TECH TALK

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Everyday Data

by Jenna Kammer

Last month, I wrote about a specific type of digital tool (audience polling) that can be used to collect data for self-evaluation and formative feedback when teaching, presenting or any other situation where a librarian may find themselves in front of a group. This month, I want to expand on that idea to discuss the idea of data that is available to librarians to use to show others what is happening in the library. This article isn’t about how to measure impact, but is instead a short piece about considering data collection options for technology that is already being used.

The idea of using data to show the value of libraries is not new and may even be an overused topic. However, right now, the current administrative climate likes to see data that can show impact, effectiveness and how outcomes are met. Librarians have plenty of data available that can be used to show these things. To learn more about the idea of collecting data to show impact, this Library Journal article by Becker (2015), explains the “why”: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/09/managing-libraries/outcomes-impacts-and-indicators/#_.

Every time technology is used, data is created. Many tools provide easy to use analytics about the data you are using. For example, if you use a learning management system like Canvas, there are stats about when students are logging in, or how much time they are spending. Your website probably has a means of collecting usage data too—either via Google Analytics or the platform that the website runs on. Your library catalog provides data while keeping the anonymity of users. Many reference librarians have a system of tracking their reference work—number of interactions, type of questions, etc. Libguides provide statistics, and can also be paired with Google Analytics.

When looking for a digital tool, look at what analytics it will give you. Here are a few things that are helpful to examine:
If you can get a spreadsheet of the data, you have unlimited control over what you do can do with it. Open the spreadsheet in Excel and manipulate the data until your heart is content! Run a table or a graph and use that in your presentations, annual reports or simply in promoting the library. For example, academic librarians can check the stats for a libguide now (say, before integrating it into a course), then again at the end of the semester. Hopefully access has gone up—at that point there is data to show that access of library resources increased once integrated into the learning management system and likely impacted students. If the librarian can collaborate with the faculty member, there may even be data available to tie that access into an increase in performance on papers, presentations or other assessments in the course.

While librarians can use data within a tool, exporting a spreadsheet provides more options for customization and tracking data over time. If the tool does not provide a spreadsheet but provides visualizations (Plickers does this, as an example), then there is a chart that can be used as is. Just take a screenshot of the graph and use in infographics, newsletters or presentations. When it is not possible to manipulate this data, question design becomes increasingly important so that the data is usable once collected. For example, if a librarian is interested to know how students feel after a library training session, run a quick poll to ask:

How do you feel about the material today?
A. I could teach it!
B. I understand it enough.
C. I need more training.

This simple data can tell the librarian and the content-area teacher how comfortable the students feel after attending the session. A screenshot of this chart in an email would be a great follow-up to the content-area teacher, or simply provide formative assessment to the instructor to know what additional materials the students may need, or how to tailor the instruction next time.

When I talk to teachers and librarians, most know that this kind of data is important to have, or that it is available in a situation where it’s necessary to dig into it. However, there is not always time to put into analyzing data that is naturally being collected. I personally have started carving out time to look at the data that my technology collects once a month (calling it “data-day”). For example, I teach a class and used my data-day to analyze the discussions in my classes. I found that some discussions were way more engaging than others and I will spend time working on the ones that weren’t that interactive (ie. Discussion 10A in figure 1) to consider how I can make that question more interesting to elicit better responses.

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Figure 1. Name of class discussion compared with level of activity throughout a semester.


There are big concerns with collecting data at the institutional and corporate level. This article does not get into that, but instead suggests how data can be used for the individual librarian as a means to improve performance or even share with others in a collaboration setting. Some of the concerns related to data involve privacy, technology companies who also have access to the data and misuse of data. There is some reading that discussion the pitfalls and problems with these tools collecting data that are worth checking out.



Copyright 2017 by Jenna Kammer.

About the author:
My name is Jenna Kammer, jkammer@ucmo.edu, and I am the author of this column. I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Missouri in the Library Science program. I have an MLS from the University of Arizona and a MA in Education from New Mexico State University. My PhD is from the University of Missouri where I studied information policy and technology in academic environments.