Administrative and Management Skills

More Than Numbers: The Story of a Data Nerd

Every program, every time. We know it. Numbers are a big deal. But also, even with a click counter in hand I’m not a machine. And kids of all ages, like crowds, move pretty quickly and can be hard to tally. Libraries need good data for meaningful reports, but it’s not just about the numbers. Good data also hides in the stories, and I love finding ways to collect a good story (or ten). That’s the fun part of data. That’s the data can be kind of inspiring.

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Yes, inspiring! I think of data as a programming librarian’s best friend. Why? Because it helps me understand what’s working (and what’s not). That feedback matters a lot. In a nutshell, data helps me pivot.

From simple emailed surveys to paper fliers, those direct patron messages make a difference in what I might do differently next time. For five people or fifty, feedback helps me figure out if my programs successfully delivered what the description promised and can refine my understanding of what patrons might want to see in the future.

Sounds complicated, right? But our library took the time to adapt our adult outcomes survey to better fit the needs of children. Smiley face scales and short sentences enabled participants of differing ages and reading levels to let us know how they felt about their library experience. And adult caregivers, often in a hurry to leave, were usually happy to fill these out with their little ones.

This journey to embracing data started long before I joined the library sector, even though I sometimes feel like I spent time in school studying everything but data. But have no fear – data talk is everywhere. Check out the innovative qualitative data collection approaches like the Observation Deck from the Madison Public Library in collaboration with Waupaca Area Public Library and Skokie Public Library, learning opportunities like 12 Months to Better Data featuring curriculum from the Research Institute for Public Libraries (RIPL), another ALSC blog on quick guides to program data collection, and start counting.

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