IFLA recently set up a new Committee on Standards.
That is an important step forward. In library statistics, my own field of interest, most of the work on standards goes on behind closed doors, in ISO committees. This makes it hard
- for other specialists to participate in the technical discussions statistical standards need
- for librarians in general to learn from the scholarly debate
IFLA’s interest will make these processes more transparent.
The committee made a call for papers for the IFLA conference in Singapore. Five papers were selected, including my own proposal. I look forward to present it. Its full title is:
Improving practices. Statistical standards in global libraries
Standards are recommendations. Library standards are recommended ways of working in libraries. Standards often differ from practices, or the ways libraries actually work. This is not a problem in itself. The purpose of standards is not to describe, but to improve practices. But standards have no value in themselves. Standards are only interesting if they change the way librarians actually do their work.
A major new study of social classes in the UK has proposed seven groups:
- Elite – this is the most privileged group in the UK. They are set apart from the other six classes, especially because of their wealth, and they have the highest levels of all three capitals.
- Established middle class – this is the second wealthiest class group and it scores highly on all three capitals. It is the largest and highly gregarious class group and scores second highest for cultural capital.
- Technical middle class – this is a small, distinctive new class group that is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. It is distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy.
- New affluent workers – this young class group is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital.
- Traditional working class – this class scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have a reasonably high house values, which is explained by this group having the oldest average age (66 years).
- Emergent service workers – this new, young, urban group is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital.
- Precariat (The precarious proletariat) – this is the poorest, most deprived class and scores low for social and cultural capital.
Bourdieu must be smiling from his cloud.
African libraries need statistics to plan their work and to promote their standing.
Picture: group work at the 2012 LATINA training course, at Makerere University Library.
This year The International Association of Academic and Technical Libraries meets in Cape Town. The convener, Elisha Chiware, is the Director of Cape Peninsula University of Technology Libraries. After the main IATUL conference (April 14-18) there will be a workshop on library statistics to
- encourage the collection of statistics for benchmarking,
- improve the collection of statistics in African libraries,
- develop a basis for regional cooperation and activity
- and to create an awareness of the various options available
Elisha was also the regional expert from Africa when IFLA developed guidelines for the Statistics for Advocacy training course, at a workshop in the Hague in late 2009.
John Regazzi has studied recent changes in the US academic library sector.
There are three main trends:
- a major increase in expenditure on digital publications – as one would expect
- a substantial increase in funding – which is quite surprising given the frequent complaints from the librarians
- a steady decline in the use of the physical library
Big and small
If we distinguish between various types of libraries, we find that
- large public and private doctoral institutions are growing
- small and medium-sized academic libraries fall behind.
I take it for granted that international standards should be more than suggestions and proposals. They should express and codify best practices in their subject areas.
If the standards are not based on existing professional practice, but represent a call for innovation, their effect ought to be monitored. Standards that are recommended to – but not applied by – the library community represent a problem that the designers need to address.
This means that I am concerned about the gap between proposals and practices in the field of library indicators. At the Statistics and Evaluation Satellite meeting in Turku this August, I presented a paper documenting this gap, with Norway as an example.
- Picture: Turku organizers with friends from Moomin Island
In this post I show, with a small example, that ISO standards may face similar problems.
Proposing change is easy. Making change is hard.
Next week is IFLA time. My trip to Finland starts with the satellite conference in Turku on August 8-9 (Wed-Thu):
For about ten years I have spent fair amount of time looking at the design and use of performance indicators in libraries. I have been struck by the imbalance between the number of indicator proposals, on the one hand, and actual indicator practices, on the other.
Many administrators and library researchers, as well as a few practising librarians are eager to develop new indicators. They establish committees, conduct long discussions and write ambitious and well-meant plans. Their proposals may be discussed by the library community. But they are very seldom implemented.
In Norway, during the last seven or eight years, we have tried hard to develop a greater interest in library statistics.
This has not been easy. In the middle of the decade we conducted a few statistics courses for librarians, but had to struggle to recruit participants. The librarians in the public sector preferred more cultual topics, such as presentations of the latest books. Only now, after half a decade of hard work, have we seen a change, both at the official and the practical level.
The official recognition of indicators as an important field is new. The most recent White Paper on libraries (2006) states:
- An important task ahead will be to strengthen statistical and analytical work. This also includes following and conveying what is happening internationally. Various indicators of what constitutes good service performance both in the archive, library and museum sectors will be developed. These indicators – and specialised studies – should be used to generate up-to-date reports on the archive, library and museum fields [my translation]
In the previous blog posts I have shown that the supply of indicators outstrips the demand.
The libraries in higher education have shown some interest in indicator development. Bergen University Library has actually tried to calculate all twenty-four indicators proposed in ABM24. But it took more than a decade to get this far. Earlier proposals for the academic sector did not lead to structured data collection, analysis, discussion and decision making.
The public library sector does not relate to the recommendations at all. The libraries present the data they like, mostly in the form of statistical variables, and express no desire for a national indicator system. This is true even if the actual values have been published (ABM9) or are available in an open database (KOSTRA13). The latest proposal – ABM30 – which recommends thirty indicators and quite a bit of work, will hardly improve the situation. The librarians in the field do not see the point of the exercise.
The customers are missing from the restaurant.
Which indicators do academic libraries use when they present their activities on the web?
In their annual reports, Oslo University Library includes a series of tables and diagrams. These must be the result of deliberate choice. They are the statistics that the library have selected in order to present itself to the world.
The annual report for 2011 contains the following statistical components.
- Number of participants
- Number of teaching hours
- Number of courses
for the last six years (2006-2011). Graph of absolute numbers. No indicators