Tag Archives: Statistics

Using Infographics to Tell Your Library’s Story

Infographics are a visually striking means of combining data and text to make an argument or illustrate a thesis. They’re easy to understand and easy to share through social media, so they’ve become an extremely popular means of information sharing. Don’t believe me? Here’s a pinboard of library-related infographics respectfully submitted for your amusement and edification.

Before going further I want to show you two detailed snips from two very different infographics. This first one was made by goodreads and is fueled by data and comments from their users:

Image of quotes, stats, and book covers related to books readers have started and then abandoned.

If you’d like to see the whole thing, it’s available here.

Next up is a very different approach to data visualization from the good people at the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

Stat-riddled chart-happy infographic presenting results of a poll of library users


The whole infographic replete with all its great and sundry data is available here.

Now, you know that the credibility of any data lies in its source, their methodology, and your ability to verify and reproduce it. While the Pew data is much harder and their methodology more sound than that of goodreads, I think few would argue that goodreads presented their data in a far more compelling and convincing manner. This tells us as much about human psychology as it does about infograhics. Here’s the takeaway, while solid data is exquisite, very few will pay attention to it unless it is neatly and sensibly presented and organized around a clearly stated theme. This is where well-thought out infograhpics excel and its why they go viral.

Want to make your own ingofraphics? Of course you do! Lucky for you, it’s relatively easy and will cost you anywhere from nothing (yay!) to not that much really (meh).

I’ve taken a number of free infographic generators for a test drive, and my favorite by far is Piktochart.

Image of the homepage of Piktochart

Piktochart is a freemium web-based app with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface and excellent chart integration. This last bit is important as you want to be sure your data displays nicely. For whatever reason, not every infographic generator will scale your charts to match your data. You don’t want to be in the business of eyeballing bar graphs for proportionality, so don’t enter it.

The free version of Piktochart grants you access to seven themes and the blank canvas. You should be aware that shared infographics from free accounts will be watermarked at the very bottom. Licensed use gets you a wealth of additional themes and removes the watermark at a cost of $39.99/year for educators.

Once you create an account or sign in, you can pick a theme to start designing from. The blank canvas is definitely where you’ll be heading most often, as it provides maximum flexibility. After you choose a theme, you’ll see that your chart dominates the window and all the design elements at your disposal are accessible from a toolbar on the left. Here is what the Tools menu looks like:


Image of Piktographic's Tools menu.

Tools allow you to add charts, maps, videos, and, most exciting of all, lines!

And here are the options available through the Share menu:

Image of sharing options.

The best way to learn to use it is to play around with it. The design interface is clean and simple. Select elements and drag them to your infographic-to-be to add them. Once they’re added, you can manipulate them in a variety of useful ways. Data elements like charts and maps are also interactive, so that when a viewer hovers over a data point, they’ll get detailed information about it–because for some, that stuff matters!

If you’d like to learn more about infographics and alternate infographic creation tools, I highly recommend you explore Dani Brecher’s Infographic DIY libguide, which she presented at LibTech 2014.

LibTech 2014 Conference Experience Overview

libTech2014It was recently my pleasure and privilege to attend the 2014 Library Technology Conference at Macalester College (otherwise known as LibTech). I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of my experiences from and  impressions of this always wonderful event.


There were two keynote presentations during the conference, one by Mita Williams and one by Barbara Fister. Mita Williams spoke on ways libraries are embracing writers circles and local musicians to both create new works at the library and to build local digital collections. She also spoke of ways libraries can make use of affordable, readily available technologies to do things that might have previously seemed unobtainable, like virtualizing servers through Amazon’s EC2 web service. Barbara Fister spoke about her work in the burgeoning movement towards open publishing by academics, allowing their work to reach 500 times the readership at a tenth of the cost. You can watch archived video of both profound and inspirational keynotes here. Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies, and Database Usage Statistics

Chart illustrating how Zinio magazine circulation has increased from July through December of 2013

The State Library has recently started compiling and publishing database usage statistics for libraries throughout the state. We put out new reports at the beginning of each month, wherever possible we provide data at the library level, and we provide details for every database we can run reports on directly. 

