Public Library Statistics Task Force

The Public Library Statistics Task Force is appointed by the State Librarian to assist MSL in studying the annual Public Libraries Survey (PLS) process. In addition to exploring obstacles, the committee will discuss data needs and help align MSL data analysis goals with the realities of working in a Montana public library. In the past, the committee has clarified data element definitions, suggested new local and federal data elements, and collaborated with MSL to provide outreach to library directors regarding the collection process. The PLS Task Force meets on an ad hoc basis. As questions arise that would benefit from librarian expertise, the group will convene via Zoom or engage in discussion via email.

FY 2023 Survey Additions

The Public Library Statistics Task Force helps vet survey questions for inclusion in the survey. This year, Montana introduced three local sections to help address research needs coming out of the State Library and from the Network Advisory Council. These questions are on buildings, broadband, and staffing.

  • Buildings (survey section - Outlet Condition) - Understanding facilities in Montana libraries will help the State Library pivot if funding materializes to address infrastructure projects. This is specifically relevant as the "Build America's Library Act" continues to be discussed by Congress. Comparative data and statistics might also be useful for libraries interested in pursuing building assessments and need-based grants.
  • Broadband (survey section - Outlet Internet/Internet Speed) - The Montana Broadband Office (MBO) is participating in the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, which will potentially provide funding for locations lacking adequate broadband speeds. Community Anchor Institutions (CAIs), including libraries, may be eligible to receive funding, should sufficient funding be available. The State Library was tasked with identifying broadband speeds for each library. Both the BEAD proposal and the Digital Opportunities Plan include a map of Montana libraries with available Wi-Fi. MSL hopes to revise the map to include more up-to-date information.
  • Staffing (survey section - Staffing & Salaries) - The Network Advisory Council named a priority to "conduct a study of comparable wages and occupational standards for library positions in order to evaluate the need to advocate for improved library salaries." While public data exists at the city and county level for director salaries, data on other library staff positions is not as readily available. Because library work is unique, it can be difficult to identify comparable occupations when making job offers or establishing new positions. While other states collect this information via the PLS, it's not necessarily relevant to the Montana job market. The State Library intends to summarize the collected data in a report to the Network Advisory Council without identifying specific libraries to protect personally identifiable information (PII). For example, the data may include an average, min, and max for each position by service area population bands.

PLS Challenges

The NAC expressed an interest in investigating the challenges librarians face in reporting statistics for the annual Public Libraries Survey. While Wi-Fi and programs were identified as pain points, other areas mentioned included reference transactions, library visits, and computer sessions. The Task Force will further explore the survey to identify areas that can benefit from documentation, training, or tools.