Thursday, July 22, 2010

PL 49/10: Missing links

Filed under: statistics — plinius @ 2:29 pm

Library statistics is a strange field.

I am often struck by the distance between administrators and statistical experts, on the one hand, and library practitioners, on the other. Experts and bureaucrats develop standards, systems and guidelines for library statistics. Most practitioners disregard them.

Forgotten and ignored

In countries with strong statistical systems – like Norway – practitioners are accustomed to report detailed statistics on an annual basis. But neither they nor the authorities above seem very interested in using the information. Vast amounts of data are collected. Parts are presented in the annual yearbooks of archive, library and museum statistics. A few important variables are available through the KOSTRA database. But practical and professional analysis of the empirical information – for political, strategic or academic purposes – is sorely absent.

The gap between systems and practice is most visible in the public library sector.. During the last few years several major efforts have been made to improve public library statistics in Norway:

  1. In 2006 Statistics Norway revised the library indicators included in the KOSTRA system
  2. In 2007-2009 the Directorate made substantial changes in the collection of annual library statistics
  3. In 2009 the Directorate proposed a new set of indicators for public libraries.

So far, none of these projects have made a serious impact on the way libraries actually use statistics.

There is, in other words, a missing link between the well-intentioned proposals from above – and the well-established habits at the grass-roots. Systems and standards live their own lives – forgotten or ignored by the people who are supposed to use them.

Build from below

The main task is not to develop new indicators, but to improve the ones that are actually used. It is relatively easy to sit around a table and propose rules and regulations. It is more difficult to test them out under realistic conditions. It is very hard to integrate them into the current practice of librarians.

The reason is simple. Realistic testing is hard work which requires specific technical skills. Implementation is hard work that requires political and social skills – on top of the technical ones. This problem cannot, I believe, be solved from above.  We must start with the practitioners, not with the researchers and administrators. The missing link must be created from below.

In other words: do not ask

  • how can we get librarians to accept our proposals?

but rather

  • how can we help librarians solve the problems they face?

To illustrate the gap I compare the proposals from KOSTRA with the practice of Bergen Public Library side

KOSTRA indicators

KOSTRA is a data base with rich and detailed information about Norway’s more than four hundred municipalities. It is run by Statistics Norway – our central bureau of statistics – and was set up to provide standardized statistical information for public administration. After a revision in 2006 KOSTRA contains thirteen indicators from the public library sector:

Input indicators

  1. Operating expenditure as a percentage of total municipal expenditure
  2. Operating expenditure per capita
  3. Accessions (all media) per capita
  4. Media and salary expenses per capita
  5. Inhabitants per staff member (FTE)

Output indicators

  1. Library visits per capita
  2. Loans per capita
  3. Book loans per capita
  4. Children’s books: Loans per child 0-13
  5. Adult books: Loans per adult 14+
  6. Loans non-book media per capita

Efficiency indicators

  1. Turnover rate of children’s books
  2. Turnover rate of adult fiction

Bergen indicators

Bergen Public Library is probably the public library that has come furthest in integrating statistics and indicators in their planning.

Their latest annual report online is from 2007.  Only two of the thirteen KOSTRA indicators are mentioned in the report.

  • Library visits per capita (5.24)
  • Loans per capita was (6.05)

Instead, Bergen reports data that are not included in KOSTRA, such as:

  • Loans per staff member (17.886)
  • Net cost per loan (NOK 33,27) [rent not included]
  • Page views  (4.726 thousand)
  • No. of active borrowers (during the last year) (62.237)
  • Cultural and training events (512, with 22.600 participants)

Bergen is running his own race.

Talking and walking

The publisher Emerald (see Appendix) is concerned about the gap between academic research and social practice. I agree with Emerald, but am equally concerned with the widening gap between administrative policy and professional practice. The underlying process is the same.

In industrial economies, academics and bureaucrats are social elites, protected from the demands of ordinary production. Work is for the workers, who constitute a different social and economic class. In knowledge economies, academics and bureaucrats are knowledge workers like everybody else.

The gaps develop when they try to safeguard their old position – outside the system of production. The front-line workers –  social workers, technicians, nurses, teachers and  – must continue to deliver. We can not withdraw from our clients, customers, patients and students.  In the long run, researchers and managers must also confront the new demands – directly and in person. But in the short run they will be tempted to withdraw from the struggle. Talking is much nicer than walking.

It’s a jungle out there ….



Emerald writes:

Hardly a day goes by when an article or viewpoint is not brought to our attention that highlights the need to review how research can be more effectively connected to real-world activity and policy setting.

[There is] an age-old and, unfortunately, increasing problem of disconnection between the world of research and scholarship and the world of practice and policy formation?

In order to capture some of the different impacts of research at different points along the continuum, Emerald is planning to focus on developing a framework to highlight all the important ways of evaluating research.

  • Knowledge (further research).
    • Research will contribute to the body of knowledge.
    • This can be assessed through citation impact factors and usage impact factors, as well as the implications for research identified in the research conclusions.
  • Practice.
    • Industry and business leaders, practitioners and consultants in both public and private sector organisations are all affected by the outcomes of research.
    • This can be assessed through the implications for practice that are identified in the research conclusions.
    • Evidence that research has been applied successfully in industry and business practice can be gathered to demonstrate usefulness.
  • Teaching.
    • Students and faculty in a classroom setting are direct consumers of research.
    • The impact of research in teaching can be assessed through the clarity of the conclusions to aid learning and the provision of case studies and examples.
  • Public policy.
    • Civil servants, politicians, decision-makers in public bodies, institutions and charities draw on research to shape their policies and practice.
    • Implications for policy making and society can be identified in the research conclusions.
    • Evidence that research has influenced public policy successfully can be gathered to demonstrate usefulness.
  • Society. Cultural norms and accepted ways of thinking can and should be challenged by the outputs of research.

Through talking to our communities, we are delighted to announce that we have introduced a separate field in the structured abstract that highlights social implications.


1 Comment »

  1. […] 49/10: Missing links [web link]Plinius (22/Jul/2010)“…more than four hundred municipalities it is run […]

    Pingback by HotStuff 2.0 » Blog Archive » Word of the Day: “municipalities” — Friday, July 23, 2010 @ 4:05 am

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