IFLA meets in August.
There are not too many of us. Statistics and evaluation is a special interest within a small profession. Librarians may protest, since they encounter colleagues all the time. There seems to be lots of librarians around.
But that is due to the herd instinct. Birds of a feather flock together.
A small profession
The profession is a smallish one. In rich countries with comprehensive library systems library staff constitute less than 0.3% of all employees. In the United States, ALA reports that there 166 thousand librarians and 201 thousand other staff. Total civilian employment is about 156 million. One in thousand is a librarian, then, while one in every four hundred work in a library.
In a digital environment libraries need to study their customers in order to serve their needs.
Retailers know this. Here is a case from the Netherlands.
The retail concept was based on a customer survey that took place in 2003. The reason for the survey was the construction of a new central library in Almere Stad. The key questions of the survey were:
- What function should this new library have and what do our customers expect of us?
- Who are our customers exactly?
Nationwide there was a downward trend in number of memberships. Why?
- Did we not live up to expectations?
- Did we solely focus on supply instead of demand?
The survey showed that
- 80% of our customers do not visit the library with a specific idea of what they want
- our classification of the collection did not correspond with the interests of these customer segments.
- the average duration of stay was very limited.
They decided to try a new concept in one of the branches
- ‘Shops’ were created, with a mixture of fiction and non-fiction corresponding to the interest profiles of the five customer groups.
- The shops also underwent a facelift to change the rather boring interior
- We made extensive use of pictures in the signage,
- We attracted an interior designer and bought new furniture.
Despite our enthusiasm and good hopes our experiment was not widely accepted within the branch.
This year the annual IFLA conference will be held in Singapore.
I have been a member of the Statistics and Evaluation Section since 2007. Or rather – to be precise – of its Standing Committee.
- All IFLA Members are entitled to register for Sections of their choice.
- Once registered, voting Members have the right to nominate specialists for the Standing Committee of the Sections for which they are registered.
- The Standing Committee is the key group of professionals who develop and monitor the programme of the Section.
Each Standing Committees has two elected officers, the Chair and the Secretary. They serve for two years at a time. Most sections also choose an information officer.
Currently, Ulla Wimmer (Germany) is the Chair and Markku Laitinen (Finland) is our Information Officer. I serve as Secretary and Treasurer. We were elected in 2011. This means that the section has to elect new officers for 2013-15 in Singapore.
I have been asked whether I would like to stand for a second period. I have decided to do so. But why ask for support? As a candidate I ought to present a program. The Committee should be able to judge what they get (or may avoid …).
My “election platform” might look as follows:
IFLA recently set up a new Committee on Standards.
That is an important step forward. In library statistics, my own field of interest, most of the work on standards goes on behind closed doors, in ISO committees. This makes it hard
- for other specialists to participate in the technical discussions statistical standards need
- for librarians in general to learn from the scholarly debate
IFLA’s interest will make these processes more transparent.
The committee made a call for papers for the IFLA conference in Singapore. Five papers were selected, including my own proposal. I look forward to present it. Its full title is:
Improving practices. Statistical standards in global libraries
Standards are recommendations. Library standards are recommended ways of working in libraries. Standards often differ from practices, or the ways libraries actually work. This is not a problem in itself. The purpose of standards is not to describe, but to improve practices. But standards have no value in themselves. Standards are only interesting if they change the way librarians actually do their work.
A major new study of social classes in the UK has proposed seven groups:
- Elite – this is the most privileged group in the UK. They are set apart from the other six classes, especially because of their wealth, and they have the highest levels of all three capitals.
- Established middle class – this is the second wealthiest class group and it scores highly on all three capitals. It is the largest and highly gregarious class group and scores second highest for cultural capital.
- Technical middle class – this is a small, distinctive new class group that is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. It is distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy.
- New affluent workers – this young class group is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital.
- Traditional working class – this class scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have a reasonably high house values, which is explained by this group having the oldest average age (66 years).
- Emergent service workers – this new, young, urban group is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital.
- Precariat (The precarious proletariat) – this is the poorest, most deprived class and scores low for social and cultural capital.
Bourdieu must be smiling from his cloud.
African libraries need statistics to plan their work and to promote their standing.
Picture: group work at the 2012 LATINA training course, at Makerere University Library.
This year The International Association of Academic and Technical Libraries meets in Cape Town. The convener, Elisha Chiware, is the Director of Cape Peninsula University of Technology Libraries. After the main IATUL conference (April 14-18) there will be a workshop on library statistics to
- encourage the collection of statistics for benchmarking,
- improve the collection of statistics in African libraries,
- develop a basis for regional cooperation and activity
- and to create an awareness of the various options available
Elisha was also the regional expert from Africa when IFLA developed guidelines for the Statistics for Advocacy training course, at a workshop in the Hague in late 2009.
John Regazzi has studied recent changes in the US academic library sector.
There are three main trends:
- a major increase in expenditure on digital publications – as one would expect
- a substantial increase in funding – which is quite surprising given the frequent complaints from the librarians
- a steady decline in the use of the physical library
Big and small
If we distinguish between various types of libraries, we find that
- large public and private doctoral institutions are growing
- small and medium-sized academic libraries fall behind.
I take it for granted that international standards should be more than suggestions and proposals. They should express and codify best practices in their subject areas.
If the standards are not based on existing professional practice, but represent a call for innovation, their effect ought to be monitored. Standards that are recommended to – but not applied by – the library community represent a problem that the designers need to address.
This means that I am concerned about the gap between proposals and practices in the field of library indicators. At the Statistics and Evaluation Satellite meeting in Turku this August, I presented a paper documenting this gap, with Norway as an example.
- Picture: Turku organizers with friends from Moomin Island
In this post I show, with a small example, that ISO standards may face similar problems.
Proposing change is easy. Making change is hard.
Next week is IFLA time. My trip to Finland starts with the satellite conference in Turku on August 8-9 (Wed-Thu):
For about ten years I have spent fair amount of time looking at the design and use of performance indicators in libraries. I have been struck by the imbalance between the number of indicator proposals, on the one hand, and actual indicator practices, on the other.
Many administrators and library researchers, as well as a few practising librarians are eager to develop new indicators. They establish committees, conduct long discussions and write ambitious and well-meant plans. Their proposals may be discussed by the library community. But they are very seldom implemented.
Libraries need information about their own activities in order to manage their operations and to gain support for their future development.
Libraries usually have easy access to data about their budget, their staffs, their collections and their lending activitites. This information is produced by the systems used to manage their operations. But they tend to know very little about their users.
They could organize user surveys. Many libraries do. They could use systems data to study the lending patterns of their clients. A few libraries do that as well. But they would still lack information in a very basic field: what the users are doing inside the library.