Author: Mike Cooke


Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Stacey Aldrich

Stacey Aldrich

Stacey Aldrich holds a Master’s of Library Science degree and served as the State Librarian of California and the Deputy Secretary for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries of Pennsylvania. She was selected by Library Journal as one of the top 55 professionals “shaping the future of libraries” and was awarded the LINK AMERICAS Foundation Knowledge Award for vision and leadership in digital literacy.  She is the current President of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) and having been highly involved with COSLA’s interest in and efforts around data collection and use, will serve on the Public Library Data Alliance.

I feel lucky to have started my professional career at the dawn of the internet, and I’ve always been a bit of a techie. When I worked in Maryland, it became the first state to have internet at all its state libraries, and I was part of the group that taught people how to use it. It doesn’t seem like that long ago, from a human perspective, but now we’re at a point where we can identify the impacts these tools are having on people and services.

COSLA is tucked into everything library and has both a statewide and a national perspective. We represent multiple kinds of libraries and we all work together, which gives us a really good “big picture.” As state librarians, we know how data is collected and used, what the challenges are, and how to use that data to explain how our libraries are making a difference.

We need to measure and tell our story without it being so burdensome. We ask libraries to take surveys that use the same form other organizations do, causing a doubling-up of data which has become onerous. By bringing people together, we can work more effectively in building the data pictures for the future.

The magic of putting this group together is that a lot of the lead organizations have been trying to do the same thing, and now we can sit at the table, together, to think about collecting and using data in new ways. As a group, our goals are to keep supporting people in using data, question data to help us think better, and make it easier and more strategic to use.

Libraries are great collectors and connectors to our human stories but sometimes we’re not as good at telling our stories. Data helps us articulate them. Having this wonderful group talking and thinking about what data means will improve our ability to elucidate our, sometimes hidden, roles.


Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Michelle Mears

Mears Photo

Michelle Mears is the Director of the Rolling Hills Library in Saint Joseph, Mo. She holds a Ph.D. in Instructional Development and Technology and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Southern Illinois University, as well as a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois.

I’ve worked in libraries in Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas, and they all collect data differently. Data collection is driven by each state’s annual report and sometimes states will add questions or tweak them. As administrators in our individual libraries, we have our own, different goals and interests. When I look at the annual report for my libraries, I want to submit our foot traffic, meeting room usage, and other information so people will understand how much the library is being used, not just our circulation number, which tends to be put on a pedestal.

As leaders, library directors must make decisions based on data, but sometimes the data you have is telling you one thing and your gut is telling you something else. It’s always three dimensional; you take staff observations and opinions as well as data, and use that to project into the future. We don’t have a crystal ball, so it’s one of the hardest things to do. Will we need movable walls, big or small meeting rooms, study rooms or no study rooms? After a while, you make a decision about what the community needs. What I’m doing is trying to solve problems people didn’t even know they had.

Librarians love numbers and we know how to count stuff; we’re seen as literary people but believing we don’t also like math is a fallacy. Numbers have clarity — there’s very little gray area there — but we want qualitative data, too. How do we collect it and what do we do after we get it? In my libraries, we try to show anecdotal data, such as the opinions of our patrons, and document it so it can be shared with our board or analyzed to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.

There’s still a lot that is not standardized in how we collect data. When libraries began to offer computers for public access, it made circulation shoot way up, but should we be counting their use as “checked out” items? I’m hoping we’ll be able to set up best practices and come up with definitions. I like manipulating spreadsheets — working with qualitative and quantitative data — but many others find it unwieldly and difficult. I’m interested in making data collection relevant enough that it’s not a chore but one of a library’s central functions.


Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Todd Carpenter

For the past 14 years, Todd Carpenter has served as Executive Director of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), a U.S.-based non-profit association that develops and maintains standards for the creation, management, and effective interchange of information. He has served on the boards of the Baltimore County Public Library, the Society for Scholarly Publishing, the Free Ebook Foundation, is a member of the inaugural ALA Policy Corps, and will serve as the PLDA’s secretariat.

I was a part of the Measures That Matter implementation group that developed the ideas behind the Public Library Data Alliance. I was invited to participate in the implementation stage, not as a statistics expert but from the perspective of my experience in consensus-building across the community. NISO as an entity is a neutral third party. When people are developing standards and best practices, there are many competing interests (privacy vs. advertising is an extreme example) that need to be reconciled. Even within the space of library assessment, for example, the academic libraries have one perspective and the public libraries have different interests and concerns.

Our vision was to create a confederation of interested parties with NISO serving as secretariat to keep the lights on, convene the meetings, and develop a process for conflict resolution. Our job is not to say what the PLDA will be, but to offer a framework on how to proceed. That could be technical standards, common vocabulary or survey tools, or a repository of data, best practices or benchmarks. There is a broad expanse of what the PLDA could be, and we’ll leave it up to the initial participants to define what it should become. NISO’s role is to support whatever that will be. It could grow significantly and we’d help support its growth, because a community success is also our success.

The story of libraries and data is changing; gone are the days of simply counting how many items are on a library’s shelves. In the internet age, what counts as your collection? If you’re offering health education, job training, or maker spaces, that isn’t easily measured by counting the number of computers you have. We need to match library assessment with our activities and our collective goals.

