August 17, 2017

LJ Index 2014: New Output Measures

New output measures wanted

Three dozen Star Library interviewees were asked to identify new output measures they felt should be available, based on their experiences with outcome measurement. Their responses included both more detailed versions of existing outputs and entirely new ones, reflecting the expanding technology-based roles of public libraries. The proposed measures suggest the connections these library administrators see between outputs and outcomes.

The more detailed outputs requested elaborate on two existing LJ Index output measures—circulation of electronic materials (e-circulation) and program attendance.

More detail about e-circulation

From the perspective of their involvement with outcome measurement, those interested in e-circulation thought this statistic would be more revelatory and useful if it was available in more detail. Some were interested in remote versus in-library use of e-resources, believing that those who use their public libraries remotely are a different type of user than those who rely on in-library access to such resources. Nancy Curtin (Port Washington PL, NY) says she has data about “remote and in-house use of digital resources” but wonders about what her library’s resources are being used for—“distance learning, business pursuits, collaborative learning, or content creation.” Perhaps outcomes tend to differ for remote versus in-library users.

Others felt it would be more useful to know about e-circulation by age group, because most use by children is related to school readiness or schoolwork generally, while most use by adults is related to some kind of self-directed lifelong learning. “Our library cards are coded by children’s, teens, and adults so if providers could differentiate usage statistics it would greatly enhance our ability to market for target audiences,” notes Stephen A. Kershner (Cook Memorial PL Dist., Libertyville, IL).

Some are also interested in knowing e-circulation by device type, believing that the variety of devices on which e-materials are being accessed (computer tablets, ereaders, smartphones, etc.) may be associated with the types of use being made and the outcomes being pursued. Ann Dixon (Homer PL, AK) has several related questions: “How many patrons use the library’s digital services only? What types of devices and how many of each type are being used when accessing library Internet? How many patrons lack Internet access at home?” For her, the answers to these questions have implications for outcomes as well as outputs.

More program attendance

Similarly, several interviewees want more detailed data about program attendance, particularly programs promoting early childhood and family literacy—which target families with young children—and those promoting digital literacy—which often target the older population. Candy Emlen (Southwest Harbor PL, ME) says that such data—along with better needs assessments of these populations—“would help us improve our services and better serve our patrons.”

New digital desires

Other interviewees proposed entirely new output measures, including file downloads and use of streaming media, library website visits, and use of Maker spaces and digital labs. Happily, there is progress to report on at least two of these three measures.

The new e-circulation measure that was recently added to the IMLS Public Library Survey should include much of what interviewees wanted in the way of data about file downloads and use of streaming media. But, alas, databases are excluded. Theoretically, e-circulation will not bring into the mix any entirely new data; it is already included in the definition of total circulation, though the extent to which e-circulation has actually been included in total circulation figures before now remains to be seen. The first look at this data should be very interesting, insofar as it sheds any light on actual reporting practices in recent years. Data on this new statistic is expected to be included in the FY13 data file that IMLS will release in summer 2015.

Wi-Fi access usage is a measure the authors have been suggesting for several years. Star Library interviewees agreed that this is a measure whose time has come. IMLS and the state library agencies have voted to add this new data element. If all goes well, the FY14 IMLS data file should include data on this measure.

Library website visits is another measure the authors have been calling for. Star Library interviewees also agreed that this is a desirable measure. At this writing, however, IMLS and the state library agencies have not yet decided to include it. Perhaps if enough administrators ask their state agencies to support the addition of this measure, such data can be included in the FY15 IMLS data file.

Then, we have the burgeoning Maker movement. Kim Fender (PL of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty.) poses the question, “What do we do with Maker space use?”

In public libraries and museums, the concept of digital and/or hands-on learning labs or Maker spaces received a first big boost from a series of IMLS/MacArthur Foundation grants during FY12 and FY13 that supported the planning and design of “up to 30” such spaces in libraries and museums nationwide. We cannot find any data to document the number of such spaces in public libraries at this date. Still, we are willing to speculate that it is probably not yet a substantial percentage of U.S. public libraries.

The PLDS outcome measurement task force “floated” this idea as a potential area of activity, but it doesn’t appear at this writing to be one on which the group is likely to focus. Perhaps this phenomenon is not yet mature enough to warrant it being a major focus of output and outcome measurement efforts for public libraries nationwide. Responses to the “Explore, Discover, and Create” item in the PLDS outcome questions indicate that three out of ten libraries that serve populations of a million or more reported having outcome data for this service, yet for all the population ranges below 100,000, the proportion with such outcome data never reached one in ten. Nonetheless, it is an interesting phenomenon to monitor as an indicator of the growing interest in public libraries becoming promoters and enablers of content creation as well as consumption.

» Next page: “What’s Next for the LJ Index?”

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Ray Lyons & Keith Curry Lance About Ray Lyons & Keith Curry Lance

Ray Lyons (raylyons@gmail.com) is an independent consultant and statistical programmer in Cleveland. His articles on library statistics and assessment have also appeared in Public Library Quarterly, Public Libraries, and Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. He blogs on library statistics and assessment at libperformance.com.
Keith Curry Lance (keithlance@comcast.net) is an independent consultant based in suburban Denver. He also consults with the Colorado-based RSL Research Group. In both capacities, he conducts research on libraries of all types for state library agencies, state library associations, and other library-related organizations. For more information, visit http://www.KeithCurryLance.com.

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