Thursday, February 16, 2012

PL 6/12: Correcting the KOSTRA statistics

Filed under: statistics — plinius @ 6:27 am

Yesterday I proposed a paper on KOSTRA for our session at the IFLA conference in Helsinki in August.

The graph below is based on KOSTRA data for Oslo Public Library. You will fin a larger interactive version, as well as the actual numbers, here.

When I say our, I mean the IFLA Statistics and Evaluation Session. In the call for papers, we asked for proposals concerned with the use of statistics and assessment for libraries at a turning point:

Many libraries find themselves at a turning point in recent times.

They are in a situation that imposes on them the need for change, and often quite urgently. This change can be for better – as when new opportunities must be seized, for worse – as is the case in a financial crisis, when the value of the library is put in question, or for a different reason – as when new user needs arise and old ways of doing things are not feasible any more. As change occurs libraries must make decisions and take action to meet new demands.

The session will focus on how the use of statistics, qualitative and quantitative measures, management information or empirical studies, quality assessment, outcome studies etc. can help libraries deal with such a turning point and enable them to go ahead in a critical situation.

Correcting the KOSTRA statistics

Norway is a country with a strong municipal sector. Public libraries are municipal services. With a population of five million, and more than four hundred muncipal units, most muncipalities are small. Many of them struggle economically and a growing number of public libraries is threatened with spending cuts.

Proposals are often based on comparative data on library costs and services available through KOSTRA, a massive nation-wide system of municipal statististics developed by Statistics Norway over the last decade. But the KOSTRA indicators for the public library sector suffer from several serious mistakes that render simple comparisons invalid: (1) some municipalities include, while others exclude, rent and infrastructure costs; (2) some libraries consist of many branches, while others have just a single central library; (3) some libraries are co-located with schools.

These technical issues are seldom taken into account, mostly because neither librarians nor municipal officers are aware of them. When people take the KOSTRA indicators at face value, the factual basis for decisions is faulty. The statistical measuring instrument itself is flawed. Since 2011 the pressure from “KOSTRA arguments” has been on the increase, and the interest in better methods of comparison is growing. The author has recently been invited by several county libraries to train librarians in the correct use of KOSTRA and other statistical data.

The paper will describe the KOSTRA system as it applies to public libraries and demonstrate its weaknesses through conceptual and empirical analysis. We will also present the pedagogical approach we have developed to train librarians in correct statistical reasoning with KOSTRA data. We emphasize a solid intuitive understanding of the statistical and economic issues incvolved and stressthe effective use of information graphics.


The deadline for statistics was yesterday (February 15). But there are many sessions still open as you can see from the list of all calls..


  • Indigenous Matters Special Interest Group, Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section Theme: “Empowering Library Services for Indigenous People”. 29 February 2012
  • Government Libraries Section, Government Information and Official Publications Section, Law Libraries Section, Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section. Theme: “The Surprising World of Government Libraries: trends in survival and prospect of new services”. 20 February 2012
  • Health and Biosciences Libraries Section. Theme: “Using Assessment to Drive Change: Demonstrating the Value of Health Information”. 17 February 2012
  • Information Technology Section, Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section. Theme: “Usability And Accessibility – The Mobile Challenge”. 20 February 2012
  • Law Libraries Section, Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section, Government Information and Official Publications Section, Government Libraries Section. Theme: “Promoting global access to law: developing an open access index for official authenticated legal information. Part 2: Europe”- 27 February 2012
  • Rare Books and Manuscripts Section.Theme: “The Public Face of Special Collections”. 29 February 2012
  • Social Science Libraries Section, Law Libraries Section, Government Libraries Section. Theme: “Empowering Library Users to Solve Problems: Our Stories”. 27 February 2012
  • UNIMARC Core Activity (UCA). Theme: “New Futures for Bibliographic Data Formats: Reflections and Directions  29 February 2012
  • Access to Information Network – Africa (ATINA). Theme: “Empowering Africa’s burgeoning population with access to demographic and development information – the world population explosion and access to the information needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Africa”. 31 March 2012
  • Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE), Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM). Theme: “How to win the battle over freedom in cyberspace”. 15 March 2012
  • Document Delivery and Resource Sharing Section. Theme: “Innovations in Resource Sharing: New methods, new technologies”. 9 March 2012
  • Law Libraries Section, Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section. Theme: “Libraries for law and for lawmakers”. 1 March 2012
  • Library and Research Services for Parliaments Section. Theme: “Parliamentary Libraries: Strengthening Democracy”. 1 March 2012
  • Core Activity on Preservation and Conservation (PAC). Theme: “Storage and Repositories: New Preservation and Access strategies”. 30 March 2012

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