Public Library Stats During COVID-19

We'd like to share some suggestions for tracking statistics during the COVID-19 crisis. First, it's worth pointing out what we all know - statistics are going to be strange for libraries nationwide during this period. And with all that is going on, tracking stats can and should take a back seat to helping patrons. So we'll collectively do the best that we can, and recognize that the numbers we get are likely to be incomplete. As always, you should feel free to track any other numbers that seem useful, regardless of whether we ask for them or not.

Specific Statistics

Patron Visits – This question tracks physical visits to your library, so I would count visits for curbside pickup, but (if possible) I would keep that number separate from traditional visits. Events held off-site are not typically included in this number, but would appear under programming or outreach.

Library Hours - Please track any hours that you are open for curbside pickup or by appointment separately, as that is different from traditional open (as in, open to the public) hours.

Reference Questions – A reference question is still a reference question, whether it comes via email, phone, or shouted from a distance. In general, most questions count as reference, especially if they require thought or research, readers’ advisory, or involve an external business or organization.

Reference – Did it require thought, research, or reader’s advisory? Did it involve searching for information on external sites or about external organizations? Examples:

•   Finding the most recent book by a specific author (What is the latest Grisham?)
•   Recommending a style or genre of book (What is a good Western Amish romance?)
•   Looking up hours, location, or details about a business (What are the Post Office hours?)
•   Finding information from the government or other trusted source (What are the state guidelines on masks?)

Not Reference – Was it limited to basic information about or within the library? Examples:

•   Solely directional (How do I find your website? Where is the bathroom?)
•   Solely procedural (How does your drop-off work?)
•   Requires only a cursory check (Do you have Catcher in the Rye?)

Tech Training, Formal and Informal – Walking patrons through using online resources (VOL, Overdrive), whether offered by the library or not, counts as tech training no matter the communication. Simply giving them the link, or a login and password doesn’t count (but would count as a reference question), but any coaching beyond that would.

Outreach – Remember that there are outreach numbers for deliveries to homes, to childcare providers and centers (probably not relevant), and to other sites, which includes anything else. Count each visit to a site, not each item or recipient, whether the delivered items are cataloged or freebies.

Programming – This is where it gets complicated. IMLS’s programming numbers do not count events that have been recorded, unless they were prerecorded and then presented at a scheduled time. In a sense, the defining factor is whether your audience is all participating at the same time, or watching whenever they want. We plan to break programming into three different questions for the next report (see below). I would recommend against inventing a multiplier for virtual programs (such as one view assuming one parent + one child), and rather treat them as apples and oranges. If possible, break out programs by age group targeted (children, YA, adult), and break out attendance by who the program targets, not the age of individual attendees.

Type Definition How to Track
In-Person It’s in-person Count number of programs and attendance.
Virtual Live It is broadcast live OR posted at a scheduled time, and viewers can
interact or comment.
Count programs, and count attendance by whatever live metric
the site gives you.
Recorded It is a recording of a previous live event or a program that you
recorded and posted on your own without a schedule.
Count programs, and count attendance by whatever metric the
site gives you. Not included under IMLS programming stats.

Programming - Co-hosted Virtual Events - If more than one library co-hosts a virtual event (e.g. by doing more than just publicizing it), they should divide up the virtual attendance numbers evenly.

If you have any questions, please contact Joshua Muse.