Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Lynn Hoffman

Lynn Hoffman is the Director of Operations for the Somerset County Library System of New Jersey. She holds a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in English from Boston University, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude with distinction.

I’ve been involved in the public library data sphere for almost a decade, and all the staff at my library know I’m our resident data nerd. I’m fortunate in that it’s very easy for me to find an interesting tidbit in a data set, but I’m in the minority in the larger public library world. My experience with librarians and library leadership is that if it doesn’t come naturally, they can get intimidated. It’s compounded when someone has a math deficit, when numbers and spreadsheets are too closely associated with bad math experiences.

But reading spreadsheets doesn’t require much math knowledge. What’s compelling about the PLDA project is that having a single overarching view of the data landscape will give us a more focused platform. It’ll make it easier to explain the cool things you can use data for and why we love it, with the hope that people lose the intimidation factor and see how data is relative to their daily lives.

Some of the lack of comfort with data stems from the seemingly disparate groups and collection points; the relationships between these sources is very opaque. People are entering the same information again and again in different surveys, but aren’t sure how they all fit together. I would love for this group to make strides in terms of simplifying that landscape and making it more easily understandable.

There’s a lot of potential for real change, especially in a practical day-to-day kind of way. We have an opportunity here to provide people with a better comfort level when using data in the process of providing service. A lot of what Measure That Matter has done so far is very interesting to me but to others it might seem like an abstract, theoretical exercise. I’m excited to be a part of manifesting it in real life so people can see directly how data is helpful in their work.