ST 28/10: Canadians and statistics

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The Canadian Library Association has been giving advocacy training for many years.

The handbook – Library advocacy now! looks useful, but it underestimates the role of meaningful statistics. The book quotes Curry (1992):

  • “Stories have an incredible power to distill human experience.

  • Librarians most commonly present their work in the form of statistics that show variables such as the number of volumes in the library, circulation per capita, reference questions answered (completed), programs given.
  • In an age where public funds are limited and governments increasingly find it necessary to lay off staff, statistics such as those most commonly used send a weak message about the centrality of library services to the viability of the community and no message at all about what librarians are able to do and how they can help assure a citizen’s right to know.”
    • [Curry, Elizabeth, “Your Right to Know: Librarians Make it Happen”, Conference within a Conference, American Library Association, 1992].

Today, statistics are much more in demand. But the statistics most librarians are comfortable with

  • the number of volumes in the library
  • circulation per capita
  • reference questions answered (completed),
  • programs given

are far too general and abstract to make an impact, I believe. The handbook says:

  • Use statistics sparingly. A few well-chosen numbers can validate your argument. Too many can overwhelm. Tell a story.

Choosing numbers well is an art – and we need to develop this art in order to be heard. Today’s decision-makers are not swayed by stories alone. If they were, journalists would rule the world.

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