The Evolution and Impact of Library Data

Killick, Selena (2021). The Evolution and Impact of Library Data. In: 14th International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries, 2-4 Nov 2021, Online.


As long as there have been libraries, there has been library statistics. As far back as the 18th century the Bodleian Library was collecting reader statistics; and 100 years ago, the forerunner of the SCONUL statistics commenced. This paper provides an overview of our approaches to data collection and discusses some of the impacts our measurement has had on libraries, alongside case studies from the author. Focussed primarily on the UK academic library context, the data collection practices are presented in four key themes:
• 1990s: Performance Indicators
• 2000s: Benchmarking
• 2010s: Value and Impact
• 2020s: Data Intelligence

Following a literature review of library performance measurement over the past thirty years, coupled with the authors experiences, the paper present observations and hypothesis around library measurement.

The performance indicators era of the 1990s focused heavily on input and output measures. As our focus in data collection moved from input measures (e.g. size of collections and budgets) to efficiency measures, a number of performance indicators were developed. As metric drive behaviour, we saw libraries change their collection management strategies to appear efficient, sometime to the detriment of the library customer.

With the development of wide-spread internet use in the 2000s and the ease of data collection and sharing, benchmarking performance became commonplace. Using COUNTER compliant reports, we benchmarked our journal packages against one another; focussing on the cost-per-download as a proxy for quality. We also benchmarked customer satisfaction, with the development of LibQUAL+ and the National Student Survey in the UK.

In the Value and Impact Era of 2010s we started to see data break out of their siloes, linking student attainment with library data sets. Positive correlations between library use and student success were found, and studies were replicated in many libraries. The ethical issues surrounding this research has been a consistent question, and the value of this research when considering diversity of our students must be considered.

Looking ahead, as we enter an Era of Data Intelligence, we have more data available to us than ever before. How can we use these successfully, while still being mindful of the unknowns and unknowable impacts our data practices have?

Library data provides us with a powerful tool. Though reflecting in this paper, we will attempt to learn from our history, and try not to replicate the mistakes we have made in the past. We need to ensure we are mindful of our data biases, ensuring we strive to improve our performance, and not just prove.

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