Sunday, February 1, 2009

PS 1/09: How to win friends

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 1:02 pm

kittwakesThis year the Northumbria conference is held in Florence, just before IFLA in Milan. I have sent in two proposals – intended as alternatives. Here is the first one.

Kittiwakes from Northumbria.

The full title is

How to win friends and influence decisions. A statistical framework for analysing public libraries


Statistics is a form of knowledge production. Tables and diagrams are the results of production processes. Collecting, processing and presenting statistical data demand hard work as well as technical and statistical competence. The introduction of computers and web-based systems makes many of the specific tasks much easier than before, however.

Statistical production is carried out by statistical agencies. One of their tasks ought to be the systematic mapping of library landscapes for comparative purposes. KOSTRA is a unique and very innovative data collection programme run by Statistics Norway. In this paper, we demonstrate how such a mapping can be carried out with data from the KOSTRA system.

Design and methodology

The 2007 revision of KOSTRA includes seventeen variables that describe the public library sector. The KOSTRA variables were selected by Statistics Norway from a much larger data set collected by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. At the moment only the KOSTRA variables are available for further processing in a convenient digital format, however.

In the paper we use these seventeen variables to develop two sets of indicators. The first set, consisting of six indicators, is aimed at managers and politicians outside the library sector. The six indicators comprise

A. Three indicators of output:

* visits per capita
* loans per capita
* level of activity, defined as the sum of visits and loans per capita

B. Two indicators of input

* staff per 10.000 inhabitants
* operational costs, defined as the sum of media and salary expenses per capita

C. One indicator of productivity

* level of productivity, defined as the ratio between the level of activity and the operational costs

The second set, which comprises twenty indicators, is intended for library managers and other people interested in the operational details of library management.


A new generation of statistical systems is creating much better possibilities of documenting and understanding what is happening in the library sector. The old “comparisons with last year” can be replaced with systematic studies of particular libraries in the context of other libraries. We show, with concrete examples, how the twenty-six indicator values for any particular library – the library profile:

1. may be compared or ranked relative to all other libraries (of similar size)
2. may be used for benchmarking or pairwise comparisons

The corresponding data sets, with processed information from all 430 Norwegian public libraries, will be published as spreadsheets on Google Docs.

Research limitations

Our data are limited in time and content. The substantial revision of the KOSTRA indicators undertaken in 2007 means that we can only calculate detailed time series from 2007 onwards. The fact that variables are selected from the wider range collected by the Authority means that several interesting indicators are not included. The map we provide gives only a partial view of the landscape.

Practical implications

We want our data to speak to us. At the moment, public library statistics remain less than fully utilized. The full knowledge potential of the data is not realized. To realize this potential, at least three conditions must be fulfilled:

1. statistical agencies must collaborate with the library community in developing and refining concepts, indicators and data collection methods
2. all statistical data must be made freely available in convenient digital formats
3. the library community must integrate statistical reasoning into their own daily practice

The paper is intended as an invitation to systematic statistical reasoning based on existing data. To next step is up to the libraries themselves.


The approach is practical and empirical. KOSTRA provides standardized data on all public services, in all Norwegian municipalities, on an annual basis. The purpose of KOSTRA is to create comparative data for benchmarking, policy making and public sector research.

We start, that is, with an existing data set of high quality and ask: how can we extract as much practical and relevant information as possible from this particular set. We show how individual libraries can find their own location within the totality of information. To encourage actual use by operational libraries we emphasize convenient, low-cost methods combined with extensive sharing of data.


This post was originally labelled PL 14/09 = Plinius posting no. 14 in 2009. I have relabelled it as PS 1/09, which stands for Plinius on Sunday no. 1 2009.

The intention  is

  1. to write at least every Sunday
  2. to use Sundays for longer or more substantial posts – which I already do on the Norwegian version of Plinius


  1. The draft paper was published on the web on July 15.

    Comment by plinius — Wednesday, July 15, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

  2. […] 1/09.  How to win friends. Proposed paper on statistical indicators for Northumbria 8. See Florence 2009 for full […]

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

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