Counting the uncountable

Its Day 27 of 30 blog posts in 30 days challenge and today’s post is inspired by a TED talk by Chip Conley – Measuring what makes life worthwhile (which is worthwhile checking out) and in particular the following quote he used in his talk:

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted. ” Albert Einstein.

The world is so fixed on statistics, in libraries as well as in life.  We seem to be caught up in the cycle of needing numbers to justify everything, yet not being happy to be relying on only the numbers that those tangibles give us to justify what we do.

3D Bar Graph Meeting

3D Bar Graph Meeting, uploaded to Flickr on December 25, 2007 by lumaxart

We report our numbers to our governing bodies, who use those numbers to report back to their stakeholders and to justify the money they spend on their libraries. Are they any happier with only having tangible numbers to work from?

I’m not saying that numbers are bad – they are valuable and do give a view of how our libraries are being used. As we have been using those numbers for so long, they are also giving us a picture of how libraries and their use are changing. But those numbers have never been able to give the whole picture.

How do we count the value of the interactions we have, such as those I described in my blog post, The importance of librarians.

I know I am far from the first person to ask these questions and I won’t be the last. But until we find a way to measure these things and to break away from the cycle we are locked into regarding the tangibles we count and report, nothing is going to change.

Libraries are valuable above and beyond that we can currently count. So I’ll throw these questions out to the universe – How do we count the intangibles in libraries? How do we report these to our governing bodies? How do we get everyone to accept these counts as legitimate expressions of what libraries do and how they contribute to our society?

I hope that the work that Chip Conley and others are doing with the GNH will be able to answer those questions and we will see some different counts coming out of our libraries and being accepted by our governing bodies,  in the not too distant future.


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    • Penny on June 28, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I’m interested in the answers to this too. Some statistics like circ and reference stats are going down in our library, yet we seem to be as busy as ever. It is difficult to persuade others we need more staff when the stats don’t back us up!

  1. I would say that its the same story in libraries everywhere. I am optimistic that we will get a solution eventually.

    • Ruth on June 30, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Thanks, this is really useful for me. My section is the generator of statistics, and I want to do some work on defining what we will do. Sometimes 1 set of standard stats can bring forth an overwhelming rush of requests for additional variables.

  2. Would love to hear what you come up with.

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