Daunted by Data? You Got This!

4 min read

| By Lisa Novohatski, Marketing Analytics Consultant, Gale |

No surprise to any of you–library culture is focused around information. Working alongside librarians for the past five years has helped me to understand how this culture both empowers staff and the communities it serves. I’ve also seen that not only are libraries great sources of information, they are great receptacles of data. But often, this data isn’t particularly well-organized. Data collection just sort of happened. Data systems emerged as a way to address particular needs. For example, the ILS keeps track of the collection, patrons, and how patrons interact with the collection. The resulting data is extremely rich and informative but is more of an unintentional result than an intentional collection of data.

Gale brought me on board to help librarians in their journey toward making data-driven decisions to best serve their communities. I’ve seen the challenges, I’ve heard the frustrations. I’m sharing my observations in the event you find them of help as you navigate your best outcomes.


As offerings expand, numerous data systems–each serving a particular purpose and collecting a specific set of unique information–emerge. These new systems were likely assessed for functionality as a standalone system and not considered as part of a larger relational data program. Because of this, data lives in “silos” with limited access across departments, personnel, and even equipment. Sound familiar?

Trying to manage all the resulting data is difficult, at best. Consider the challenge of integrating the mined data from these different standalone systems to get at meaningful metrics – the very information necessary to better reach your community, create more meaningful programs, advance your value to stakeholders, and allocate resources more efficiently.


Library staff are required to manage a dizzying amount of data and information. But harnessing data for their own needs– such as developing programs and building collections– often goes unchecked.

Some librarians have taken steps to incorporate analytics into their regular routine, tracking such traditional metrics as active cardholders, visits, circulation, and program attendance. Others go a step further and look at trends over time or differences between branch locations. Finally, some engage in more intensive analytics, analyzing data in the manner that large corporations or consumer brands do by including multi-year trends and forecasting.

Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of data that can be mined, it’s important to be realistic about available resources for collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and disseminating the information. With the right tools in place, it’s not so daunting.


Individually, traditional metrics are informative and important, but you can gain considerably more insight by adding a little context and relating them to each other. For example, when reviewing circulation in a multi-branch system, you’ll undoubtedly see that certain branches circulate more items than others. This could be due to a number of factors – location and accessibility, hours of operation, staffing levels, parking availability, and more.

Now look at circulation relative to other metrics such as per open hour, per full-time employee, per visit, per item held. This may allow you to more equally compare circulation between branches by considering different factors that could impact trends. By carefully reviewing the data you do have, you’ll gain insight on the usage of your library, helping you make more informed decisions as you plan for the future.

Curious how libraries are using data as an opportunity to better serve their communities? Download the full article from IMPACT, a publication for public libraries.  Nike SF-AF1

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