When I stumbled upon the gorgeous, graphic visualization website Information Is Beautiful, I was lost for an hour. Then I raced to our science department and shared the site with some colleagues, then back to the applied academics department to share with some design-minded colleagues. As infographics gained popularity, I purchased The Best American Infographics 2016 (Cook and Krulwich) and Knowledge Is Beautiful (McCandless), placing them on display for students to browse and thumb through. The book Dear Data (Lupi and Posavek) was another delight for STEAM-lovers — the artistic collaboration between two friends to collect and visualize the data of their daily lives.
In library school, I don’t remember learning or talking about the importance of library usage statistics. I learned this practice in the small, public library where I worked prior to going back to graduate school and becoming a school librarian. In the public library, we counted people and reference questions when we were on desk duty, using a simple paper form and tick marks. In the formative stages of my career as a librarian, I learned that this data helped prove our relevancy in, and value to, our community.
I’m in my fifth year as the librarian/tech integrator at the Camden Hills Regional High School Library, and it’s been five years since I have gathered these types of usage statistics. In the intervening years, I have focused more on tracking the usage of the collection than on the use of the library. That first year, I recorded usage statistics with a collection instrument modeled after what we used in the public library: students, staff, number of reference questions, and number of technology questions. I also tracked classes taught. We averaged 400-600 visits per week (school population ~680 students) during the first semester of 2015.
A few days before school began this year, I read a Facebook post on Future Ready Secondary Librarians that got me reinspired to collect library usage statistics again. The author of the post shared that she was thinking of tracking the types of interactions she has with students and staff in the library. Ah ha! This made so much sense — not just counting the bodies in the door, and not just marking reference or tech questions, but tracking the many other things we do with students and staff in our library during the course of a school day. I followed the Facebook thread as school librarians shared suggestions for data points, and created my own new data collection tool (in addition to my “bodies in the door” tool). This tool includes categories for Students and Teachers for Social/Emotional Support, Readers’ Advisory, Printing, Technology, Curriculum/Collaboration, Research, Classes Taught, and Other. We will track data for three consecutive weeks, three times during this school year.
After the first three weeks, it’s no surprise that readers’ advisory (lots of new books checked out) and book returns (after the long summer) appear in high numbers. The data also supports what we know incidentally about the nature of our work in school libraries: the highest number, by far, is for Social Support, for both students and teachers. These are the quick morning chats and the post-weekend check-ins, or “let me show you these two prom dresses — tell me which one you like best.” But these may look more like coaching conversations about issues at home or in a classroom, with a co-worker, colleague, family member, friend, coach, or teacher. Sometimes a colleague or student just needs to talk through something that’s on their mind. They come to the library because they know we’ll listen. But they also know we are there to help them find the right resource, when needed. Our library is a social learning lab at the heart of our school. Relationship-building is at the core of what we do for our learning community.
Author’s Note: The clipboard used to hold the data collecting tools was made from a repurposed book cover, with some decorative paper and binder clips. The compiled data was submitted as a graphic (using Canva) for our school newsletter.
Author: Iris Eichenlaub
Iris Eichenlaub is the Librarian/Technology Integrator at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine. She is the 2017 Knox County Teacher of the Year, and was named an Inspiring Educator in 2017 by the Maine Education Association. Iris serves on the board of the Maine Association of School Libraries as the chair of professional development. Follow the story of the CHRHS Library via Facebook (@CHRHSLibrary or https://www.facebook.com/CHRHSLibrary) or Instagram (@CHRHS_Library or https://www.instagram.com/chrhs_library).