I’d like to take you on a guided tour of what you’ll find in these reports, how to isolate information related to your library, and how to dig deeper if the spirit so moves you. Continue reading

Resources and Data for Public Library Advocacy

Here’s a roundup of resources and data that can assist you in advocating for your library.

The American Library Association’s studies on the economic, literacy, education, and community development impact of libraries are available here.

Add It Up: Libraries Make the Difference

Studies on libraries’ impact on development and education are available here. Note that they’re broken down by age level and library type (school or public).

Pew Internet and American Life Project

All of the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s library-related research is conveniently compiled here.

Public Library Fudning & Technology Access Study

The 2011-2012 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study is available here.

OCLC’s 2010 brief report, How Libraries Stack Up is available here.

A collection of slightly dated research on the economic impact of libraries at the local and state level can be found here.

If you need help finding other data about your community, simply refer to the ND State Library’s Community Assessment Tool (Word document).

Finally, here are some aggregate funding stats from the 2012 North Dakota Public Library Annual Report, which can inform lobbying efforts for additional local funding:

Local Revenue:           $14,050,201      (85.35%)
State Revenue:            $1,211,532          (7.36%)
Federal Revenue:       $3,007                 (0.02%)
Other Revenue:           $1,197,487         (7.27%)
Total Revenue:            $16,462,227
Local Capital Revenue:         $531,493       (74.74%)
State Capital Revenue:          $2,233            (0.31%)
Federal Capital Revenue:    $28,710          (4.04%)
Other Capital Revenue:        $148,709        (20.91%)
Total Capital Revenue:         $711,145


Know of any other resources for public library advocacy? Please share them in the comments!

Keeping Public Library Stats with Google Docs (part 2)

In the previous installment, we created a form that can be used by front-line staff to record library statistics. In this one, we’ll learn how to create reports and charts from the data gathered for purposes of analysis.

First, you’ll need to return to Google Drive and log in to the account you used to create your form.

List of the Google Drive files Library Stats and Library Stats (Responses)

Next you’ll want to open the spreadsheet containing the data gathered through your form (if you titled your form Library Stats, the corresponding spreadsheet will be called Library Stats (Responses)). Here’s what it should look like once the form has seen some use:

Image of our spreadsheet with timestamped responses.

Ah… Data!

Lovely, neh? Since we’re interested in aggregating data for monthly and annual reports, we want to add two columns to make our work easier. First, click into D1 and type Month. Next click or tab over to E1 and type Year.

In D2 we’re going to insert a magical formula that will fill the D column with exactly what’s needed. Here it is, for your copy and pasting pleasure: =arrayformula(if(isblank(A2:A), “”, text(A2:A, “mmm-yyyy”)))

What precisely is going on here? We’re compelling each box in column D (=arrayformula) to look and see if there’s any data in the A column of the same row (if(isblank(A2:A))). If there isn’t, it will do nothing (populate the corresponding entry in the D column with the empty string “”). If there is data, it will reformulate the timestamp it finds in column A into the more readable month-year format (text(A2:A, “mmm-yyyy”)). How nice!

We now have a column uniquely identifying each month we have data for. Since we’re thinking ahead, we now want to treat years in similar fashion. Go to E2 and enter this formula: =arrayformula(if(isblank(A2:A),””,text(A2:A,”yyyy”)))

You should now have something like this:

Statistical data with month and year columns added

You probably noticed that your sheet looks really boring if you only have data from this past week. You may have also noticed that I went ahead and manually entered data from the future as a proof of concept. Please note that I do not advocate traveling through time nor falsifying data. I did this for demonstration purposes only.

At this point, if you record some more stats using your live form, you’ll notice that the Month and Year columns in your (Responses) spreadsheet have been appropriately populated for your new entries. This is good. We’re making progress, but we’re yet to paint a particularly compelling picture of our library services. For that, we want to create another sheet. Do this by clicking on the plus sign (+) at the bottom of your window.

Click on the plus sign (+) to add a sheet.

