I love number crunching, gathering statistics, looking at the trends over time, converting to graphs and charts, and then interpreting this into a narrative.
Tim Sherratt is a Master Data Visualiser and has created some exceptional work that illustrates a beautiful narrative. As a leader in his field the University of Canberra is lucky to have him and someone I can look up to when I feel my geeky tendencies are weird.
The Public Libraries of Victoria have kept data over decades and it is freely available online for all to see and interpret. Of course questions arise when you look at this data, such as, how were the ‘visits’ data counted? And does that data count both in and out, or just one, one leg or both, a baby stroller? Has the counter been knocked out of alignment or is the system for the gates not working?
The overall narrative that emerges from this data is important when communicating to others the messages about what is going on; especially for those in government who control the funds and share out the cash for public services.
The numbers tell us that: physical visits are decreasing continuing to follow a trend over many years of tracking. Loans of physical library items also continue to follow a downward trend. Memberships too continue to fall and so not as many people in our community think it is important to join their public library.
And yet by observation we see that story-time sessions are overflowing, reservation lists for the latest item are long, every chair has a body sitting on it, and the public computers are full all day every day. So what is going on here?
This is where the data interpretation leads us – to ask more questions. To find out what the data gathering might miss.
We hear that people in difficult social and economic circumstances will come into the library spaces, but not join or borrow items out of fear of fines or loss of materials.
We know that people are staying longer in our spaces and that the questions people ask take longer to answer and satisfy. So far this had not been adequately accounted for in the data analysis.
The impact of the Internet and the corporate giants of Google, Amazon, and Apple, is a major factor for public libraries. eBooks are cheap and easy to access online. So too is information and ‘facts’. Books hiding on dark shelves arranged in systems only Librarians understand is a model long gone.
Library leaders have been proactive over many years by creating gorgeous new public library spaces, offering electronic collections, making library websites and catalogues dynamic and easy to access, highlighting collections through displays, exhibitions, programs and events, and interesting and relevant collaborations with other organisations.
Academic research by industry leaders have resulted in some excellent work that describes the library work in context and with hope.
- Libraries Work! The socio-economic value of public libraries – 2018
- Reading and Literacy for all: A strategic framework for Victorian public libraries – 2015-18
- Creative Communities: The cultural benefits of Victoria’s public libraries – 2014
- Victorian Public Libraries 2030 Strategic Framework – 2013
- Dollars Sense and Public Libraries The landmark study of the socio-economic value of Victorian public libraries report – 2012
- Being the Best We Can framework and toolkit- 2011
- Libraries Building Communities – 2005
My own number crunching and analysis provides positive stories too, and these I share with the team I work with in order to make advocates of us all.
And yet the library industry remains under threat. Precious public funding goes elsewhere.
So what choice is there than to continue to work hard, go with the flow, and find inspiration from the good stories we hear every day, knowing our work is of value.