ST 30/10: The future of library statistics

by

The Statistics and Evaluation Section works to promote the collection and use of statistics

  • in the successful management and operation of libraries
  • in the demonstration of the value of libraries outside the profession

These goals – we state – require

  • definition, standardization, collection, analysis, interpretation, publication and use of statistical data

Public and academic

With regard to statistics, there are substantial differences between the academic and the public library sector. Libraries are service organizations. To understand libraries, we have to understand the environments they serve.

Academic libraries belong to professional organizations. Universities and colleges are – by their very nature – specialized, knowledge intensive institutions. Their libraries are shaped by the academic context.

Public libraries are much more local in nature. They range from large and professional metropolitan organizations to poorly equipped libraries in provincial towns and distant villages. Academic and special libraries tend to reflect the standards of their mother organizations. Public libraries reflect the economic, social and cultural situation of their communities. To understand public library statistics, we have to understand the communities in which they work.

Definitions and standards

I think it is fair to say that international work in the field of public library statistics has tended to concentrate on definitions, standards and general methods. These topics are relatively independent of the social context.  But we cannot study the

  • collection
  • analysis
  • ïnterpretation
  • publication
  • and actual use

of public library statistics without looking at concrete countries and cases. The actual situations we find – going from Germany to China to Mexico to South Africa (say) – are extremely different. In  some countries, there are also great differences between urban and rural areas.

I strongly believe that the field of library needs more professional debate, based on more systematic data collection and wider sharing of statistical information and analyses.By professional I mean peer-based coversations guided by statistical, sociological and economic reasons rather than by ideological, administrative or political arguments.

This is clearly happening in a number of countries. In Europe I could mention Germany (BIX), Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands. There are rich – and sometimes heated – debates in the United States (HALPR; LJ Index). The Global Libraries Program has increased the demand for, and interest in, statistical documentation. Countries like China and Singapore, New Zealand and Canada are exploring relevant professional issues.

But only a few countries combine decent statistical systems with lively professional debate. Statistics based advocacy requires both.

Resources

GLOSSA: indicators

GLOSSA: statistics for single libraries

Plinius

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