Library statistics are extremely important. They contribute to state aid reports for library funding, which many libraries rely on. They also help libraries adjust their services according to the needs of the community. When times are tough and libraries need to cut back, statistics can help them choose the cuts that will hurt the public the least (and continue to help the public the most!).
These are some of the types of statistics libraries generally track:
- Types of reference questions: directional, reader advisory, computer support, etc.
- Who asks reference questions: child, teen, adult, even senior citizen.
- How many people use the public computers
- How many items are added to the collection
- How many are removed
- How many events/programs are held
- How many people attend those programs
- How many people walk through the library doors each day
- How many check-outs there are
- How many staff hours are worked
- How many hours the building is open
The Library of Michigan (Department of History, Arts, and Libraries) is a great resource for statistics. They track statistical data from every public library in Michigan, and the information is available on their web site. What a great tool for libraries to use to compare their statistics to similar libraries! They can create benchmarks and goals for future levels of service by looking at state averages. Michigan has a unique class system based on service population that helps set parameters for comparison.
Different libraries track data in different ways, which could actually be considered a caveat against using the statewide statistical data to set standards and benchmarks. Michigan defines each category carefully on the state aid report that libraries file (which is a main source for the statistics shared on the web site linked above). That is important so that libraries are all reporting the same thing. However, there is inevitably some interpretation (and mis-interpretation!) between libraries. For example, some libraries may count "Where's the bathroom?" as a directional reference question. Others may not. Although the state aid report defines each category carefully, there are surely libraries that mis-count.
I'm fascinated by the vast amount of information that library statistics, both state-wide and in-house, can provide. It's almost a game to dream up the most obscure - but still useful - report to run, and then to analyze that data in various ways. It's the analysis, after all, that helps libraries come to conclusions about their services.