(Full disclosure is required here. Although our library does not participate in ALLStAR, mentioned within this post, they have offered and I have accepted a trial offer to dig around a little bit more. I promise to do an update, but I already value the work they are doing in leading us to develop meaningful and useful statistics. Someone has to begin somewhere!)
Over the past few years, law school worlds have been drastically altered. The number of students attending law school has dropped significantly. Although the number of LSAT takers has increased slightly, no new large wave of law students will materialize. This has alarmed many in legal academia, and rightly so. In addition, bar results are down in many states, baby boomers have not retired as expected, and the big law firms have given way to a more automated world. Taken together, it sounds like gloom and doom.
I say the opposite is true. We can reinvent ourselves like never before.
So, where do statistics come into play? The American Bar Association (ABA), which used to collect data from law school libraries in the Annual Questionnaire (AQ), whittled away at that process until they eliminated all law library data altogether. To replace what was lost, academic librarians have created a similar reporting system to the AQ used to provide. Academic Law Libraries: Statistics, Analytics and Reports (ALLStAR) is a project supported by the Yale Law Library and the NELLCO Law Library Consortium. Up to 75% of academic law libraries participate. It costs relatively little to do so, given the money we spend on other services. Among other things, ALLStAR collects information that parallels the last version of the Library AQ. For example, the last AQ asked questions about (1) the number of librarians; (2) the number of seats; and (3) the number of hours the library is open. During ABA collection years, some librarians were occasionally counted as adjunct faculty, making complete numbers difficult to determine. Some schools had 24-hour access for their students, but no staff available during many of those hours. Staffed hours were questioned as well, but there are so many variables that, once again, apples-to-apples comparison was challenging.
The advisory board to ALLStAR works continually to make the system as relevant as possible to our profession. I am hoping at some point to be a participating member especially since I have approval from both our finance and assessment deans. Staff time and other demands have put the project on hold for now but I believe the goal of ALLStAR is definitely worth the effort.
The statistics I ask staff to keep are similar to the some of the items that ALLStAR collects. They benchmark certain aspects of our work and provide points of comparison across libraries. We routinely do headcounts. Our circulation staff report the number of transactions per month. We keep track of interlibrary loan. The reference staff probably does one of the most difficult and maybe most important recordkeeping jobs; we keep reference statistics. All these statistics are valuable to our everyday work and justification of services and staffing. The numbers kept have always reflected to some degree what our accreditors, the ABA and HLC, as well as the government (IPEDS) have asked of us. Their loosening of the reins has had us revisit what is the most important recordkeeping to us. It is nice to compare budgets, but at long as I have been a director, our budget has been large and spending per student is low. I am confident that is the case with any larger school most of the time. In today’s environment, unfortunately, it really will not matter to my dean how we compare budget-wise to our peer schools. Our budget will not significantly go up because of what a school across the border is doing. It will matter that we can tell her how often we interact with our students and if they are using our facilities.
I ultimately believe statistics are very important. Some library directors have saved positions and acquisitions from significant budget cuts thanks to statistics they retrieved from ALLStAR.
We are entering a very interesting time in law librarianship. There is no doubt that librarians of today will be librarians of tomorrow only if they think outside the box and stake a claim in the success of the law schools’ students. Statistics are one way to help establish a baseline if they have internal value.
What accrediting agencies do you keep statistics for? Does your library participate in ALLStAR? Do you keep any statistics that are not reported in ALLStAR? If yes, what are they and why are they kept? Are they useful? Are there statistics you think you should keep, but are not? Why not?
(Thanks to my three pre-press reviewers; you know who you are. Also, thanks to the help NELLCO and a number of volunteers are giving to this important endeavor of record-keeping!)