Thursday, February 21, 2008

PL 5/08: The high cost of quality

Filed under: IFLA, statistics — Tags: , , — plinius @ 10:33 am

moon.jpgAfter the IFLA conference in Quebec (August 10-14) comes the statistics satellite conference in Montreal (August 18-19).

– Au cours de cette conférence les trois volets suivants doivent être présentés :

  1. les résultats de la nouvelle enquête statistique sur les bibliothèques publiques et universitaires menée par l’UNESCO;
  2. les développements récents en termes de statistiques, d’évaluation de la performance et d’études par étalonnage dans les bibliothèques publiques et universitaires;
  3. quelques initiatives de coopération internationale dans la collecte de statistiques et de l’évaluation des services de bibliothèques

I have proposed a paper on indicator development – based on Norwegian experiences since 2002:

The high cost of quality: Technical and political issues in library indicator development

Statistical systems change slowly.

Norway’s system of library statistics, which was last thoroughly revised around 1980, is clearly outdated. It does not satisfy the current needs of the library community. Librarians started to voice their dissatisfaction around 2002 – and their protests culminated at the biannual library conference (in Trondheim) in March 2006. More than a hundred delegates attended a meeting on statistics that asked for revision and renewal. After a substantial amount of lobbying, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) changed some of their library indicators a few months later, making them more relevant for current decision-making.

This was only a start, however. CBS publishes only a small number of indicators, with an emphasis on public libraries. The CBS gets their basic data from The Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority, which collects a full range of library statistics. All public, school, academic and special libraries report detailed annual data. The Authority publishes an annual report, but not the full data set.

There is an increasing need for data in library evaluation and planning, in library research, and – not least – for library advocacy. At the moment, these needs are only partly satisfied. The Authority started an open-ended revision process in the spring 2007 – and some early results are available. But the whole process moves slowly. Official statistics resist change, for bureaucratic, economic and technical reasons, and the interests of the practitioners must be vigorously promoted to make a real impact.

In this paper we analyze the development of new indicators as a combined technical and political process, with the Norwegian public library sector as a case. We look at the changes that have occurred since 2005 – and their impact on library debates and decision-making till now. We consider the technical and political arguments for new indicators – and identify the forces that hamper their introduction.

Evidence-based thinking, which started in medicine, has started to influence nursing, teaching, social work – and librarianship. The need for balanced, relevant and up-to-date information is increasing. Our current approach to data gathering, processing, presentation and interpretation is rather traditional and mechanical, however. Neither the Authority nor the libraries themselves are accustomed to detailed quantitative analyses of library operations.

The discipline of statistics offer many ways through which data collection could be simplified and data analysis enhanced. The paper – which is based on extensive practical work with the issues, the indicators and the data sets involved – will present several specific proposals which may be included in the next round of revisions. Nearly all of these would be relevant for many other countries and their systems of library statistics.


I already wrote a paper (in Norwegian) covering the first phase (2002-2006) of the change proces – which basically involved the CBS. It was published in the Danish journal of library research. The current, second phase involves broader and deeper change, however.

I cover the issues regularly in my blog Plinius (in Norwegian) – but would like to present them to a wider audience.


1 Comment »

  1. […] 5/08. The high cost of quality. Proposal for IFLA satellite paper on technical and political issues in library indicator […]

    Pingback by P 8/12: News from the North « Plinius — Sunday, March 4, 2012 @ 10:33 am

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