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A Look at Library Data

by on December 12, 2013

Following the German BIX, recently “Library Journal” and the  International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Metropolitan Libraries Section each published their rankings of public library services. Libraries can see how they rated, nationally or globally.

What do the German cities of Dresden, Erlangen, Jena, Regensburg, and Würzburg have in common? Their public libraries all got four stars for the year 2013 [1], that is the top rating of the BIX benchmarking system. Four stars mean a gold rating (the best) in each of the four groups of indicators, or, as they say, Zieldimensionen, (target dimensions). The participant libraries are mostly German, due to the fact that German must be accepted as the project language, so the only exceptions are from Switzerland and Austria. BIX was born in 1999, but looks very up-to-date if we consider the 18 indicators for public libraries, divided into: services (6), usage (5), efficiency (4),and development (3). Services refers to the core assets of the library: collection, space, staff, computers, programs, and Internet services, whose indicator sums up the number of services provided online, such as homepage, OPAC, user account management, virtual reference, Web 2.0 tools, and electronic resources. Usage includes virtual visits per capita, including homepage and OPAC sessions. Efficiency considers the relationship between expenditures and loans or visits. Development focuses on expenditures on buildings or the training of staff (including conference visits).

Created in 2006,  perhaps more relevant indicators are now needed for the Library Journal Index, whose benchmarking scheme is based on the data of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). In it, U. S. public libraries, divided into 9 groups according to the annual expenditure, are assigned from three to five stars, based on four core output indicators regarding circulation, visits, programs, and Internet sessions. The 2013 LJ Index (year 2011) did not count new services, such as Wi-Fi access, e-books and database usage, or new ways of interacting with patrons. For instance some public libraries are starting to record “inreach,” services and collaborations with community agencies, in their statistics [2]. Electronic circulation per capita will be added starting with 2013 data. Simplicity is the main objective at the expense of the measurement of efficiency or of some classic service outputs like reference transactions.

At the international level a global evaluation of public libraries has been conducted by the IFLA Metropolitan Libraries Section since 2000 [3]. The last report (year 2011), published in November on IFLANET, was compiled by Helsinki City Library. 56 libraries participated from Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania. The survey adopts more than 20 indicators regarding inputs, collections, expenditures, staff and outputs. The 2007-11 trends present a stabilization in staff and acquisitions (after the 2008-09 drop, probably due to the U. S. economic crisis), but a decline in weekly opening hours. After a boom in 2010, e-book collections are moderately increasing. For the second year, data about “hot” topics were collected: electronic services and resources, social networking, and programming. All the libraries (except three) have a Facebook account and the page of the National Library of Singapore generated more than 785,000 activities in a year! Fans of rankings will find something to sink their teeth into. In this edition Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library collected seven top positions, particularly in input measures and financial/staff ratios. Columbus (Ohio) and Seattle (Washington) earned some high rankings in output measures, while, among the European libraries, Copenhagen (Denmark) and Helsinki (Finland) got to the podium (Helsinki for the highest number of visits per capita).tThis survey was used as a management tool by Auckland (New Zealand) Libraries staff when 7 separate library systems merged into one. “We became a library system serving 1,5 million people, – Allison Dobbie of the Auckland Council wrote – “so used the statistics as a benchmark to check our resourcing levels relative to other libraries of a similar size. This was useful as we were then able to justify our levels of resourcing to our Council” [4].

If you are confused by the big national and international data projects, go back to the local level and have a look at the aspects that a single public library’s open data can reveal, such as the rise of e-book checkouts or the renewed interest in a novel due to a movie release in the Chicago public library system. [5]


[1] In the group of cities with over 100000 inhabitants. Libraries are divided into five peer groups, according of the number of inhabitants of the served community.

[2] “Inreach” services are considered those “miniprograms that arise spontaneously between staff and patrons.” The last two reports present the profiles of some top-rated libraries, or of new star libraries, with their big strategies and small recipes to earn the 5-stars.

[3] The Section is the network of libraries of cities with 400,000 or more inhabitants

[4] E-mail to author (07/31/2013). Other library managers, such as Judith Hare (Halifax Public Library, Canada) and Siobhan Reardon (Free Library of Philadelphia), reported to me about the use of the so-called MetLib Statistics to evaluate the library’s progress in comparison with other institutions of the same population size (e-mails to author, 07/17/2013 and 07/21/2013). After three consecutive years of funding by IFLA, now the survey is looking for new funds to continue.

[5] Elliott Ramos, “Perusing Chicago Public Library Data: Rogers Park ranks high among bookworms, Great Gatsby flies off shelf and eBook checkouts on the rise”, accessed November 13, 2013,

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