrons served.

“Something is wrong with their numbers,” Dixon said in the 2011 letter. “I’ve received a complaint from the chair of the Jasper County Libraries, Sue Ponder from Prairie City. The other libraries in Jasper County are frustrated with how much county funding goes to Lynnville and Sully.”

The Prairie City library is a Class C library, and libraries in that category have a city population between 1,000 and 2,499. It received $4,349 in Rural Supplemental funds in 2012. The average amount that Class C libraries received that year from their counties was $14,242. That amount was also the highest that Prairie City received over the last five fiscal years.

“Their formula for distributing county money is completely circulation based,” Dixon said in the 2011 letter. “Since the numbers are off the charts and our Public Library Annual Survey and Open Access program are affected, as well, I feel we need it to address it in some way.”

Colfax Public Library is the only library in the county that doesn’t receive county funds.

Dixon’s 2011 letter suggested that other Jasper County libraries weren’t happy with distribution arrangement and Baxter Community Library Director Marie Van Beek addressed that issue.

“Everyone has their own way of maintaining their records, and that’s part of the reason we are having this problem,” Van Beek said. “Because of that fact, a lot of us don’t believe some of their (Lynnville and Sully) records and that they are doing exactly as we are.”

Baxter is a Class C library and the highest amount of Rural Supplemental funds it received during the five-year fiscal time frame was $11,473.38 in 2008-09 fiscal year. The Baxter library also serves as the Baxter Community School District’s Library in addition to serving the general public.

“We honestly are having a problem believing (Lynnville and Sully’s circulation numbers),” Van Beek said. “We haven’t been able to pin them down as to why their records are so inflated.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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