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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Nick's project proposal: WI library landscape

For this project I would like to take on the hypothetical role of being a state public library administrator. Particularly after working with the Cartographer Guild’s historical atlas of Wisconsin, I am interested in looking at how access to information is distributed at the state scale. I want to make a map that would help a person in this position decide what public library branch or branches to close given a mandate to drastically decrease state spending on libraries. While I certainly hope this situation does not come to fruition, I think the project will give me an opportunity to think about the many overlapping spatial attributes that constitute the public library landscape in Wisconsin. By first setting up this analysis in a GIS, I will hopefully at the end be able to reach a decision that benefits not only the most number of Wisconsinites, but the best set of Wisconsinites. It is not politically correct to talk about valuing certain people over others, yet these are the decisions that future library professionals will potentially face. By stopping library service at one or more branches, people will be disadvantaged, but by careful geographical analysis the amount by which those who are disadvantaged can be minimized. This questioning engages nicely with what we know about “libraries and location,” although I frequently think of this topic as a way to figure out where to put libraries, not from where to take them away. In this project I do not intend to propose a specific branch or branches to be cut. Rather, I want to be able to spatially narrow the decision to a county so that more detailed, large-scale analysis could proceed with confidence. Although this study is hypothetical, its results could influence the selected county to reconsider what and how it is offerings are being undertaken.

What are the attributes of the library landscape that are important to take into account? In theory knowing every detail about the human and physical landscape of Wisconsin would give us the clearest picture of what to do, but this is of course impossible, so we must generalize. First, I will need to map all of the public libraries and branches using point representations. Next, I will need to consider which human and physical characteristics will give the clearest picture of where to cut a library in order to decrease the disadvantages. Since I am concerned with narrowing the cut to the county scale, these characteristics will be gathered at the county level. One attribute that is important to focus on is age demographics. Assuming a cut library branch will be permanent, it is important to consider high concentrations of youth as areas that will consistently demand library services for years to come. Related to this is the incorporation of population projections. Both of these are available through the online census from 2000. Another important thing to know is the spatial relationship of the libraries to non-public libraries, such as university libraries. A library that does not serve many people, but is the only source of free information for a large area is probably one that should not be cut – raw population numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Mapping university libraries along side the public libraries is one of my goals for this project.

In addition to mapping point locations of public and non-public libraries, and certain demographic characteristics at the county level, I want to consider other political jurisdictions such as the Wisconsin library systems. Knowing where to cut a branch may depend on historical situations that have developed with these political units. The data for the library systems is available through our course web page.

I realize that this project has little if nothing to do with Madison’s central branch dilemma as presented by Barb. I want to offer an idea for a map that echoes what she identified as the main goals of a reconstruction that do not involve aesthetic restructuring, but I don’t want to do it. I understood, as Ben pointed out, that her main points were more computer access and more children’s programming. Perhaps once philanthropists have been identified they could be convinced to give money with a map that shows the existing public outlets for these 2 things in Madison. Specifically I thought of mapping children’s museums as a way to show that maybe for kids there are not that many things to do downtown. Any thoughts?

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