It happened again today. The total number of items in our collection appeared in a description of the library. How can this number still show up? I removed it from every statement, website page, and brochure over two years ago. Yet every couple of months it appears.
This recurrence leads me to this blog, and the question “do numbers matter?”
Is it important for our libraries to say, “We have over ___ items in our collection?” What numbers do our patrons find important? Aren’t we more than just statistics?
To me, the answers lie within the numbers and what they represent. A perfect example of appropriate use of statistics is the Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study, 2011-2012 Infographic, Public Libraries Weather the Storm, published by the American Library Association and the Information Policy & Access Center, University of Maryland.
This is a clean, concise, and appealing way to present library usage statistics and their impact on the public.
Another example is the Library Value Calculator created by the Massachusetts Library Association. The calculator offers a distinct way of representing the value associated with services provided by libraries.
The above examples have value because they inform the public of libraries impact in an interesting and meaningful way. Do our patrons want to know how many items we have in our collection? No, they generally want to find an item at their library of choice. Access to materials through interlibrary loan has expanded our collections beyond our walls making the “numbers of item in our collection” statistic almost irrelevant.
Our message should focus on services and their value, how we can help our patrons access their information needs, and what that assistance has meant to our patrons. Libraries are more than just numbers.
Tammy J. Sayles, MLIS, is the marketing and outreach librarian at Western Illinois University.