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From Quantity To Quality:
Collection, Analysis and Use of Statistics for Libraries

Luxembourg, 9-10 December 1997
A European workshop for suppliers and users of library statistics

Updated: 25 FEB 98

Executive Summary

The European Commission hosted a workshop on the collection, analysis and use of library statistics in Luxembourg on 9th and 10th December 1997, which was attended by delegates from 24 countries. In 1988, the chairman of the first workshop "Library Statistics for Policy Making", had referred to the need to use statistics to make the achievements of library services more visible. The current theme "From Quantity to Quality" concentrates on the need for a statistical basis capable of producing indicators which describe the quality of services. The participants of the workshop from international organisations such as UNESCO, IFLA and ISO as well as from all Member States and most countries of Central and Eastern Europe unilaterally endorsed LIBECON 2000 which will meet the need for a robust pan-European framework for the collection of library statistics. Participants also stressed the importance of reliable statistics to generate information about the contribution made by libraries to the economic development of an enlarged Europe. The delegates from Central & Eastern Europe had contributed their data to the latest study of European library activities. Delegates from the international organisations pledged their participation in continuing to co-operate towards the efficient development of information that measures the quality of library services.

Overview of relevant projects and studies of DGXIII/E-4

Much work has been undertaken by the European Commission's unit "Electronic Publishing and Libraries" to enable the development of modern library services across Europe in general, and to create a reliable statistical basis to define strategy and actions in particular. Studies and projects research different aspects of the economics of library services, such as library performance indicators and management tools; publications and concerted actions provide comparative overviews of library statistics by sector and countries, raising awareness of the importance of reliable management information. Delegates appreciated the overview of EC actions by H-G. Stork and recognised explicitly that the work undertaken and encouraged by the European Commission had provided an excellent framework for the development of quality library services throughout Europe.

From statistics collection to policy making
"The quality issue"

Participants agreed that much of the data comprising the existing and available statistical collections about libraries describe the extent of library services rather than their achievements. Data which is easy to collect refers to available stock and other accountable information such as the number of staff. Producing more information about the quality of the service depends upon developing consistent definitions, and on expending more effort in collecting such information. Phillip Ramsdale, the presenter of the paper "From Statistics Collection to Policy Making: the Quality Issue", suggested that the service planning process was instrumental in evolving the appropriate conditions for developing measures of quality: it was by defining service objectives and then reviewing progress that the need for "quality measures" would become apparent and justify extra effort. The availability of data returned to previous surveys shows that there are inherent problems in gaining consistent measures of the volume of activity across Europe. There are many good examples of how individual libraries and sectors of libraries in various countries are promoting the quality of their services. There is however untapped potential in adding to the impact of the message to policy makers by improving both the analysis and the presentation of library statistics.

What kind of statistics do we need
"The user's perspective"

Mrs Denise Davies, of the Audit Commission in England & Wales, described the approach taken by her team in reviewing the service effectiveness of the public library services. Comparative information was used to examine the efficiency of operations with due regard for economy in the use of scarce resources. If these two processes were balanced, and the users' needs properly taken into account, then the effectiveness of the service can be judged. However, there are definite problems in tracing reliable statistics about the quality of service, because few systems exist that maintain relevant performance measures. For instance, the number of electronic accesses does not describe the quality of the database services being interrogated, but simply the volume of use. It was noted that there was an increasing focus on consumer surveys and further research on the needs of the population at large. The role of the auditor in reviewing the service operations is crucial in assisting library managers to focus their scarce resources efficiently, and the Audit Commission advocates their approach as a productive partnership model for others to note.

Related work

John Sumsion described the difficulties inherent in the use of international statistics, and endorsed the efforts of UNESCO in assembling such data. He suggested that the timing of the initiative represented by LIBECON 2000 was auspicious in that momentum would be added to the review of the ISO standard 2789 and the advancement of management models such as those propounded by CAMILE. IFLA may be able in due course to extend the initiative to assemble consistent data in the European Union and Central and Eastern Europe to other countries by the use of telematic processes.
The extent and composition of the UNESCO statistical database on library activities was reported by Mrs Rose Khin Wai Thi. There are considerable difficulties of gaining comprehensive data in each sector from each country, for the triennial surveys which the Statistics Division employs in Paris to collate data for the UN Statistical Yearbook. Experience shows that there is a need to annotate the sources and special circumstances relating to each item of data that may be collected as part of the LIBECON 2000 study. UNESCO acknowledges and appreciates the work undertaken in the studies and projects of the European Commission as a major contribution to international efforts to improve the consistency and reliability of library statistics.
Aase Lindhal reported on the work of the ISO Committee on statistical definitions in libraries, and on standard 2789 in particular. ISO recognises that statistics and performance measurement have to be seen as two sides of the same coin, as expressed in the reorganisation of ISO/TC 46/SC 8 and its new name "Statistics and Performance Evaluation". There is increased interest in co-operation between the international bodies in developing the international database, and a regular consultation process ensures that relevant information is shared by all parties. ISO is working to a clear timetable for the revision of relevant standards and asks other organisations and committees to take note of those dates.
Eurostat are undertaking a pilot project in Italy on the development of library statistics, after which they will be able to consider their own needs in more detail. In the meantime, it was satisfying to see that proposals are in hand for closer co-operation between the interested international bodies, and Eurostat wishes to be kept informed of the progress of LIBECON 2000.

