Did You Count That? Really? Should We?

Image of graphs and charts with magnifying glass.

Twice a year, like clockwork, we are embroiled in statistic gathering from the library on behalf of the law school.  These are for the dreaded ABA and IPEDS questionnaires.  Gone are the days when the ABA collected library-specific records.  Does anyone remember when you had to count all your seats?  Carrels, tables, study rooms, computer labs, restrooms?  Yes, there was an academic library that counted restroom seats in the total number.  There was a category for “other” and I am guessing that is where they added those seats. I have always been more of a purist and only included seats truly available to patrons for studying and research.  Things have changed drastically in the last twenty years and the challenge is counting databases and electronic titles.  Before I get too far in this post, I need to spell out a little structure.  When talking statistics, it is way too easy to wander into the woods.  I am going to focus on reference statistics and collection numbers in particular.  

Reference statistics are important.  Let me be clear.  Reference statistics help support the value of our work.  

  1. They provide objective data on our impact on patrons.  We use a nice little program called RefTracker.  What it does for the library is allow all types of questions to be entered that we encounter at the reference desk as well as circulation.  We enter liaison and teaching statistics, one-time bibliographic session information, and questions that come across our desks via phone and email encounters with colleagues. 
  2. They help provide a framework for analyzing our services and changes we should or could make to them.
  3. They can be compiled to meet the needs of external reporting such as IPEDS or ACRL.  Depending on how they are collected, reference statistics can be generated to fill out annual questionnaires easily.  Even a small library staff can benefit from keeping numbers that ultimately help justify the need for a larger staff.

Collection statistics are important.  Let me be clear.  Collection statistics help support the value of our work

  1. Given the limited funding available (and possibly need) for print materials, circulation statistics help track use.  Do you need print course reserves? Do you need any print books?  If something is used by students and you can prove it, then you can justify purchasing new editions.
  2. Given the high cost (often extremely high) of digital books and legal databases, statistics help track use.  We have subscribed to PLIPlus for a number of years and monthly statistics provided by the vendor remind me over and over again that the product is used by students, faculty, and staff.  It becomes more difficult to cancel something that you know patrons use and is not duplicated somewhere else.
  3. External reporting groups want numbers dealing with such things as the total number of databases or digital book checkouts/use.  The challenge here is how difficult it is to compile the information from multiple sources and produce a clean report.  It can be done, but requires some time and effort.

Law libraries need to compile statistical information in a systematic way that can ultimately serve to reflect their value to the school community. Now, our library is still not a participant in ALLStAR although I often think about joining (see the link below to 2018 post on this subject).  After the loss of our librarian primarily responsible for helping me compile questionnaire data this past summer, it is more appealing.  As a compiler of numbers that can serve various reporting needs, this may help a staff-strapped library keep at least some core statistics. The law school data assessment director is aware that we can subscribe to this service but has not voted one way or the other as to our need to subscribe at this time. 

So, statistics are part and parcel of working in a library.  Over the years, I have tried to sit down with staff when a major reporting mechanism changes so that we confirm we are keeping numbers that we will be asked for on an annual basis.  This allows you to rethink recordkeeping and workflow. Why keep unnecessary statistics in this time of limited staffing?  Review what you are currently doing concerning number keeping.  If you don’t do it during the summer when there may be fewer students around, the end of the calendar year is another opportunity so you can begin fresh in January (and give yourself a few months to work out any issues before your next fiscal year might begin).

Did You Count That? Yes. Really? YES! Should We? If it is important or has bearing on how you operate or report to outside agencies, most definitely.

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(Graphic courtesy of Pixaby.com)

Full disclosure: This post is similar to a post I wrote in October 2022. Some things have changed, but many have not. I believe that statistics are more important than ever in providing support for academic law library initiatives. See the previous post at: https://ripslawlibrarian.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/statistics-and-academic-law-library-survival/

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