Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Use of the Nation’s Library


The Library of Congress released some basic statistics regarding holdings & usage in 2015, nicely summarized by Gary Price for LJ.  The size of the LoC is well-known – after all, it includes the US Copyright Office.  It’s the use, though, that impresses me most (of course)…over 1 million reference requests, more than half from members of the Congress (it’s primary customer), delivering more than 20k items to them.  Circulating nearly 22 million Braille items to over 860k users.  And playing host to more than 86 million Web site visits.

Of course, size matters.  Over a million and a half physical items added each year to a continuously growing collection of over 162M.  They employ over 3,000 staff and work on a budget of $630M.

While these statistics are quite overwhelming, especially compared to even large universities like Harvard (18M items, $160M in 2014), what is missing here are statements of impact.  How were the 20K items delivered to Congress persons used in developing legislation, informing their decisions, helping them with their constituents’ concerns?  In what ways were the 86M Website visits used?  Who benefited most from the usage?  The Braille circulation is a good indicator, but more information is needed.  With the change in leadership, and the shift in political winds, the LoC needs stories. Stories of how lives were enhanced or changed due to access to resources unavailable elsewhere.  Stories of legislation that was written (or fought) with information or history dug up by librarians.  Stories of rare recordings brought to life again through preservation efforts.

Interestingly, the Web site offers a “presentation” about the Library (it doesn’t work for me, at least…does it for you?) which describes all of the collections and services that make the LoC “more than a library”.  But like so many similar “about the library” sites, they leave it up to the user (or reader) to imagine how the library can meet their needs.  Their annual reports provide more details or specific examples of  services and materials, but even these lack any sense of impact or value.  It is a long account of the inputs and outputs…items received, funding, questions answered, items circulated, etc.  Even highlighted events (meetings, tours, exhibitions, etc.) do not necessarily convey the value of the Library.  It may be implied that the Civil War in America exhibit touched the 600 visitors in ways that changed their perspective or attitudes, or that the 593K reference questions answered by the Congressional Research Service were for legislation, but where is the evidence?  Where are the stories?

Admittedly, stories alone are insufficient as evidence.  A few non-randomly-selected examples of value do not support continuous funding. But they can bring the data to life, provide that intangible quality to rather mind-numbing numbers.  And the stories need not be one-off’s, single events or individuals, but quantitative summaries of impact… the percentage of reference information cited in proposed legislation, the changes in attitudes of the visitors to exhibitions, the use of digital archives in schools or research.  Of course, finding and gathering the data or information, and writing the stories takes time and work.  Which costs money.  Some may say money that would be better spent on the services or materials for which the Library is responsible.  Perhaps…but the information gathered can also serve to guide the Library to improving and advertising collections & services, shifting priorities and ensuring R’s First Law.

 

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One comment on “Use of the Nation’s Library

  1. Kevin Hawkins
    March 18, 2016

    LC’s “presentation” is a Flash animation, which I believe modern browsers block due to the security risk. LC offers alternative, more accessible ways to access this content: see https://www.loc.gov/about/more-than-a-library/ .

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2016 by in Assessment, LIS Data.
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