Thursday, December 31, 2009

PL 72/09: Statistics for library advocacy

Filed under: IFLA, statistics — plinius @ 3:01 pm

To contribute fully to social change and development, libraries must be heard by publics and decision-makers outside the library sector.

IFLA has asked the Statistics and Evaluation Section to develop a one-day course on statistics for advocacy, and I have just proposed a paper on this project – for the IFLA 2010 session Making It Count: Social Science Data Literacy as an Information Fluency convened by Social Science Libraries Section & Information Literacy Section

Statistics for library advocacy

To contribute fully to social change and development, libraries must be heard by publics and decision-makers outside the library sector.

This implies that library associations must master positive, practical and political advocacy. In 2009 IFLA initiated a three year program to train library associations in advocacy. A series of training modules on different aspects of advocacy are now being prepared. IFLA has asked the Statistics and Evaluation Section to design a one day training module on Statistics for Advocacy. The Section established a working group chaired by Tord Høivik (Norway) to develop this module, which will be piloted in Poland in May and in Sweden (Gothenburg) in August.

The paper will present the pedagogical thinking behind the design, testing and full-scale implementation of this course. Some of the main issues are: the topics introduced must be relevant to the daily life of libraries; an intuitive understanding of statistical concepts is more important than definitions and computations; creating convincing presentations on the basis of statistics is a skill in itself; courses must be conducted in the main local language, cases and methods must be adapted to local realities since the quality, the quantity and the actual use of library statistics vary tremendously from country to country.

When we work with statistics about libraries, we will often need statistics from other fields. Population data are needed to calculate some of  the most basic library indicators – for instance loans and visits per capita. Statistics about literacy and reading, health and education,  infrastructure and culture can be used to show the need for – and the impact of – library services,  based on comparisons or time series. Library associations that want to use statistics for advocacy must therefore spend time to get acquainted with the relevant official statistics – outside the library sector – in their own countries.

The whole advocacy program will also require a supportive environment, based on a long-term commitment from library associations and relevant public bodies.

Tord Høivik

The author draws on his experience as a researcher in library statistics, as a designer of training courses in statistics for librarians and as a teacher of practical statistics in several countries (Norway, Mexico, Tanzania) for many years.


  • The Statistics for Advocacy work is documented at the GLOSSA blog.
  • Hal Varian on how the Web challenges managers
    • I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians.
    • The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, …
    • Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data.
    • So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.



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