Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Library Statistics: Part 1

Libraries are great collectors of information about various aspects of their work - though most of the measures are more quantitative than qualitative.  That is, we measure lots about how busy we are, but not too much about the impact we are having.  But some quantitative measures can obliquely point towards qualitative outcomes.  For example, if the library starts running a well designed after school homework club, and the attendance of high school students increases by a consistent 30+ people a day then it could be inferred that the program was relevant and successful.  So quantitative numbers can point to a qualitative outcome.

I was fortunate to recently attend the 80th annual IFLA conference in Lyon France where progress on the development of qualitative library performance indicators was discussed.  This session was one of the more popular on the program, proving that there is a real hunger for such information in our profession.  The workshop style for this session was really vigorous with library managers very keen to gather as much information as possible & also volunteer to contribute to further studies.

In the absence of good qualitative measures we need to content ourselves with qualitative measures, and try to use comparisons with other libraries to assists us in any assessment of our library's performance.

South Australia collects quite a few statistics from all libraries, some of which are aggregated as part of our national reporting obligations and some are used for other purposes.  The most recent National and State Libraries of Australasia (NSLA) public library statistics are from 2011/12 and are available here.  I am told that the 12/13 statistics are about to be published. I will provide a pointer to the 12/13 statistics as soon as they are available.

Interestingly ALIA has released some national public library Standards and Guidelines for Australian Public Libraries. I believe that these standards and guidelines are a good starting point to look at library performance, however they are more focused on library activity than effectiveness.  Having said this, they are a useful starting point to compare the performance of our library network against national benchmarking targets.

PLS has been comparing our overall network performance against the ALIA benchmarks, with interesting results.  I intend to publish overall network performance in the next few posts.  However there are two riders to these results:
  1. It is very clear that some of our libraries have not been able to provide accurate statistical information.  Therefore this skews the averages for our network.  I will say more about this in future posts.
  2. Averages hide a really significant diversity within our network. So each library will need to dig deeper to look at it's individual performance as compared to the average.
Below are the first couple of comparisons between the SA Public Library Network (SAPLN) and the ALIA targets.  I should note that these ALIA targets have both a "baseline" and "enhanced" standard.  This is an attempt to provide more than a single prescriptive measure of success.  It is instructive that the term used is "target" - i.e. something to aim at as a minimum.  It would be fair to say that the Baseline target is just that - i.e. a minimum standard. I would be concerned if libraries or their funders aimed to be at the baseline target for their library performance.

It is fair to say that SA public libraries on average are comparatively well funded.   However, as someone once said to me "comparing yourself to the bottom of the barrel, even if you're above that level is not a good place to be."  I can say that the diversity within the SAPLN is considerable, so this statistic is interesting, but each library needs to look at its own PLS statistical return document on Bibliostat to see where it stands against this measure.

While this graph shows that SAPLN is 2% above the "Enhanced target" it should be noted that the One Card project has provided us with the most accurate information about customers who hold multiple library cards.  There is evidence that some library users have up to 6 active library cards.  The total estimate of duplicate library cards is in the vicinity of 10+% of library users.  So as we move towards a truly One Card outcome it will obviously lead to more accurate information, which is likely to see the SAPLN figures being below the ALIA Baseline target.

There are nine other ALIA targets which I will be reporting on in coming days.  I should note that while these first 2 standards show our network s being above the ALIA Enhanced targets this is not a consistent outcome for all of our libraries.  Also, we are below even the baseline target for some measures I will report on soon.

At the end of reporting these statistics I would like to make a few observations and "educated guesses" as to why our Network's figures are what they are.  I will be interested in comments and observations from members of the network.  As is always true the statistics are interesting, but they only provide us with a starting point to ask a series of questions and to undertake further research.

1 comment:

  1. Harriet Winchester9 October 2014 at 11:48

    Hi Geoff,

    Did they speak about BIX (Bibliotheksindex), a project of the German Library Association, whereby public and academic libraries have the opportunity to compare themselves annually?

    They have most of the libraries in Germany particpating, along with several other libraries from nearby countries, such as France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. I think if South Australian libraries wanted to participate in BIX we would probably also be welcome. This year's BIX had 280 libraries participate.

    Here's a link, if you're interested: