Measuring What Matters

Summer is a terrific time of year to rest, recover from the stress of the school year, and most importantly, reflect on how the year has gone in our libraries. Many of us create and share annual reports to show how our libraries impact the learning and lives of our students, and that is what I have been thinking about over the past few weeks. When we create these annual reports, do we capture data about things that matter — in the lives of our students, to our administrators, teachers, and community?

We traditionally keep track of several measures: circulation, classes taught, library visitors, database usage, and many others. These are terrific measurements of our activities and can help us show that our libraries are busy places that make resources available and that help our learners effectively use them through our instruction. Do these measures matter to our stakeholders? Do principals understand that circulation of library materials is indicative of a robust reading culture in their school? Do they know that when academic database usage increases, the use of Google for schoolwork probably decreases, and why that is a good thing? Does the community get that if the school library is heavily used before and after school, fewer students are hanging around unsupervised? Do teachers see the benefit of collaborating with their librarian to deliver instruction and share that benefit with other teachers, parents, and the community at large? Does our community understand that a properly staffed and supported school library is the equity engine for our kids, giving them access to resources that they may not be able to get anywhere else?

When we collect data, do we focus on numbers, or do we also focus on the people those numbers represent? Do we also collect book reviews and quotes from students and teachers? Do we take and share pictures and videos of students and teachers using the library and its resources? Do we collect feedback from our community on book recommendations, how programming and other library activities went, or on our instruction? How do we report that feedback to stakeholders so they can see that we value and act on the information we gather?

Finally, how do we connect the work of our school libraries to the vision and mission of our school and our district? Do we make that connection obvious to others by strategically planning our work to align with and support the greater mission of our schools?

Here are a few tips for setting up data collection and other structures before the school year begins so that you can answer all of the questions above:

  • Closely examine your district and campus vision, mission, and strategic plan. Align the work of your library to support that plan by showing HOW and WHY the work you do matters.
  • Start a library advisory group made up of students, staff, and caregivers. Leverage this group to give you feedback and ideas on the collection, programming, and other aspects of the library that can help meet their needs. Meet a few times per semester in the evenings. Feed them and provide childcare for younger children.
  • Collect research on the impact of school libraries. AASL publishes School Library Research, which is a good place to start:; AASL also provides a host of other advocacy tools at
  • Set up mechanisms to collect both quantitative and qualitative data:
    • Reports from your integrated library system (ILS) on circulation, top users, top titles, etc.
    • Database usage reports
    • Calendar to track instruction and events
    • Gate counter or snapshot days to count visitors to the library
    • A suggestion box or online form for book purchases, ideas, and feedback
    • A forum to capture book reviews (some OPACs can do this; you can also use index cards that you can later tape to shelves, sort of like a bookstore)
    • Feedback surveys for lessons, programming, events, etc.
  • Set up a process for capturing and sharing pictures and videos of the library and its visitors; this a great time to start a social media account and a hashtag for your library if you do not already have one.

Every activity we undertake in our work is an opportunity to advocate–not just for the library, books, or budget, but also for our learners and the resources and expertise they need to be successful, both in school and beyond.

What tips and strategies do you have for strategic planning and measuring what matters? Please share them in the comments below or on Twitter by including @AASL in your tweets.

Author: Len Bryan

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Thank you for your invitation to respond, Len.

    In your post, you have covered so many possible data collection areas for school librarian/library services and practices.

    In the schools where I have served, student learning outcomes in terms of meeting specific standards objectives are what administrators and classroom teachers are most concerned about; these are the data they seek because they are held accountable for reaching these targets.

    When school librarians codesign classroom standards-based learning plans and assessment tools, school librarians can provide direct measures of how their teaching – in collaboration with their colleagues – helps classroom teachers (and administrators) reach their goals for student learning.

    These kinds of data are win-win-win for students, colleagues, and librarians, too.


    I highly recommend a free for download coplanning and coteaching assessment form from my latest book:

  2. As a retired librarian in the UK who is continually working with local schools and advocating for school libraries, I read Len’s article with interest. All of the points made are valid, especially the overarching theme of connecting what we do to the vision and mission of our schools. In fact, that vision and mission should be what drives our planning at a strategic level. Our operations, described in numbers, are important indicators but, if reported as ends in themselves, have little meaning to those who make decisions and deploy financial resources. Recalibrating our reports to show impact on students and learning is what we need to do. It is not easy!

    Judi’s response above is spot on. What schools are expected to produce are academic outcomes. In order to show that our libraries can have an impact on these, we need not only to be familiar with current research, but to get stuck in. Beginning collaborations with staff who are so focused on the pressure to produce results is difficult, but they need to be shown that using the library’s resources, and the librarian, will not deflect from content delivery, but enhance learning and understanding. Enquiry is a great motivator and skill developer

    In order to be successful in what to some is a new arena, school librarians need to become educators, knowledgeable about standards, curriculum and pedagogy. A tall order, but necessary if we are to survive, thrive and, most importantly, make a difference to the students who light up our days – and to those who don’t!

    Good luck,

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