guest post on ACRLog

I see a strong need for the creation, support, and implementation of data standards and tools to provide libraries with the means to effectively evaluate their resources.

A few months ago, Maura Smale contacted me about writing a guest post for ACRLog. I happily obliged, and it has now been published.

When it came time to finally sit down and write about something (anything) that interested me in academic librarianship, I found myself at a loss for words. Last month, I spent some time visiting friends here and there on my way out to California for the Internet Librarian conference, and many of those friends also happened to be academic librarians. It was through those conversations that I found a common thread for the issues that are pushing some of my professional buttons.

Specifically, I see a strong need for the creation, support, and implementation of data standards and tools to provide libraries with the means to effectively evaluate their resources. If that interests you as well, please take a moment to go read the full essay, and leave a comment if you’d like.

Amtrak 1, United 0

I’m currently on a train heading towards Philadelphia. An Acela business class car, no less, and all I’d purchased was a coach class ticket on a regular train. See, there was a problem at Union Station in DC, preventing my train from Richmond from getting there. So, in Alexandria, they recommended we get off at the station, take the metro to Union Station, and board a different train there that was heading in the direction of our destinations. Our tickets would be honored, and all we had to do was pay for the metro ticket.

Here’s where Amtrak did it right. As soon as the folks on my train found out about the delay, they let us know. As soon as they knew it would be longer than the original 45 min estimate, they came through the cars again with the transfer information. Communication was excellent and timely. Then, when we all arrived at Union Station, the information desk was able to quickly route us to the right train.

That was when we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we’d be on an Acela train. Well, at least, I was pleased, because that meant free wifi for the rest of my trip. w00t!

The train is packed to the gills, but the Amtrak employees are unfazed and courteous as ever. Looking at this in contrast to the frazzled and disorganized management of my SFO-MRY canceled United flight last week, I am once again finding myself wishing for an extensive network of high-speed rail for regional transportation in the US. If a company like Amtrak, which everyone seems to expect to fail any day, can provide such excellent customer service compared to most airlines, then imagine how well they would do if they expanded into every major market.

I know I’d be taking the train more often!

LibFest: Telling your Story with Usage Statistics — Making data work

presenter: Jamene Brooks-Kieffer

She won’t be talking about complex tools or telling you to hire more staff. Rather, she’ll be looking at ways we can use what we have to do it better.

Right now, we have too much data from too many sources, and we don’t have enough time or staff to deal with it. And, nobody cares about it anyway. Instead of feeling blue about this, change your attitude.

Start by looking at smaller chunks. Look at all of the data types and sources, then choose one to focus on. Don’t stress about the rest. How to pick which one? Select data that has been consistently collected over time. If it’s focused on a specific activity, it’ll be easier to create a story about it. And finally, the data should be both interesting and accessible to you.

By selecting only one source of data, you have reduced the stress on time. You also need to acknowledge your limits in order to move forward. You can’t work miracles, but you can show enough impact to get others on board. Tie the data to your organizational goals. Analyze the data using the tools you already have (i.e. Excel), and then publicize the results of your work.

Why use Excel? It’s pretty universal, and there are free alternatives for spreadsheets if you need them. Three useful Excel tools: import & manipulate files of various formats (CSV files), consolidate similar information (total annual data from monthly worksheets), and conditional formatting (identify cost/use over thresholds).

The spreadsheets are for you, not the stakeholders. Stop relying on them to communicate your data. The trouble with spreadsheets is that although they contain a lot of data, it’s challenging for those unfamiliar with the sources to understand the meaning of the data. Sending a summary/story will get your message across faster and more clearly.

Data has context, settings, complexities, and conflicts. One of the best ways of communicating it is through a story. Give stakeholders the context to hang the numbers on and a way to remember why they are important. Write what you know, focus on the important things, and keep it brief and meaningful. Here is an example: Data Stories: A dirty job.

Data stories are everywhere. It’s not strictly for usage or financial data. If you have a specific question you want answered through data, it makes it easier to compose the story.

Convince yourself to act; your actions will persuade others.

presenter: Katy Silberger

She will be showing three scenarios for observing user behavior through statistics: looking at the past with vendor supplied statistics, assessing current user behavior with Google Analytics, and anticipating user behavior with Google Analytics.

They started looking at usage patterns before and after implementing federated searching. It was hard to answer the question of how federated searching changed user behavior. They used vendor usage reports and website visits to calculate the number of articles retrieved per website visit and articles retrieved per search. They found that the federated search tool generated an increase in article/use. The ratios take into account the fluctuation in user populations.

Google Analytics could be used to identify use from students abroad. It’s also helpful for identifying trends in mobile web access.