Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Data Gathering: Why You Need the Numbers ... and What You Can Do with Them

Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Data Gathering: Why You Need the Numbers ... and What You Can Do with Them

Article excerpt

DATA gathering, data-driven decision-making, and accountability are today's buzzwords. Media specialists should take note: Make ongoing data collection routine so that information needed for advocacy, decision-making, and gaining program support is quickly accessible when needed. Data:

* is a tool for program and job survival.

* can be used for strategic planning.

* is essential when presenting information to others.

* provides numbers that administrators and school boards can readily understand.

* adds to your professional credibility.

State reports were required when I began my career. We tallied acquisitions, expenses, and circulation numbers to compile statistics needed for the annual report. Required state reports were eventually discontinued-a huge mistake, as many media specialists found themselves scrambling when later there were statewide initiatives to gather copyright data to support legislative funding requests. More recently, media specialists scrambled to gather numerical information about numbers of students visiting the media center each day, budget trends, daily job patterns, and more to provide information for the statewide Minnesota School Library Media Program Census (2001 and 2004).

Fortunately today, most media centers are automated, making data about circulation and collections accessible in a matter of moments. Quite likely, your system provides more information than you pay attention to or have time to deal with. At the very minimum, you should compile quarterly or monthly reports, which can be used to show how many students are using (or not using) resources to support budget requests, to make decisions about future purchases, or to set program goals.

We've maintained an ongoing circulation spreadsheet for years that's been expanded with columns to record:

* Number of daily classes using the media center and labs

* List or description of class activities that week

* Total weekly students in classes (number of classes times average class size)

* Total weekly students (numbers in classes plus a factor for average daily drop-in)

* Media specialist instructional activities

* Weekly totals

* Daily averages

* Special events (book fair, staff development, meetings, etc.)

It takes only seconds at the end of every school day to update the statistics. The invaluable data has helped us acquire additional support staff, recruit volunteers, maintain budgets, and, most significantly, not lose any support staff time during two eras of district-wide budget cuts that impacted other media programs in the district.

The data supports what my principal already knows: Our resources are well used. Last spring we prepared a presentation to our school board to explain why we needed to upgrade our computer labs and purchase mobile stations. His first item for the list was "500 kids a day use the media center." Board members who study numbers to make tough decisions know the numbers mean program activity. It is all so simple and such common sense, yet not everyone gathers even the minimum numerical type of data. Count yourself among those who do.

Crunching Numbers, Boosting Budgets

Many automation systems have built-in collection analysis features. Companies such as Sagebrush Corporation and Follett Library Company offer collection analysis and development services. Our district has taken advantage of the Follett assessment system twice. Last fall we analyzed six collections using Follett's Title Wise. (The URL for TITLEWAVE, which has a tab for Title Wise, is http://www.titlewave.com/.) The results yielded an impressive amount of data and involved very little work by media staff. We used the results in presentations to the school board and at all elementary PTAs. The result is minor budget increases, which are major in an era of state and funding budget cuts. We also used the data to solicit donations from a private individual who contributed funding to our elementary media centers. …

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