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December 18, 2008



Interesting stuff Brian - and you ask the right questions - why are some up and some down? Who is counting what? When we were at OSU and the main building was closed we heard not as many students were going to the substitute library - so how is circulation up - or do the numbers reflect the time between the substitute building closing and the opening of the new building. If it was artificially low the year before it would be a skewed increase - not indicative of rising interest in the library - just a return to normal. But I ask if any of these numbers matter other then to tell us we're getting more or less inputs. Even with instruction the numbers might not mean much more - than as you say - quickie sessions are being counted. What good are the numbers if ARLs cannot provide evidence of how they are helping students to achieve learning outcomes, to help faculty be more productive and more likely to know the library's resources and teach them to students or to show how the library is a good investment of institutional resources (as the recent UIUC ROI study does indicate). I am wondering if the next generation of ARL directors would be wise to move away from the number counting - which to some extent creates a competitive - who's number one - mentality - and ultimately doesn't tell us if we are really successful where it counts.


@Bell. Thanks for the comment. I thought about looking for a correlation between LibQUAL+ data and the outliers, but ARL gets mad when I talk about other people’s results. OSU has had a dip in circ numbers the last few years, but has seen a steady rise since 1995. Leslie suggested that their delivery options might have a positive impact. Why bother going to the library to search for a book when you can just request it for pick-up? As for inputs vs. outcomes—yes, we’re always on the same page there. The data was available so I decided to look at it, really just a fun diversion, but of course you know I love the ranked lists.

Sharyn Ladner

Yes indeed, it's important to ask the right questions. As ARL Survey Coordinator at my institution, I can tell you that we struggle with interpreting ARL question definitions, especially when a definition no longer meets our management needs. Here's an example. Several years ago our reference and instruction department began a research consultation service. This service has become increasingly successful: in just two years research consultations increased by 611% (by comparison, our group instruction sessions increased 89%). So how to report "research consultations" to ARL? On the local level we consider them part of our instruction program--a student meets with the librarian in his or her office, not at the reference desk, and most consultations are by appointment. The ARL definition, however, considers one-on-one help sessions as reference questions, even if they take 30-45 minutes, as most of ours do. On the other hand, a similar consultation with two students would be considered "instruction." So yes, a lot depends on how the reporting institution interprets (or takes liberty with) the definition. We discuss these things at survey coordinators' meetings, so ARL is aware of local differences in interpretation. So continue asking "why" when looking at outliers, and go one step further: take the time to ask an outlier institution, "how do you count x or y?" as well as "how come"?

Great post, BTW. Our campus bookstore has Gladwell's book on sale and I'm on my way to buy a copy.


Very impressive increases, indeed! Are you going to be contacting any of the librarians at the libraries you mention to see if they can shed some light on what they have done that's lead to these successes? I also wonder, if Toronto has a +392% increase in instruction/ participants, how they're actually coping with this. Have they increased the numbers of staff to be able to cater to so many more students? Are they using lots of different methods to reach their clientele?

Thanks for this post - have just ordered The Outliers for the collection here at MPOW.

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