Newsline, December 2018

Letter from the Executive Director

As we enter the home stretch of the year, we start to reflect on the past year and the accomplishments we've collectively achieved. Determining the metrics by which we benchmark our success is a core component of doing that assessment. Of course, we all want to do well and achieve our goals; and I hope each of you is well on the way to doing so!

In a business context either in a for-profit or not-for-profit structure, it is critical that the criteria used in measuring progress appropriately align with the strategic goals of the organization. Often the goals that are established are inwardly focused and are based on things that are comparatively easy to measure: Where did the organization end financially? How many customers or patrons were served? How efficiently were those interactions managed? Were the marketing or outreach activities successful? Addressing more complex issues, such as the level of satisfaction by those customers/patrons or whether the organization, in addressing the customer/patron's needs, was successful is considerably more challenging to assess.

In the library context, this is often exemplified. There is a great deal of data that is collected and shared, but do these data collection efforts and analyses really get to the core of what a library is doing and how it is serving its patrons? Possibly not. Describing the size of a collection says little about the community the library serves, who is utilizing the library, and for what purpose. Often in telling stories about a library's activities, be that locally or nationally, the data that are available and reported don't capture the full range of activities, or the breadth of services a library provides. How do libraries effectively capture the impact of makerspaces or non-traditional services (such as tax preparationcheck-out-a-person, or internet provision). There are certainly data that could be collected and be used for predictive modeling or for strategic investments that libraries could also engage in. Examples of questions that might be explored include: how can an institution identify underserved communities and craft programs for those communities? Or how might the library with services have an impact and with which communities?

I spent a part of last week at a kick-off meeting of the Measures that Matter Implementation project, hosted by COSLA. This project is exploring ways to advance the recommendations of the project's first phase and were reported out earlier this year. Specifically, the project is looking to a project to examine, evaluate, and map the landscape of public library data collection in the United States. After doing so, the implementation phase is seeking to both rationalize and coordinate national assessment data collection efforts, explore new metrics to add to existing data collection efforts that can be used to more fully capture the impact that libraries are having on the community, and to also develop a plan on how to build capacity for improving understanding about data use and application in our community.

Part of this process relates to standards for defining what data is to be collected and what are the processes for data collection to make the process easier for individual librarians, which is why NISO has been engaged in the effort. Self-assessment can be done by any institution without much external coordination, but when data needs to be aggregated at regional, state, national, or even international levels, agreement on data elements, meanings, and goals is critical. Not every institution has the same capacity for data gathering, needs for assessment, or analytical capacity. Any systems that come out of the Measures that Matter project need to work both locally and scale up nationally. Ideally, the process will eventually reduce the burden on the librarians completing these data collection tools, but it will also provide more meaningful data that can be used to drive good decision-making by the public library community.

As we head toward the end of the year, I would like to express my thanks to all those who have engaged throughout the year on the large number of NISO initiatives. By last count there were more than 500 people working on various projects. Each chance I get, I remind all of you that your contributions, be they financial, your time, your feedback, or your leadership contributions, are critical to our success. We wouldn't be able to achieve our own goals and produce our successes without your efforts. Our deepest thanks go out to you all.

I hope your holidays are joyous, filled with health and peace.

With kindest regards, 

Todd Carpenter