I’m a data girl. I’ve spent my entire career evangelizing for using the information available to us in quantitative ways to inform our decisions about services and resources. In libraries, there’s a lot of data to choose from — cataloging stats, circulation numbers, ILL transactions (borrowing and lending), website statistics, gate counts, reference transactions, costs of resources across disciplines, and on, and on, and on. What I believe is even more important than those internal counts is the external data — demographics of our user base, studies by outside agencies about technology saturation among Americans of all ages, and institutional data.
Today, I’m up to my eyeballs in institutional data — what we call the “Departmental Profile Trends”. We use it to inform our monographic allocations — there’s value, we have decided, in understanding how many students are enrolled in classes in each of our subject areas, and at which level of course, which, we assert, has an affect on what depth and breadth of materials are needed in each subject area. The DPT can give me that data — credit hours, FTE, and course level, by department.
The correlation between this data and monographic purchasing isn’t perfect, of course; even if a department teaches only graduate-level courses, they do not automatically then need monographs at a higher rate than departments teaching mainly 100-level classes. This is only one data point on a long spectrum of data about how information needs are developed and met in an academic program. But it’s useful, as far as it goes, and more than that, it’s interesting.
Right now, I have at my fingertips the data on how many students enrolled in upper division Psychology classes. How many students took classes in Special Education. The breakdown of courses taught last year in the Crane School of Music. And that’s interesting.
And I have to wonder about broader ways to apply it to our work. Reference training, for one. Information Literacy targeting, for another. Special events programming, yet another… And there are surely more, if we stop to think about it. This information draws us an outline of our user population — it doesn’t color it in, or show us the unique personalities and highlights, but it’s an outline.
How can we use that?