Monday, February 28, 2011

Electronic Resources & Libraries Conference - Telling Your Story With Usage Statistics

This morning at the Electronic Resources and Libraries conference in Austin, Texas, there was a second session on how to tell a powerful story about your library services with statistics.

Jamene Brooks-Kiefer (Kansas State University) explained the necessity of turning stats into a textual summary or narrative. Spreadsheets and tables are not necessarily out, but most audiences will respond best to understandable sentences. For example: "In the last 12 months, 77% of the users coming into the system via the LinkResolver software clicked through to the full-text."

The key thing is to tailor the scope of the story to the audience, with different audiences requiring different levels of detail.

Using a few examples, John McDonald (Claremont University, Austin), referring to the work of Edward Tufte on the visual presentation of information, warned that the use of the wrong stats or the wrong visual presentation of the right stats can backfire or be interpreted in ways that are contrary to what the presenter intends.

He recommended that it is crucial to understand how various audiences absorb information in reports and to:
  • decide first which story you want to tell
  • choose your statistics wisely
  • choose your images presenting those stats wisely
  • work with others to build a good story (perhaps by practicing in front of colleague)
Michael Levine-Clark (University of Denver), using the example of his institutional library's ambitious collection move, again emphasized the need to find the right data for the right audience. There were many different stakeholder groups in Denver, all responsive to different kinds of data in different formats.

Some, such as architects, needed data about linear feet. Others, such as administrators, responded to circulation stats to understand where to locate different parts of the collection for optimum access. Different faculties needed reassurance, based on other circulation stats, that the most used volumes in their areas of expertise would not be moved to remote storage. Etc.

There was no one story, there were numerous stories, requiring unique presentations based on appropriate and different numbers in each case.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 5:22 pm

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