You should now have a new tab next to Form Responses. Click on it to view your new empty sheet. If you click on the tab again while it’s selected, you can Rename… it. We’re going to use this one for monthly totals, so I renamed mine Monthly Totals.

In your monthly totals sheet, key the following into A1, B1, and C1, respectively: Month, Library Visitors, and Reference Requests. These are our headers for this sheet.

In A2 enter the following: =unique(‘Form Responses’!D2:D)

As soon as you hit Enter, you should see an entry appear in the A column for each unique month you’ve gotten data from. If you’re curious, the formula is looking at the D column of your Form Responses sheet for unique entries, and adding each one it finds here. Not bad, but now we want totals automatically tabulated for each of those months.

In B2 of your Monthly Totals sheet enter: =arrayformula(if(isblank(A3:A), “”, sumif(‘Form Responses’!D2:D, A2:A, ‘Form Responses’!B2:B)))

Voila! Magic. If you’re paying attention, the one part of this that may strike you as peculiar is the fact that we’re starting the isblank() evaluation at A3. The answer has to do with how the unique() function works. If you move your selected field down through the A column, you’ll notice that the first box that appears to be blank actually has a function in it. This function evaluates to the empty string, but the isblank() function interprets the presence of it as a non-blank. The box directly below this one is well and truly blank. Curious, but easily accommodated for. The new formula, sumif() is looking at the values in our month column (D) in Form Responses, comparing them to the month in column A of our Monthly Totals sheet, and adding together all the corresponding values from column B of Form Responses if they match.

In C2 of your Monthly Totals sheet enter: =arrayformula(if(isblank(A3:A), “”, sumif(‘Form Responses’!D2:D, A2:A, ‘Form Responses’!C2:C)))

Things should now look a little like this, with variations dependent upon the data in your Form Responses sheet:

Monthly totals for visitors and requests

The best part about having done things this way? These totals will automatically update every time data is added through your form. When data from a new month comes in to your Form Responses sheet, a new row will be generated on your Monthly Totals sheet. Huzzah!

Next, we’re going to create a yearly totals sheet the same way. Start by clicking the plus sign (+) again to add a new sheet. Click on it to select it and click on it again to Rename… it, as before. This one I’m going to call Yearly Totals.

In A1, B1, and C1 of your Yearly Totals sheet, enter the following: Year, Library Visitors, and Reference Requests. You can probably guess where this is going…

In A2 of your Yearly Totals sheet, enter: =unique(‘Form Responses’!E2:E) 

In B2 of your Yearly Totals sheet, enter: =arrayformula(if(isblank(A3:A), “”, sumif(‘Form Responses’!E2:E, A2:A, ‘Form Responses’!B2:B)))

In C2 of your Yearly Totals sheet, enter: =arrayformula(if(isblank(A3:A), “”, sumif(‘Form Responses’!E2:E, A2:A, ‘Form Responses’!C2:C)))

You should now see something like this:

Annual totals for library visits and reference requests

To recap: we have created a live form that’s gathering data from every point of service in our library and which is automatically generating monthly and annual reports for us. Now, I know what you’re thinking… the only this could possibly get better is if there were charts! This is your lucky day.

The easiest way to add a chart is to highlight the data (including headers) you want in the chart, click on Insert, and then click on Chart. For the sake of illustration, I will select all the data and headers in columns A and B of my Monthly Totals sheet.

The Google Docs Chart Editor

Now you’ll have a number of different options and charts to choose from. I’m opting for a nice reliable Column chart. Note that this is another instance where if you only have data from a single month, your chart will be exceedingly boring. Here’s mine resplendent in bogus data:

A column or bar chart of monthly library visits

It’s worth pointing out that if you click on a chart, some tools will appear at the top of it.

Tools menu for editing and viewing Google charts

Clicking the eyeball will enable view mode, such that hovering your cursor over a data element will provide detailed information about it.

Clicking the nubby pencil lets you edit things like the title, fonts, and colors.

