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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Unflattering Figures

There has been a flurry of concern over the inadequacy of public library statistics following the publication of a short report by the House of Commons Library on the subject.  Some of the comments I have seen have been very critical of the Commons Library, which I think is rather unfair, since their report was only designed as a fairly slight update on the current situation not a major piece of work. 

The DCLG has had a short post dedicated to the subject of the figures, which are indeed inadequate.  Although central government has a duty of superintendance under the 1964 Act, it seems to have no systematic monitoring and to maintain no database.  Instead it relies on CIPFA figures, which are reasonably thorough, but generally released a long time after collection.  For more up to date figures, the only readily available source is Public Libraries News, which is run by a librarian in his spare time collating from media reports.  That seems a rather inadequate basis for the DCMS to perform a statutory duty. 

The Libraries Taskforce at the DCLG does seem to be finally looking at what figures should be collected.  Hitherto, there has been a strong emphasis on the number of libraries, which I would argue is misguided as it treats a tiny branch library as equivalent to Manchester Central Library, whereas I would see them as very different things. 

The CIPFA reports have also tended to emphasise the numbers of volunteers active in library services.  Many people are actually quite critical of the use of volunteers in libraries, seeing it as a form of job substitution and tending to devalue the work of paid library staff.  It also increasingly appears that volunteer run libraries are not as successful as some of their proponents had hoped.  The whole volunteer emphasis seems to me to increasingly look like a fad rather than an effective solution. 

There is also a debate top be had about how data from the PLUS survey should be best used, and whether loan and visit figures are adequate.  I have long thought that collecting figures on the number of computer log ins either from desktops or from mobile devices should be relevant.  I look forward to the Task force publishing their views. 

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