Gather ye data while ye may

Many of the tasks librarians do are now becoming better-known outside the profession:  reader services (managing lending and dealing with enquiries), technical services (cataloguing), making decisions about purchases and deselection, teaching information literacy, administering budgets, working on policies, marketing the library and its collections and services…

However, gathering data is a really important part of running a library, and I would like to give it some attention today.

Collecting information about how a library service works is important in order to evaluate its effectiveness and inform its future direction.  Much of this information is captured in numerical form.

At the moment, I am creating data snapshots of the following:

  1. How fast returned books are re-shelved.  Measuring how many books library staff can re-shelve in an hour allows me to plan my team’s time and adapt to busy periods by increasing shelving hours when I know that rates of return will be high (at the end of the academic year, in particular).
  2. Usage of print periodicals: in my library, we take around 40 academic journal titles in print form (as well as online).  By asking library users to return a paper slip each time they use an issue of a print periodical, informed decisions can be made in the next budget year about the cost/benefit of maintaining each print subscription.
  3. Demands of enquiry work on library staff.  In my library, we do not have a reference/enquiry desk, but the library office door is always open and students are encouraged to come and ask us for help.  We also respond to queries via email and phone calls.  The absence of an enquiry desk can give the impression that the library does not handle enquiry work, so keeping a record of the types of enquiries and time spent answering them is useful when compiling a summary of the work done by library staff each year.

Gathering data is a time-consuming activity, so I aim to create data snapshots by measuring certain factors during particular intervals, for example 2 weeks out of a given term.  Although it is difficult to choose typical periods to monitor, and there will always be some confounding factors, I find that it helps the team to focus on the data-gathering projects for short periods rather than having to record data on everything we might measure every day.

For data which can be extracted from the library management system, I do record a variety of statistics throughout the year, for example:

  1. Checkout and checkin stats by membership group and material type – these numbers show how many items of different types (e.g. books; DVDs) are borrowed and returned by different segments of the library user community (e.g. undergraduate students; academics)
  2. My budget! I keep a master spreadsheet of all expenses and a very few incomes relating to the library budget.  Each amount is given a cost code which indicates its sub-budget e.g. Books, Periodicals, Library Materials.  Within the Book cost code, each amount is further broken down by subject area.  All of this information is then included in a pivot table in Microsoft Excel, which I use to see the balance remaining in each cost centre.

One of the things I enjoy most about my work is tidying up a messy collection of information in Excel and producing a clear summary of what it means.

Ned, I take your point that by only measuring what is happening in our physical library spaces, we are not taking account of changing behaviour and increasing use of libraries’ online facilities.   However, the role of my library as a physical space is still its most important aspect, so I’m starting with that for now.


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Library careers: routes in and what does this type of work actually involve? « Laura's Dark Archive

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