Clicking the small downwards-pointing isosceles triangle in the square allows you to return to the Chart Editor by clicking Advanced edit, Save the chart as an image, or snag the html embed code so you can web-publish an interactive version of your chart (Publish chart…)

Outstanding work! You’ve automated reporting features for your data and learned how to generate keen visualizations of it. The final thing I want to go over is exporting your data, because lots of copies keeps stuff safe, right? To download static copies of your data (for preservation purposes or manipulation in another spreadsheet program) click on File then Download as and select the format you prefer. I’ll warn you that your formulas may not translate correctly if you export to Excel (your data will be unaltered, however).

Keeping Public Library Stats with Google Docs (part 1)

Here’s the vision of what we’re about to do: we’re creating an online form accessible by any and all front-line staff you designate (a taskbar or desktop shortcut is probably the easiest way to do this) which they will use to record whatever basic service stats you want. This is the replacement for tally sheets you’ve been looking for. The form you create can be used on any internet-connected workstation or mobile device. As the administrator, you will be able to see live data coming in, and generate charts and reports automatically (or as the whimsy strikes you). Sound good? Okay, let’s dig in…

To start, you’ll need to go to Google Drive and either log in or create a new account. If you haven’t already created a generic Google account for your library, I’d encourage you to do so instead of tethering library stats to your personal account. Accounts are free and easy to create, simply click the Sign Up button. Once you’ve logged in, you’ll see the following:

Google Drive's home screen

Next, we want to create a new form, so we need to click the Create button, then click Form, summoning the Title/Theme window. I’m going to title my form Library Stats and select the Notepaper theme, because I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for the days of making hash marks on scraps of paper. Once you’ve made your choices, click the OK button.

Title your form and select a theme for it

You should now see the design page where you key in your questions and get your form laid out properly. The first thing to do is click on Choose response destination towards the top of the form. You’ll now see this window:

Choose response destination window

Ensure that the radio button next to New spreadsheet is selected, then click the Create button. This will create a new Google Spreadsheet bearing your form’s title followed by “(Responses).” This spreadsheet will be automatically populated with all the data you collect with your form. We’ll look at this more in the next post in the series, for now simply accept that this is awesome.

Our next step is to write our form’s questions. Nothing is better than this! Here’s how it works: the Question Title text box is where you ask your question. For our examples, all of our questions will be of the Multiple choice Question Type. Since we’ll just be gathering raw numerical data (tally sheet equivalents) we’re going to have three options for each question: 1, 3, and 5. This will allow data entry of more than one hash mark at a time. We’re going to write out just two questions corresponding to metrics needed on the Public Library Annual Report. Note that if you’re not automated, this is also a way that you can record accurate circulation data and make reporting easy (create one question for children’s circulation and one for adult circulation, as above).

Multiple choice question for recording the number of library visitors.

For the first question, I’m entering Library Visitors: as the Question Title and adding 1, 3, and 5 as the response options. To add another question, click on Add item. For the second question, I’m entering Reference Requests: as the Question Title, again with 1, 3, and 5 as the response options.

Question to record the number of reference requests fielded

That’s pretty much it for the questions I want to include on this bare bones sample form. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, feel free to make your own form more encompassing, though! I’d also encourage you to think about other things you track (or want to) and create separate forms for them–things like detailed ILL or Reference stats… the mind boggles at the possibilities!


First, we have to finish this form, though. We still want to do two things: type in a custom Confirmation message and ensure that Show link to submit another response is checked. This last one is absolutely vital, as it will allow you and your staff to quickly and easily return to the form to record more library activity. If you scroll to the bottom of your form design page, you’ll see the Confirmation Page options. (For this form we aren’t including links in the confirmation message, but be aware that you can).

Image of our finished form

As it turns out, keeping statistics on Notepaper looks rather ugly. I’m no longer feeling nostalgic for it. Fortunately, it’s easy to change my Theme to something more fetching!

The next post in this series will cover analyzing the data, making charts, and generating monthly and annual reports. In the meantime, you can get the link to the live form by clicking on Send form.

The send form window provides the link to the live form and sharing options for social media and e-mail.

If you want to place a shortcut to the form on a user’s desktop or in their taskbar, this is the url you’ll use as location of the item you’re making a shortcut to. Easy peasy!