Guest Blog Post: Director, State Library Services, Minnesota, Jen Nelson shares why she thinks Measures that Matter and the Public Library Data Alliance remain important during the pandemic.
Collecting robust data –beyond indicators, inputs and outputs – has been a challenge for libraries for a long time. There are pockets of helpful coordination and agreement, but efforts have been far from comprehensive. While I can tell you how many books were checked out of Minnesota libraries in the last 100 years, I cannot tell what kind of difference those loaned books made for borrowers and their communities. Clearly, that is the problem with a dogged focus on outputs instead of outcomes.
Today, the stakes are high. Libraries are stepping up in all kinds of unique ways to assist their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. From moving all programming online, to delivering books to shut-ins (and in some cases even food and medicine) to extending the reach of their WIFI networks so people in the parking lot and nearby neighborhood can stay connected, there are many wonderful examples of library outreach and service. However, what is largely missing from the environment are agreed upon data collection points that libraries can use to document their work and speak more concretely to stakeholders about the ways libraries are contributing to community safety and well-being. The significant data gap is magnified by the unusual time we are in.
The good news is the Public Library Data Alliance (PLDA) will play a pivotal role in helping libraries to better collect and analyze unique data points. Libraries have been terrific at adopting and adapting to new methods and new services, but not so much with measuring those new services – libraries adopt first, think about measurement second – in many cases. That is where the PLDA can provide thought leadership, guidance and build consensus among the various constituents.
What a gift to libraries it will be when we can align library data needs so vendors can design and build systems that ease the collection process. The PLDA can provide a bird’s eye view of the stories we are trying to tell with data and establish the required mechanisms for collection, distribution and use of data. I eagerly look forward to seeing the fruits of its work.