Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Ideas a-Plenty

Now that my role in our annual budget review has been completed, I’ve been able to return to some of the more pleseant aspects of collection assessment.  I knew when I took this job that I would very likely be doing what few librarians like to do – de-selection.  Don’t get me wrong – it is very challenging coming up with a methodology that objectively examines the impact each and every resource provides our users.  I just wish that this didn’t take up so much of my annual workload.

But this past week has been very nice – in addition to the budget no longer being top priority, this has been TLA week, and it has been very, very quiet here.  Therefore, the past two weeks have been very productive for me, particularly for generating ideas.  Trying to be honest and objective, I still believe that idea-generation is one of my particularly strengths.  At the other end is following-through and completing projects…but that’s another story.  Back to the ideas…here are a few that have gotten my professional adrenaline going.


I am making progress on my “dream” infrastructure for data about our collections, that is…to be able to quickly & easily access data about the size, quality & use by a variety of aspects (subject, format, year, etc.).  OK – so it’s a dream only “data nerds” have…but we are getting there.  For instance, to view our holdings or circulation by broad subject-based collections, I’ve developed a system that maps LC classifications to one or more of these collections.  Now, we can take any computerized list of items that has an LC call number and assign them to their respective collections using a program.  It turns out, that was the easy part.  In addition to dealing with all those resources that do not have LC call numbers (can you believe our media does not?), we also need to map the other subject categorizations to our new map.  The SCat tables are a prime example.

The triple-I ILS has a feature called “SCat tables” – Statistical Categories – which can be used for reporting inventory and circulation (not being a systems librarian, is this common with other ILS’s?).  These can be customized by the librarians themselves, which is a good thing.  In our case, there are several hundred Dewey and LC ranges that been identified.  And, indeed, the way it has been set up has worked well for us.  We can relatively quickly get reports of our holdings and circulation by these ranges.  For purposes of collection assessment, however, the ranges are not granular enough.  For instance, there are just two categories for the M’s – music.  Hmmm, hard to really understand our vast music collection by just looking at two categories.  Mapping these broad ranges to our collections was like looking at a highly-pixellated picture.  You can sort-of make out the outlines, but no real definition.  So I was struggling to come up with a way to get the granular data that we needed through sheer force & manual labor, when I had an epiphany…could we change the SCat tables?

As I mentioned above, not being a systems librarian, I really have no idea what is and is not customizable, and if it is, how much work would be involved and what effects changing it would have on others.  However, it is very, very nice to work in an environment where such changes are at least possible.  At my last job (not a library), I was very constrained in what I could and (mostly) could not do.  So I greatly appreciate being trusted with access to the resources of data.  That is why this idea came so late to me (at least, that is the story I’m going with).

If my proposal is acceptable to others, we will use the same subject categories from our collection map.  This will bring the picture of our subject-based collections into more focus.

Now presenting…

Another epiphany I had was how to bring together the myriad silos of data.  This is a perennial problem of data managers and seeking a single repository has often been their holy grail.  Now that I’ve made progress in setting up the basic processes and structures for gathering some data, I’ve been considering how to bring the data together.  But it is not easy.  Each data source has its own structure and organization.  Trying to force all the data through the same size and shape hole would result in loss of information.  And trying to create a system that can accomodate any shape of any kind of data has its own difficulties.

ARL has been hosting a number of webinars highlighting various librarians’ use of Tableau, a data reporting (aka “visualization”) tool.  I’ve always been a sucker for these things; I know that they are “flashy”, but what I’m really interested in is the ability to pull data from a variety of sources.  But rather than attempting to store and maintain the data in a repository, tools like Tableau focus on presentation of the data.  It’s a fine difference, but one that freed my thinking.  We don’t need to change how we gather and maintain the data.  We just connect it to another interface that presents different data altogether.

MINES for Physical Resources

We are nearing the sixth month of our MINES for Libraries® study, so we are just starting to look at the data.  It is way, way too early to get any real meaning out of it, but it has revived an interest I had when we were making plans to initiate this method.  In case you are not familiar with MINES, it is a pop-up survey method that appears at random times when users click on our e-resources.  We ask standardized questions, like demographics, but also why the user selected that particular resource and for what purpose it would be used.  This gives us a lot more information about the impact of our electronic resources.  Now, what about our physical resources?  How can we get the same kind of information?  Ideas I’ve had include paper surveys slipped in when the items are checked out, having people complete a survey while their stuff is being checked out (few people use the self-checkout), sending email surveys to people shortly after they check items out…Perhaps even a “satisfaction” survey after the items have been returned to find out how much the item was used and how useful it was.

Well, now that I’ve purged myself of these ideas and made them public, I need to get busy.


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This entry was posted on April 19, 2015 by in Assessment, Collections, LIS Data and tagged .

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