At a recent user’s group conference, there was a dominant theme: the importance of querying and retrieving data. As we know, library-as-place is important. Library-as-place-with-only-books is becoming less important and is an outdated model. This is not a new concept, but it was obvious, at least at this convention center, that library staff are interested in more than books. Several conference sessions were not talking about how to best display or circulate books, but rather about libraries actively removing collections to make space for people to do things. Their materials are still available and findable in the ILS, and the patron will get what they request. But it’s not important where that material is housed (online or in a storage facility).
While the push for data is also not new, the demand for more access to the library’s data (authority in fact, for the library to control this data and do what they will with it) is becoming a rallying cry for librarians and administrators. Out-of-the-box reporting tools no longer seem to suffice. It also seems the lines between librarian skills are no longer clear-cut. Experience and familiarity with SQL queries (or the need to acquire such skills) seems commonplace, so you better learn it!
The bottom line is simple: the library can no longer waste time, waste money, and waste resources hoping that our communities will always love and support us. We need to be accountable and relevant to our communities. And, we need to be adaptable to our own data and look for the meaning behind the numbers. The question is how will the hard data influence our future? Does it mean fewer bestsellers are in the system? Does it mean you wait longer for your materials? Does it mean personnel and resources need to be reduced?
No one knows what will happen in any given location. We are struggling like any other private business or public organization to be responsible with our resources. We are doing our best at making decisions that are in our patrons’ best interests. I’m speaking for all library professionals (degreed or not), we are passionate about what we do. We care. We want to be successful. We want YOU to be successful. But, what happens when the objective data doesn’t support subjective evidence (let’s call this sentiment or feelings)?
I believe in deliberate data-driven decisions and it seems so do most librarians (these sessions have been packed). We do things for a reason, because this is what the data is telling us. Next year, it may tell us something else, but right now, we have to make these decisions because this is what the data tells us.