We use maps to navigate at sea, to find restaurants, to illustrate history books, to select routes, to develop zoning plans – and for many, many other purposes.
If the maps are wrong or out of date, however, we get into problems. The restaurant has moved. The bridge is closed for repairs. The lake has turned into a swamp.
The quality of the map depends on the quality and the date of the mapping – and on the way the data are presented. To be useful, maps must be both correct and readable.
The same applies to statistics. Statistics are systematic quantitative data about (some part of) the world.
Demand for statistics
Everybody knows that producing good maps is hard work. The same is true of statistics. But governments have been willing to invest heavily in both areas. They need both statistics and maps for decision making, and create technical agencies to undertake the actual production of geographical and statistical data.
Such data can be useful for many purposes. Inside the library sector I would identify three main areas of use:
- statistics for library management
- statistics for library advocacy
- statistics for library research
The division into three areas – management, advocacy and research – is of course relevant in many other fields as well: museums and art galleries, schools and hospitals, sports and tourism.
Let me sum up. Statistics are produced for a purpose. The demand for statistics is shaped by the
- needs of government agencies for planning, evaluation and control of the library system
- needs of managers for planning, evaluation and control of their own operations
- needs of advocates for convincing data about the services and impact of libraries
- needs of researchers for information about libraries as social institutions
Supply of statistics
Statistics are supplied (produced) by
- government information systems at the national and – sometimes – at the regional or local level
- management information systems
- ad hoc projects conducted by
- hired consultants
- library teachers and their students
- library staff
The IFLA Statistics and Evaluation Section is concerned with all aspects of supply and demand. The Statistics for advocacy project is focused on advocacy as a goal. But the way we use actual demand to define the specific need for data is relevant for all areas of use.
Rules, standards, norms and regulations about library statistics may increase the value of statistics by making data comparable. But standards must be intimately related to actual statistical practices. They are only useful if the people that produce library statistics
- accept the recommendations
- carry out comparisons
- learn from the results
Standards are made at meetings. The actual statistics are produced by practicing librarians – on the factory floor, so to speak. Standards are intended to regulate the production.
Many standards require additional work from the operating librarians. Therefore I think it fair that agencies which introduce standards also should demonstrate their practical value using empirical data.