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Show Me The Data: Developing Plans for Library Transparency

A recent post by Doug Johnson, in which he posits that librarians are often regarded with distrust by teachers/admins, has gotten me thinking about how and why I share data.

While I like to think of my library as incredibly open, I recognize that I'm not "great" at sharing data throughout the year.  Like most librarians, I create an annual report in the spring and share it with teachers, admins and, really, anyone who will hold still long enough for me to hand them one, but my efforts to share data throughout the remainder of the year are inconsistent (at best).  This year, one of the ways I'm combating my previous half-hearted attempts is through the creation of a data wall:  a place where I can publicly follow some of Doug's advice about transparency:

Don't wait until the end of the year to file an "annual report." Keep a running list of total numbers of items circulated, students using the library, classes you've taught, etc. Make it public. If the statistics raise questions, ask them.

To be honest, I decided to do this last spring, when budget talks were running at a fever pitch and I was looking for new ways to prove my worth. To my way of thinking, transparency is a form of advocacy.  The distrust that Doug speaks of in his post is what leads budget cutters to our doors.   Doing good work simply isn't enough; we also have to make the world aware of all the good work we're doing.

Despite the fact that my gator (our school mascot) looks a whole lot like an armadillo in lederhosen, I'm pleased with the final result because it provides me with the first step in system for getting information out there.  While I've never tried to hide data about what's happening in the library, without publishing mechanisms in place, sharing it became something that I did only when a) I thought of it and b) I had time (and we all know how often that is).  What's more, my guess is that many librarians are in the same boat.  Without a system for sharing, it simply doesn't get done.

So, along with all the curriculum and collection planning I'm doing these days, I'm also constructing a data sharing plan. In addition to my data wall, I'll be posting more information about what I do, how I do it and who I do it with on my website, our MTAC's wiki and through submissions to our school system's monthly newsletter. Additionally, I'm planning to hold some contests throughout the year in which students make predictions about how many books we'll be able to buy with the amounts we're allotted or how many classes the library will see in a given month, etc. We'll have to wait and see how it all pans out.  The one thing I know for sure, however, is that, (for me anyway), it will take more than just the desire to be transparent in my practice to make it happen - it will also take a plan and a process for sharing data in order for me to realize that goal.

All of that said, I'm the first to admit that I am no expert.  I'd love to hear about how other folks share data and create a transparent library environment.  If you'd had success in the past or are trying something new this year, please let me know.  I firmly believe that when we share, we're all made better.


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