Sunday, June 6, 2010

PL 19/10: Statistics as evidence

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 1:00 pm

Reliable library statistics is the main basis for evidence-based librarianship.

A set of notes for NORINFOLIT in Finland.

Evidence-based means the systematic and critical use of all relevant empirical information in order to make practical decisions.

The term comes from medicine. In medicine, evidence usually refers to medical research. In librarianship, research is much less developed. Our main source of empirical data at the moment is official and administrative statistics.

Evidence-based librarianship 101Basic concepts – from the EBLIP journal.

Library statistics

As professionals we want our data to speak to us. For many years, however, existing library statistics have been poorly utilized. The knowledge potential of the data was not realized.

To release this potential, 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. statistical data must be made freely available in convenient digital formats
  3. the library community must integrate statistical reasoning into their own daily practice

Statistical production is carried out by statistical agencies. One of their tasks ought to be the systematic mapping of library landscapes for comparative purposes.

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 by systematic studies of particular libraries in the context of other libraries.

Case One: Vestfold University College

Case Two: KOSTRA

KOSTRA is an innovative data collection programme run by Statistics Norway, which is the English name of our Central Bureau of Statistics. In the paper How to win friends and influence decisions we show – step by step – how such a mapping can be carried out with the KOSTRA system.

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

All KOSTRA data are published in an open data base. The 2006 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, with more than 200 variables, collected by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority.
  • At the moment only the KOSTRA variables are available for further digital processing.
  • This will change in the near future, however. All public library statistics will soon be published as spreadsheets.

Some regional libraries – like Buskerud  – have actually started to publish the full data sets without waiting for the national system.

KOSTRA is not a library system, but a general system for public sector management. The seventeen KOSTRA variables allow us to develop many indicators that reflect different aspects of library activities, however.

Knowledge production

Statistics is knowledge rather than numbers. Those who work with statistics are engaged in 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 routine tasks much lighter than before, however.

Case Three: CTT

Librarians have, in general, very little systematic information about activities inside their libraries.

Count The Traffic (CTT) is a cheap and simple method to gather such data. It gives a good numerical picture of how library users actually use the various parts of the library.  CTT reveals both the quality  – or the kinds of activity – and the quantity of use. Combined with data on the number of visitors it will also indicate the average length of stay.

CTT is based on regular walks through the public areas of the library, normally once an hour, during one or two weekly cycles.  The actual observation days – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, aso.  – should preferably be distributed over several weeks. Data gathering and analysis can be carried out by the library’s own staff rather than by  hired observers and consultants.

To carry out a CTT, you need:

  • A floor plan covering all the public areas of the library
    • The plan should be divided into functional zones: reception area, newspaper section, children’s books, etc.
  • A list of activities to be observed
    • We recommend using (or adapting) the standardized CTT list
  • A time plan, with dates and times for all observation rounds (”sweeps”)

During their second-year internship periods, our library students carry out small projects in the libraries to which they are assigned. During the last three years students have collected CTT data from about seventy-five Norwegian libraries. The traffic counts are documented in brief reports (10-15 pages) that are not published. In order to safeguard the data I have started to make statistical summaries of the reports.

The CTT approach is known as seating sweeps in the English-speaking world. In Norwegian we have called it TTT – from the expression Tverrgående TrafikkTelling (transversal traffic counting). Its systematic use seems to have been initiated by two Canadian researchers, Lisa Given and Gloria Leckie, who used the method to study user behavior in the Toronto Reference Library and the Vancouver Public Library in 1999.


  • 1530-1600. CTT – an example of evidence-based ibrary practice (lecture)
  • 1600-1630. Practical observation training (small groups)
  • 1630-1715. Plenary discussion
    • Will includes a brief presentation of CTT in the Oslo University College Learning Centre.
  • 1715-1730. Would this (or other kinds of  statistics) be useful in my own library? Why? How? (blog session)


Traffic studies

Data sets


Conference papers




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