LIBECON 2000 : "The pan-European approach"

An overview of the findings deriving from the recent survey of library activities in Central &Eastern; Europe was reported by David Fuegi, emphasising the need to treat the statistical framework as a base which requires further refinement through updated surveys. The database compiled in the study provides some useful international comparisons with other European countries, and the report sets out some benchmark findings which describe the extent of library activities in those countries preparing for membership of the European Union. The LIBECON 2000 measure, recently accepted by the European Commission, intends to develop a pan-European statistical database by undertaking a continuous survey throughout 29 countries in Europe (EU, C&EE and EFTA states). Delegates commented on and discussed the coverage of the forthcoming statistical survey and a sample questionnaire which is presently under development.

Parallel sessions:

Delegates were able to consider in depth the themes presented in the workshop, and to input their own experiences and perspectives in a series of parallel group discussions. In each of these sessions, a number of specific issues were addressed:
Situation in the C&EE European countries:
Are comparisons at international level useful? For all sectors?
Who makes library policy? Who makes investment decisions?
Are the existing Library Sector definitions useful? Which are important?
What are the difficulties in participating in LIBECON 2000?
Need for action at international level:
Who are the agencies / organisations who can best influence action?
What prevents the use of consistent definitions or measures?
Who specifies what data the main agencies collect?
How are these data used? (and by whom?)
How can co-ordination between the agencies be achieved?
What is the action list for international co-operation?
Performance indicators with international validity:
Is there a universally accepted view about the role of libraries [at the national level] against which "performance" can be measured?
Who can best be influenced by international performance indicators?
How up-to-date can such measures be?
What relative importance should be placed on measures of effectiveness (Quality), efficiency (Use), and economy (Cost)?


The inherent difficulties in generating consistent and comprehensive statistical information about libraries at the international level were recognised by all participants. However, there was agreement that the effort is justified because such data is necessary to inform policy debate. It is a generally accepted fact, that the frameworks and processes which exist in each country for the collation of such statistics often service a wider scope than the library service, i.e. that information is collated for different purposes. Therefore, it was the general conclusion of the workshop that the responsibility for developing and promoting the use of consistent definitions in the assembly and exchange of library statistics lies with the profession: Library managers need the data and are the primary source of the information, therefore it is up to library managers to promote the proper use of the agreed standards within their national statistical frameworks.

The six standard definitions of library sectors were seen as being useful for the purpose of collating data on a consistent basis, but it was suggested that a review of the definitions might be necessary to take account of the different organisation and administration of these sectors country by country. Furthermore, urgent action was needed to develop consistent statistics measuring library services in the electronic environment.

The proposal to establish an accessible database and continuously collect statistics about library activities and costs, as proposed in the LIBECON 2000 project, was welcomed as means of maintaining the momentum in developing more useful statistics and encouraging the development of the use of such information in the policy planning process. Participants expressed consensus for the need to co-operate in the creation of a pan-European approach to the collection and validation of library statistics.


10.00 LIBECON 2000 working group meeting for EU and C&EE partners
12.30 Lunch
14.00 Welcome and introduction of objectives - Ariane ILJON, Head of Unit DG XIII-E4
14.30 Overview of relevant projects and studies- Hans-Georg STORK, DG XIII-E4
15.15 Coffee
15.30 From statistics collection to policy making: the quality issue - Phillip RAMSDALE, Institute of Public Finance Ltd, UK
16.15 What kind of statistics do we need - the user's perspective Denise Davies, The Audit Commission in England and Wales, UK
17.00 Related work
  • IFLA - John SUMSION, LISU, Loughborough University, UK
  • UNESCO - Rose KHIN WAI THI, UNESCO, Division of statistics, F
  • ISO - Aase LINDHAL, Odense University Library, DK
18.00 Close
19.00 Social dinner
9.00 LIBECON 2000: The pan-European approach - David FUEGI, Essex County Council, UK
10.00 Parallel sessions
  • Situation in the Central and Eastern European countries

  • Moderator: Monika SEGBERT, British Council, D
  • The need for action at international level

  • Moderator: Aase LINDHAL, Odense University Library, DK
  • Performance indicators with international validity

  • Moderator: Roswitha POLL, Universitaets- und Landesbibliothek, D
13.00 Lunch
14.30 Report back to plenary
15.30 Discussion and conclusions
16.30 Close

The full document is available for downloading

European Commission

DG XIII Telematics for Libraries
Contact: Concha Fernandez de la Puente
e-mail: (email removed)

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