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.

Discussion Topics

Wi-Fi and Program Reporting

At the April 2022 Network Advisory Council (NAC) meeting, the task force recommended statewide software as a centralized solution for collecting data on Wi-Fi sessions and program attendance. The Network Advisory Council identified this as an unfunded priority.

With the new Public Library Survey (PLS) detail items for programs regarding mode of delivery and audience, 85% of Montana public libraries did not provide complete or satisfactory answers. Similarly, Montana has a low response rate for Wi-Fi sessions. Though valuable for assessing library performance, the metrics are both confusing and difficult to collect. One solution used by other states is a product called WhoFi. WhoFi aids libraries with consistent and simplified statistical tracking for Wi-Fi use and programs. The product also includes a public facing community calendar. Data from WhoFi can be fed into the annual Public Library Survey in a centralized manner to relieve the burden from public library directors and to ensure consistent and reliable data across all organizations.

The software will empower librarians to:

  • Form data-driven decisions about program offerings and Wi-Fi service
  • Use community calendars to enhance collaborative opportunities between libraries
  • Automate statistical reporting by program and systems staff to relieve the burden from library directors
  • Communicate the value of the library to stakeholders through automated reporting
  • Identify trends and evaluate program effectiveness locally and in the broader library community

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.