Skip to main content

Let's talk about library books

This post had two inspirations: First, I was scrolling around the IPEDS data center one night, looking for something to visualize that I hadn't before that I thought would be interesting. I scrolled through all the variables, and found the Academic Libraries section.  I was certain that I had never even looked at the data, so put it in the back of my mind.

The second thing that led me to this data was thinking about my discussions with high school counselors after they come back from campus tours: Just how often they've heard the same things from tour guides who are quite convinced the counselors have never heard it before (the blue safety lights comes to mind, along with the perfunctory mention of the number of books in the library.)

The latter is not an unimportant statistic, of course, as the library has long been at the heart of the intellectual life of an institution dedicated to intellectual pursuits.  But what do those numbers mean?  Are comparisons between institutions different?  And, as I've been asked more than once, "How many books can you read in four years?'

So, this.

There are three views here, all interactive and accessible via the tabs across the top.  The first shows library volumes from 2006 to 2018 (not every year has data for "physical books" as IPEDS calls them), along with three measures of change over time. Look at it by single institution, Carnegie Types, or Control to see what's happened since 2006.  As you can see, overall the number of volumes has fallen by almost 25%; but America's colleges and universities collectively still own about two books for every person in the US.

The second view shows every institution in the US and its number of books in 2006 (gray bar) and 2018 (purple bar).  Hover over the bar to see the values and the change over time.

And the third view, while the simplest, is the most intriguing to me, as it may go to institutional strategy.  Note that UCLA has added just under 5 million volumes in 12 years, which works out to just over 1,100 volumes every day over twelve years, including weekends and holidays. At the other end of the spectrum, look at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: It's gone in the exact opposite direction and has reduced its collection by almost that same amount.

There are probably stories there, or maybe reminders about anchoring fallacies, or bad assumptions that the two libraries were both appropriately sized in 2006.  Or it could be a definitional one, although IPEDS makes it pretty clear what a "book" is.  It may be a shift to electronic media; or it could be that they're acquiring the same number of books, but UIUC is disposing of older books more rapidly.

What I don't know about running a library would fill a library.  So, as always, don't make any rash decisions about your university based on what you see here.  Higher Ed Data Stories is for fun and entertainment only.

Dig in, click around, and enjoy.  And as always, let me know what you come up with.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you think you're going back to the SAT and ACT?

Now that almost every university in the nation has gone test-optional for the 2021 cycle out of necessity, a nagging question remains: How many will go back to requiring tests as soon as it's possible?  No one knows, but some of the announcements some colleges made sounded like the kid who only ate his green beans to get his screen time: They did it, but they sure were not happy about it.  So we have some suspicions about the usual suspects. I don't object to colleges requiring tests, of course, even though I think they're not very helpful, intrinsically biased against certain groups, and a tool of the vain.  You be you, though, and don't let me stop you. However, there is a wild card in all of this: The recent court ruling prohibiting the University of California system from even using--let alone requiring--the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions next fall.  If you remember, the Cal State system had already decided to go test blind, and of course community colleges in

Baccalaureate origins of doctoral recipients

Here's a little data for you: 61 years of it, to be precise.  The National Science Foundation publishes its data on US doctoral recipients sliced a variety of ways, including some non-restricted public use files that are aggregated at a high level to protect privacy. The interface is a little quirky, and if you're doing large sets, you need to break it into pieces (this was three extracts of about 20 years each), but it may be worth your time to dive in. I merged the data set with my mega table of IPEDS data, which allows you to look at institutions on a more granular level:  It's not surprising to find that University of Washington graduates have earned more degrees than graduates of Whitman College, for instance.  So, you can filter the data by Carnegie type, region or state, or control, for instance; or you can look at all 61 years, or any range of years between 1958 and 2018 and combine it with broad or specific academic fields using the controls. High school and indep

2018 Admissions Data

This is always a popular post, it seems, and I've had a couple of people already ask when it was going to be out.  Wait no more. This is IPEDS 2018 admissions data, visualized for you in two different ways.  You can switch using the tabs across the top. The first view is the universe of colleges and universities that report data; not every college is required to, and a few leave data out, and test optional colleges are not supposed to report test scores.  But IPEDS is not perfect, so if you find any problems, contact the college. On the first view, you'll see 1,359 four-year private and public, not-for-profit institutions displayed.  In order to make this as clean as possible, I've taken out some specialty schools (nursing, business, engineering, etc.) as many of those don't have complete data.  But you can put them back in using the filter at top right. Hover over any bar, and a little chart pops up showing undergraduate enrollment by ethnicity. You can also