Soap bubbles in Veracruz.
On August 18 and 19 I went to Montreal for a satellite conference on global library statistics. It was – as usual – very good to meet colleagues in a more specialized setting.
The conference was sponsored by the IFLA Statistics and Evaluation Section and organized by the Montreal Public Libraries System and the Concordia University Libraries System.
Claudia Lux was there – and gave a good speech on using statistics for advocacy. I knew she was a sinologist, but now I heard she has a master in sociology and statistics – and substantial experience – as well …
I learnt a lot – and will come back to several of the topics later – but start at the top:
Why global statistics?
The reason, I gradually learned, had to do with the lack of international library statistics. UNESCO had published such data since 1970 – but stopped collecting them in 2000. Their quality was too low for meaningful comparisons. Many countries did not report at all.
IFLA wanted to get the train back on track. The Statistics Section contacted the Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS), which happens to be located in Montreal, and proposed a fresh start.
The outcome was a trial project – with Latin America as a case. UIS carried out a mail survey of Latin American and Caribbean countries – with many of reminders. The data were presented at the conference. The project was lots of hard work – but still gave a meagre harvest of information.
Some countries did not report at all – including Cuba, which has one of the better library networks in the region. Others could only answer a few of the questions. I am also sceptical about some of the data. Mexico reported about ten times as many visits as loans – an “impossibly” high ratio.
My first conclusion is: the library systems of most Latin American countries lack the administrative structures that are required to collect and process local library statistics on a regular basis. In Peru – Juanita Jara de Sumar told us – there are basically no qualified librarians outside Lima – and rather few inside.
My second conclusion is: try alternative routes to knowledge. In Latin America we cannot find comparable, standardized statistics at the national level. This is probably true of the South in general. But we should not give up.
If you can’t be with the one you love – love the one you’re with.
This means to start with the libraries, the people and the more or less rudimentary systems that are available. Study Lima and postpone the rest of Peru. If Trinidad and Tobago only provides data from Trinidad – which was the case – let us love Trinidad first – and snuggle up to Tobago when she is ready.
Below the national level
I would generally try to go below the national level if at all possible. Latin America ranges from. Comparing the library systems of continental giants like Brazil and Mexico with those of Belize (300.000 inh.) or St. Kitts and Nevis (45.000) – just because all are independent nations – may be misleading.
When we study public libraries, we usually group them by size. We may do the same with nations. In the bigger states, it may also be possible to find published data at the next geographical level – province, department, estado. This creates much better possibilities for studying variations (distributions of single varaiables) – and covariations (correlations).
An old interest
As a young researcher I worked for a year in Mexico, teaching statistics and methodology at UNAM (1969/70).
The statistical yearbooks, and other government publications, had quite good statistics at the state level. Now I hope to take a new look at Mexican regional statistics: do they include anything on libraries?
Wikipedia gives the names of the thirty-one states (+ Distrito Federal)
Did you know that Chingo Bling, the Houston-based rapper, comes from Tamaulipas?