Many countries do not yet collect public library statistics. Other countries provide only scattered numbers. In such situations, advocacy depends on the development of national systems for collecting, processing and publishing the data. Library associations can encourage and support such efforts. But developing and maintaining large systems must normally be left to the government.
Fortunately there is an alternative to national library statistics. Single libraries need not wait for national systems. If they are eager to use statistical data for management and advocacy, they can develop their own statistical systems.
I believe that local efforts will help development at the national level as well. Libraries that establish local systems may well function as test-beds for future national systems. The librarians involved will gain expertise in operating small statistical systems. They will learn how to argue with statistics in their local communities. At the same time they will learn how to use systematic data from their services to manage their libraries.
Such a pool of expertise will be very useful when countries decide to set up national systems.
I believe in a gradual approach to statistical development. Start small – not big. Look at what you are doing already – and go on from there.
I say this from experience. I have worked with many types of social and economic statistics – in many different countries – for more years than I care to remember. I have seen some successes – and many failures.
It is surprisingly hard to design statistical systems that work well. But mistakes and failures are not a problem if organizations are ready to learn from them.
Governments tend to believe that statistics can be created by administrative decisions. That is not the case. The government can to some extent force libraries – or schools or businesses – to provide data about their activities. But they cannot force libraries to apply statistics in their daily work. Librarians will only employ statistics actively if they believe in their value.
Producing reliable data is hard work. If library statistics are only used for administrative control from above, libraries suffer. They must do a lot of work collecting and reporting data, but get very little back in terms of interesting analyzes and effective arguments. So why bother?
Conflicts of interest between data producers (libraries) and data collectors (government) slows down statistical development. Statistics are created to be useful. But they will only be employed by the people that produce them if they suit the actual needs of libraries.
Wise governments collaborate with libraries. Wise libraries collaborate with governments – and with each other. Wise institutions consider their experiences- and learn from their mistakes.