Magazine article Information Today

NISO Forum on Library Statistics

Magazine article Information Today

NISO Forum on Library Statistics

Article excerpt

This meeting considered the real issues behind electronic usage measures

With many organizations and users assuming that information is free on the Web, librarians are challenged to demonstrate the value of their investments in electronic publications. And, with current print-use statistics declining, there's little evidence to document the rapidly growing use of these electronic publications.

Publishers are sorting out what's necessary and desirable in terms of the data they need to collect in order to manage their own operations. Providing data to libraries is a new role for them (one that involves a steep learning curve) as they attempt to discover the data elements needing to be identified, analyzed, and delivered to different types of libraries.

Recognizing these challenges, the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) took an innovative approach to evaluating the existing ANSI/NISO Z39.7 Standard on Library Statistics that's due for review this year. Historically, library statistics have focused on inputs (budgets, books bought) and outputs (books circulated, reference questions answered) with little attention paid to measures of performance, whether or not the customer is satisfied, or how these activities relate to the mission of the organization.

A Fresh Approach

Denise Davis, director of statistics and surveys at the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS), and Patricia A. Wand, library director at American University, both served as planning committee co-chairs for the NISO Forum on Performance Measures and Statistics for Libraries. They were charged by Pat Harris, NISO's executive director, to take a critical look at the existing standard and review process in light of the many issues affecting the entire community. Months of discussions produced both a framework for analyzing the issues and a format for the meeting, which was held February 15-16 in Washington, DC.

The NISO Forum drew 65 participants from academic, public, school, government, and special libraries, as well as from associations, government agencies, publishers, vendors, and the research community. Stimulating presentations and moderated discussions brought out surprising discoveries from the diverse group, such as the lack of timely data about school libraries at the national level.

Peter Young from the Library of Congress launched the first day by asking a panel representing a cross-section of the library and publishing communities, "Given the speed of change, how should libraries measure today what they will need to report on tomorrow?" Panelist Eileen Hitchingham from Virginia Polytechnic Institute remarked that the audience determines the data that will be required and whether it's needed for internal decisions "to know" or for external justifications "to show."

A universal theme was the need for qualitative data that could be used to "tell the story" of how libraries meet users' needs and contribute to the organization. Still, quantitative data is vital, as EBSCO Publishing's Mike Gorrell reminded everyone when he noted, "Without data, you're just another person with an opinion."

However, measurement tools still need to be developed. Several initiatives that seek to do that were discussed, such as the Association of Research Libraries' (ARL) LibQUAL+ project, an adaptation of the business community's SERVQUAL, which measures user satisfaction based on expectations for services that they deem important. This is new territory for libraries. The participants were enthusiastic to learn how this can be done and how to market libraries to their respective communities.

Bringing such a diverse group together resulted in a greater understanding of the broader community's needs as attendees became aware of the impact of not having data and tools to support libraries' internal assessments and external presentations. This was reflected in the comments of many attendees who remarked that it was good to have representation from diverse parts of the library community. …

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