"New Busy-ness" Measure Is Not Meant to "Compare" Branch Performance But to Assess "Reach" of Library Services into Neighborhood, Says BPL's Spokeswoman Gina Perelli

A recent measure by BPL administrators to redefine what makes a branch "busy," the so-called "new Busy," is not meant to compare branch libraries competitively, according to Gina Perelli, the library's communications director. Perelli also said that the measure was "proposed" and "still looking for input" from library staff. "The idea is to capture the reach of library services into a community," she said, "to look at how many contacts the staff has with patrons as opposed to just the figure for ciculation." The "new Busy" calculation, published late February in the internal BPL Weekly, did not include a request for comment from library staff, and listed the three branches with the highest numbers consecutively. They were West End, West Roxbury and Mattapan. A BPL's branch's circulation was one of the measures used in 2010 to determine which libraries should be closed and which remain open. The "saved" libraries, which tended to be larger, would have more resources and be open more hours. However, a number of to-be-closed libraries, while small, were convenient for users' access while larger ones were hard to reach by public transportation, or because patrons were elderly, handicapped, or too young to walk longer distances. Testimony during the library-closing hearings in 2010 suggested that patrons of East Boston's Orient Height branch, for example, one of the four on the closing list, would have had to traverse the tunnel to get to the next closest library in East Boston.

The "new Busy" calculation adds to each branch's circulation figure the number for visitors, programs and computer sessions. However, it doesn't take into account the number of hours a library is open, or the number of computers available for computer sessions. Had this number been adjusted for hours open, in a "new new Busy" configuration, the three "top-performing" branches would have been West End, Jamaica Plain and Mattapan. BPL's Perelli acknowledged the flaw during a phone conversation and pointed out that the definition of a program was not set either. "Circulation also depends on how large a collection is," she added, agreeing that there might still be "a lack in uniformity" in the numbers used to assess  either a branch's reach or its comparative popularity.

"We are still reframing ourselves as a result of the Compass hearings," said Perelli, referring to last year's numerous meetings to produce the BPL's long-term Compass Strategic Plan. "It is still an internal adjustment, informed by Compass to look more broadly at the community."