The campaign to assess public library outcomes got a tremendous boost by Library Journal’s Director Summit held last month in Columbus, Ohio. It’s heartening to see library leaders getting serious about making outcome assessment integral to the management of U.S. public libraries! The excitement and determination are necessary for making progress on this front. And it sounds like the summit was designed to let folks absorb relevant ideas in ways that make them their own.
The onset of this newfound energy is the perfect time to commit ourselves to gaining a firm grasp on the core concepts and methods of outcome assessment. Although measurement of outcomes is a new undertaking for libraries, it has been around for a long time in other contexts. In fact, outcome evaluation approaches have been studied, debated, refined, and chronicled over the past forty-five years . . . [Read more]
It’s great to see other librarians advocating for the same causes I harp on in this blog. I’m referring to Sarah Robbins, Debra Engel, and Christina Kulp of the University of Oklahoma, whose article appears in the current issue of College & Research Libraries. The article, entitled “How Unique Are Our Users?”1 warns against the folly of using convenience samples. It implores library researchers to honestly explain the limitations of their studies. And the authors are resolute about the importance of understanding the generalizability of survey findings, a topic which also happens to be the main focus of their study.
I bring up their article for a different reason, however. It is an example of how difficult and nuanced certain aspects of research and statistics can be. Despite the best of intentions, it’s amazingly easy to get tripped up by one or another detail. Robbins and her colleagues got caught in the briar patch that is statistics and research methods. I say so because the main conclusions reached in their study are not actually borne out by their survey results . . . [Read more]
1 Robbins, S., Engel, D. and Kulp, C., 2011, How unique are our users? Comparing responses regarding the information-seeking habits of engineering faculty, College & Research Libraries, 72:6, pp. 515-532.
Infographics is one of two new fashionable terms used nowadays to refer to statistical charts and graphs. The other term is visualizations, which replaces such archaic words as graphs, charts, pictures, diagrams, and illustrations. Sometimes the term is affectionately shortened to data viz by its really cool practitioners.
In the infographics/visualization/data viz movement there are two basic schools of thought. One school emphasizes principles of artistic design and the other emphasizes information clarity. The first prizes graphics that are beautiful and appealing, while the other judges visualizations based on how informative they are.1 Many adherents of the first approach to graphics are marketing and advertising professionals. Lest you presume that they subscribe to the motto
ars gratia artis . . . [Read more]
1 Of course, it is possible for graphics to be simultaneously beautiful and informational. Well-designed graphics can be elegant in their clarity and visual appeal. See Edward Tufte’s book Beautiful Evidence.
I borrowed the title for this entry from a 2009 study of student research practices by Randall McClure and Kellian Clink. Their study is cited in an article in the current issue of College & Research Libraries that Joe Matthews brought to my attention. This article is Students Use More Books After Library Instruction by Rachel Cooke and Danielle Rosenthal. Both articles explore research sources and citations that undergraduate students use in writing assignments. Though it’s the second article I want to discuss, McClure’s and Clink’s well-chosen title is too good to pass up. In fact, I’m thinking of making it the motto of this blog!
Anyway, in their article Cooke and Rosenthal report that university English composition students “used more books, more types of sources, and more overall sources when a librarian provided instruction.”1 Their statement contains two separate claims . . . [Read more]
1 Cooke, R. and Rosenthal, D., 2011, Students Use More Books after Library Instruction: An Analysis of Undergraduate Paper Citations, College & Research Libraries, 72:4, p. 332.
I recently ran across a series of studies suggesting that prayer tends to lessen anger and aggression. Researchers concluded that prayer helps people adopt a more positive view of adverse or irritating circumstances. There also happens to be a sideline to their findings that illustrates something you don’t hear much about from proponents of outcomes assessment in libraries. It involves this statement by the researchers:
These results would only apply to the typical benevolent prayers that are advocated by most religions… Vengeful or hateful prayers, rather than changing how people view a negative situation, may actually fuel anger and aggression.
Though the aims of the prayer studies differ from those of library outcomes studies, the two research approaches are similar in this respect: When studying effects of a program, treatment, or intervention, if we’re not sure about the exact content of that program, treatment, or intervention, then we have a problem. In the field of program evaluation this problem falls under the rubric of program fidelity . . . [Read more]
A recent article in AL Direct entitled The Smartest Readers presents some simple library rankings based on that stalwart library measure, circulation per capita. Rankings like these are, at least to me, a reminder of a perennial conundrum concerning the meaning of per capita library measures. For more than a century librarianship has puzzled over how to evaluate these statistics. Do per capita data tell us whether or not libraries are doing a good job? What amounts of materials made available or levels of services delivered are sufficient for libraries with specific missions and serving communities of a particular size and makeup?
Mainly, libraries have to rely on their own ingenuity to interpret per capita or per constituent data (like per student, faculty, employee, subscriber, stakeholder, and such). About the only official guidance they have gotten over the decades is advice about comparing (benchmarking) their data with appropriate peer libraries. Lacking some more objective gauge of statistical performance, libraries end up applying what might be called the more-is-better rule . . . [Read more]