Thursday, August 21, 2014

PL 2/14: Notes from Lyon

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 8:00 am

Today is the last day of  the IFLA conference in Lyon.

It has been a lively event and I have spoken with many people about ideas, initatives, proposals and possibilities for the coming year. This blog post is a summing-up.

I have been a member of the Statistics and Evaluation Section since 2008 (Milan) and will complete my final term next year, in Cape Town. That will also finish my four year stint as SES secretary. My main interests during this period have been (1) to develop an training workshop in library statistics (and impact evaluation)  for beginners and (2) to  encourage a more practice-oriented (rather than normative) approach to statistical development in library communities.

Training workshop

The initiative for the workshop came from the IFLA Building Strong Libraries Association programme. All course materials are available through BSLA and also through our own SES web pages.

Our experience so far consists of two pilot courses, in Crete and in Gothenburg, two courses in Eastern Europe (Poland and Rumania) and about ten courses in Norway. At the moment, course materials are available in English, Polish and Norwegian.

In connection with the Cape Town conference, our South African member (Elisha Chiware) and I also invite contacts about possible statististics collaboration and training aimed at Africa – see

The SES is very willing to collaborate with library organizations and networks that want to provide basic training : why do statistics – and how to do it in the simplest way possible. From a personal point of view I will be happy to provide (free) advice, consultancy and training even after 2015. Any courses will be updated and adapted to local conditions. If there is a demand for other languages, we can also cover French and Spanish.

Practical statistics

As a statistician by profession, I am of course deeply interested in the the use of statistics by library people and by other professional communities. I am also interested in social development and organizational learning. I have been struck by the gap between the way IFLA, and many other well-intentioned organizations, speak about library statistics, on the one hand, and the way statistics is actually practiced, on the other.

Studying statistics in the field is rather time consuming. The number of countries that actually produce decent library statistics on the web is quite limited: less than twenty, I would say. But each country has its own system and its own way of doing things. Getting acquainted with all these cases takes time.

Very few of these twenty countries do a good job of anlyzing their data. The current leader is probably Australia (congratulations!). The German work based on BIX is also impressive. Norway has excellent data, but our library authorities do not provide much analysis – while Sweden started to improve both their statistics and their analysis a few years ago.

Ninety percent of the world’s countries have national library statistics that range from scattered and mediocre to poor to absent.  There are also major difference within countries. Big metropolitan libraries have at least the professional potential to produce statistics on a regular basis. Provincial and rural libraries hardly know where and why to start.

The Metropolitan Libraries section has recently asked the SES to help redesign their statistical data collection system, which covers interested members of the svnection and which has been running for about a decade. Our section welcomed to initative, which I strongly support. The MLS has a quite good data set, which could benefit from additional. analysis with a practical orientation. The libraries concerned also have the resources to integrate statistics into their planning.

At the same time I want to stress that the need for good, relevant and realistic statistical systems is exceptionally great in smaller and less resource-rich libraries. This applies very much to the public library sector in most of the world ( beyond the big cities), but also to school libraries, to provincial universities and to libraries or branches  in poor urban areas.

The only way of sustaining  relevant statistical skills and systems under these conditions is through mutual support ( networking, organization building). Individual, single library, ad hoc efforts are almost doomed to fail.  I hope the SES will put efforts into supporting standards, guidelines and best practices  that apply, directly, immediately and visibly, to the wide community of libraries that struggle to supply necessary services under tough conditions. They need, to my mind, documents that reflect their contexts and are adressed directly to their concerns.

I  am personally eager to participate or advice on such work, where I would try to apply experiences gained from several decades of development work in the South ….


More to come …





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