Monday, June 23, 2008

We Love to Count!

On the latest episode of one of my favorite library podcasts, "George & Joan, Thinking Out Loud" (by InfoPeople), they talked about library statistics: what we track, and why. Along with their guest, Jennifer Baker of the Saint Helena Public Library, they brought up some really interesting thoughts on metrics, cooperation vs. competition amongst libraries, and about what we are really trying to accomplish with all this counting. What always amazes me about their broadcasts, is how much information they manage to cram into 20-25 minutes.

Some of the highlights for me:

  • If something is easy to count (i.e. door counts, number of library cards) we make it important, but if it's harder to quantify (i.e. patterns of use, depth of collection use) we ignore it or de-emphasize it.
  • What if we quantified reference service by repeat business; asking, "Would you go back to that librarian for help?", rather than, "Did you like the answer(s) I gave to your question(s)?" ? If reference were treated as an "expert consulting service" with librarians responsible for the accounts of patrons who selected them as their chosen reference expert, would it be a better measure of the service we provide?
  • Rather than the sense of competition that tracking statistics often engenders between library systems, we should be looking for more opportunities to share the information we've got.
  • Instead of trying to impress other librarians, we should be more concerned with connecting to the community and seeking external measures of our performance.
  • What is the real measure of success for a library?

As our library continues its strategic planning process, I wonder how our metrics will play out. Will we settle for measuring the easy things we are comfortable with already? Or can we be creative enough to find new ways to quantify what we do, and how well we do it?

What do you think we should be counting or tracking?

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