Library statistics manifesto*

“Libraries and information services serve society by preserving memory, feeding development, enabling education & research, and supporting international understanding & community well being.” (Alex Byrne 2005)

The official version of the manifesto is now (Aug 3, 2010) available on the IFLA web site.

Library statistics: data can make a difference

Quantitative and qualitative data about library services, library use and library users are essential for revealing and confirming the outstanding value that libraries provide. Library statistics are necessary for the effective management of libraries and for targeting resources to the needs of the clientele. They are still more important for the promotion of library services to different types of stakeholders.

The potential audience for library statistics is wide: policy makers and funders, library managers and staff, actual and potential users, the media and the general public. Where statistics are aimed at policy makers, managers and funders, they are essential for decisions on levels of service and future strategic planning. They are also important in generating
confidence in libraries to deliver good value for money and services well taken up by their users.

Library statistics can reveal a wealth of material, of hidden success stories where libraries have opened and ensured access to relevant information for all groups of the population.

What library statistics show

By measuring the input into libraries (resources including buildings and equipment, staff and collections), library statistics show the engagement of politics and authorities for library services.

By counting the output, the usage of traditional and new electronic library collections and services, libraries show that their services are adequate and interesting to the respective population. Comparing input and output data demonstrates whether libraries are organising their services in a cost-effective way. Statistics demonstrate which services are most heavily used, and whether there is a need to enlarge or change services. They provide evidence of trends and developments, e. g. by showing the speed with which new services are taken up. Data about the use and acceptance of library services can also indicate the outcome of libraries on the population. Such outcome (on literacy, information seeking skills, educational success or social inclusion) will be more visible where qualitative data from user surveys are added to statistical results.

Libraries have assumed new responsibilities in a changing information world; they need new statistics for managing and promoting these new tasks.

Quality of library statistics

Correct, reliable and comparable data are crucial for the value and usefulness of library statistics. The prerequisites for high quality statistics involve consistency in definitions and data collection procedures as well as completeness and timeliness of the compilation. The quality of national – and finally from them international – library statistics depends on accurate and timely delivery by each library and on careful editing to detect errors and misunderstandings. To make results comparable between regions or countries, the same definitions and methods must be used.

Libraries are not all under the same authority. Most of them serve specified institutions (universities, commercial firms) or communities. Other institutions may be responsible for the mission, functioning, or legal regulation of libraries in their domain. Therefore various institutions and organisations with differing objectives may feel responsible for collecting data about the libraries within their authority. Associations of libraries and librarians have also taken up the task and have collected statistics for public and/or academic libraries. The collection of library data will always start in the individual library, but the aim should be a compilation of the data on the regional and national level. For this purpose, libraries should collaborate to form regional/national networks for library statistics in order to ensure that a national library system is running effectively

The model questionnaire

Given this variety in responsibilities for library statistics, it is all the more crucial that a uniform questionnaire with standardised data and methods be used. Comparison of statistical results between institutions or countries will never be possible, if the data and the data collection methods have not been defined and fixed carefully.

Therefore, a model questionnaire for public and academic libraries has been developed in a joint project of IFLA and UNESCO, based on international standardisation within ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. Out of the standard ISO 2789 “International library statistics” those statistical elements have been chosen that best promise to reflect the role and activities of present-day libraries. The questionnaire has been limited to 23 questions in order to facilitate universal application, but considers both traditional and electronic library services. Trials in Latin America and the Caribbean have proved the feasibility of utilising the model questionnaire for collecting library statistics on a comparable basis.

The model library statistics reveal input and output of libraries and show the library’s role as access point to information, as meeting and communication centre, as place for learning and research. More information can be gained if the results of the questionnaire are set in relation to socio-demographic data collected by UNESCO and other international agencies, e. g. the state of literacy, education and Internet access in a country. Such combinations can help to identify and promote the libraries’ role for literacy and information literacy, education and culture.

Funding, legislation and networks

Governments and other relevant decision-making bodies are encouraged to establish and adequately fund central units for the compilation of national library statistics on the basis of the model questionnaire and to support local and regional bodies in collecting them. As the informative value of such statistics depends on their comprehensiveness and speed, the participation of all libraries in the country will be necessary. In order to achieve reliable data, teaching modules for library statistics should be developed in international cooperation. The ultimate aim must be on the one side to have individual libraries using statistics for effective management, on the other side to compile and coordinate library data on a national and finally international scale in order to visualise libraries’ contribution to learning and literacy and to social, cultural and economic development.

Implementing the Manifesto

The international community should support libraries and information services in collecting and comparing uniform reliable statistics of their resources and services and thus promoting and supporting the role of libraries for literacy and information literacy, education and culture. Decision makers at all levels and the library community around the world are hereby requested to disseminate this Manifesto and to carry out the principles and actions expressed herein.

IFLA and UNESCO stand ready to support the development of systems for national library statistics to ensure that libraries are run effectively and that libraries’ contributions to the knowledge society are recognised.


The text was approved by The IFLA Governing Board in May 2010.

Source – see Publications associated with the S & E Section


8 Responses to “Library statistics manifesto*”

  1. Practicum: Translating GLOSSA Blog « Ravefu Blog. English Version. Says:

    […] Library statistics manifesto […]

  2. PL 30/10: Lecture notes on CTT « Plinius Says:

    […] Manifesto […]

  3. Anonymous Says:

    This is great! 🙂 I have been trying to find different methods of measuring “standard” of library size and its serving population. Would you have some data or research on the “optimal” serving population for the libraries in different countries? I am researching current condition of the public libraries in Seoul and would like to compare it to the other peer cities. I would greatly appreciate it!

  4. plinius Says:

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    Sincerely yours

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