24 June 2008

Do you want fries with those statistics?

As you've noticed, I've been a bit...absent from blogging recently. That's mostly because I've been working on a ton of different reports from work which are taking up a lot of time. However, one of the things that I've realized from working on these reports is that libraries are in love with statistics and numbers. We wanna show off how many times a database is used, how many patrons walk through the door, how many books are checked out and so on. And there's nothing wrong with these statistics, they help guide us in materials to select, how late to stay open, and how best to serve our patrons. On a broader level they help libraries continue to exist as we can showcase the data to justify why we should get a budget or be able to have more hours or hire that new person to design our webpage.

But I've been thinking that we, like a lot of the world, have become so obsessed with statistics that we want to break everything down to its finest detail. Which patrons are using which databases at which hour of the day? Which departments request the most books during the month of August in leap years? (I'm sure someone what out there has to answer that last question, thankfully it’s not me.) Focusing on the smallest details doesn't really help us do our jobs better, in fact my observation is that it hinders us from achieving our purpose of serving our patrons and losing sight of the larger picture.

Why is this? It seems to me that we are often farm statistics out to someone else, generally to the lowest person on the totem pole, and ask them to gather the needed information and it often seems like ordering from a takeout menu. We tell them, we need statistics on this and that, but not that. And make sure you include the fries dangit! But putting together statistics shouldn’t be like a takeout menu. Doing so often means that you don’t get that full picture that you’re really looking for. Even if you looking at the statistics yourself is it possible you're missing something? Can you really know every statistical piece of data your library keeps?

So if you ask for something, give the person the full details as to what the project is. Of if your doing the collecting yourself, share with your colleagues! Why do these statistics matter??? Who's seeing this and why the heck is it so bloody important that you have it by next Tuesday? Because 9 times out of 10 the person you point you in directions that you didn’t think of and make your report that much richer. I like to think that I remember to let people know about the “total picture,” but I don’t some times. I do my best and I’m learning as I go which is about all that anyone can hope for and this post is part of my learning process. So let’s not treat statistics gathering like we’re ordering from a take out menu, let’s share the larger picture with our colleagues that they can help us present a report that actually means something and that isn’t missing half the story. And let’s leave the fries off…too fattening.

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