It’s really important for the larger library community to get behind the PLDA — there are 15 members of the Alliance but we’re going to need everyone to engage, adopt, and participate in our activities, and push for resources. If it’s just the 15 of us, we’re not going to accomplish our goals. We need the buy-in from the broader community to drive this initiative, which is at its core about telling the story of library success.


Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Cyndee Landrum

Cyndee Landrum is the Deputy Director of the Office of Library Services for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). She oversees the agency’s largest program, Grants to States, which is the primary source of federal funding for library services in the U.S. Landrum has served in public libraries across the country, including as CEO-Director of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library in Indiana, assistant director for public services at Oak Park Library in Illinois, assistant director of Mt. Lebanon Public Library in Pittsburgh, and in various positions at the Glendale Public Library in Arizona. She will serve as the IMLS liaison to the Alliance.

The Measures That Matter project is funded by IMLS and done in collaboration, so as a liaison I’m there to represent the agency. I don’t vote but I make sure our interest in this project is represented. We have significant interest in this area because of the two surveys we publish and our intimate relationship with library data. We have a data interest and so do the organizations represented, and the whole concept is to bring those voices together.

It’s important work and we’ve gathered a really well-rounded group of individuals through this inaugural alliance. I’m excited to see what they bring to the table and the things they elevate through this work.

Early on in my career, I spent a lot of my time participating in the data process for libraries — compiling, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting for the library systems where I worked. I thought a lot about data, its importance and significance, and the kinds of things we measure. Trying to build an evidence-based culture in libraries is important to me. I’m happy to serve as a liaison to this group and glad to see it move forward at the national level and gain traction in the profession.

We’ve made progress around refining some of the data that we have traditionally collected, and now there’s a great opportunity to refine that. We still have a bit to go in terms of applying some of the different types of analyses, evaluations, and assessments so we can tell a more complete story about the important impact of libraries’ work in the communities they serve.


Summary of the Measures that Matter Implementation Group Meeting…

Albany, New York

The Measures that Matter Implementation Group (IG) held its first in-person meeting November 28-29, 2018 in Albany, New York. Its charge and roster are below. All members participated (10 in-person and 5 via webinar). The Working Group is co-chaired by Ken Wiggin (COSLA/Connecticut State Library) and Sharon Comstock (Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library (IN). The Measures that Matter Action Plan is available at Final.pdf.

The primary objective of the meeting was to address charge item #1. This was achieved through a combination of small and full group work. Results are being compiled and will be shared in December. In the context of this work, charge item #3 was also addressed. The IG determined that Working Groups (WGs) will be formed to pursue Action Plan steps 2.3 (“Establish Workgroup on Community Impact”), 4.1 (Establish Baseline Considerations for Capacity Building” and 4.2 (“Develop Use Cases”). The process by which this will occur will be determined in December and Working Groups will begin their work in January 2019.

With reference to charge item #3, the IG heard from representatives from Capagemini and Rent the Runway about uses of data and data governance in their settings. The IG will continue to hear from a variety of organizations on these and other data topics to learn from the experience and expertise of others, particularly those from fields other than librarianship.

Finally, the IG also began preliminary planning to address charge item #4, which will become its focus in January 2019.

For more information, contact or COSLA Executive Director Timothy Cherubini at or 859 514 9826.

Measures that Matter Implementation Group Roster

Audrey Betcher, Rochester Public Library (MN) Daphna Blatt, New York Public Library
Todd Carpenter, National Information Standards Organization (NISO)
Timothy Cherubini, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA)
Larra Clark, Public Library Association/American Library Association Sharon Comstock, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library (IN)
Teri DeVoe, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
Rebekah Garrety, York County Libraries (PA)
Katherine Lovan, Idaho Library Association/Middleton Public Library (ID)
Stacey Malek, Texas State Library and Archives Commission
Michael Norton, Reinvestment Fund
Jennifer Pearson, Association for Rural and Small Libraries/Marshall County Memorial Library (TN)
Alisha Powell Gillis, Urban Libraries Council
Kathy Rosa, American Library Association
Mary Stein, East Baton Rouge Parish Library (LA)
Ken Wiggin, COSLA/Connecticut State Library

Charge: Envisioned as a short-term group, convening through April 2019, the Implementation Group (IG) is charged with several activities including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  1. prioritizing the actions described in the plan, defining successful outcomes, suggesting time horizons, identifying prospective owners for implementation and resources (financial and other) needed to achieve the goals.
  2. engaging data driven organizations from outside the library field to learn from their experience and expertise; exploring ways to realize collective impact efforts using data in and from libraries with community-based organizations.
  3. identifying a limited number of pilot projects (2 – 4) from the Action Plan to be carried out by Working Groups (WGs). Each WG will have an IG sponsor and consist of additional members (6– 10) not on the IG but recruited from a range of stakeholders appropriate to the specific WG’s goals and needs.
  4. Identifying the composition, scope and charge of an on-going national Public Library Data Council which will serve as a permanent successor to the IG.