Online Resources Every Library Should Consult


As any library director or system administrator will tell you, keeping a public library running entails a bewildering number of day-to-day responsibilities. With so much to do, and so little time left over for “big picture thinking,” it’s quite common to lose sight of what is going on in Libraryworld beyond your own service area.

For example: What major trends are emerging in library service? What new challenges are coming down the pike? How does your library stack up against peer systems in your state, and nationally?

Gaining a baseline understanding on important questions like these doesn’t need to take days – if you know where to look for information. We recommend that you bookmark these four free and authoritative online resources.


Public Libraries Survey (PLS) Data

Every year, more than 17,000 public libraries report in to the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and share a handful of key statistics. These include budget basics, annual visitor figures, circulation statistics, collection size, hours of operation, and staffing levels. IMLS aggregates this wealth of data for its annual Public Libraries Survey and Report – to be used by policymakers, lobbyists, journalists, and of course library practitioners.

IMLS has been collecting and sharing this information since 1988, but it’s still something of an open secret to many library staff. This data is not only available, but searchable. You can easily benchmark your library against peer systems based on criteria of your choosing. As an added bonus, filtering is user intuitive and searches are downloadable!


Pew Research Center Studies

If you read newspapers (or their e- equivalents) with any regularity, you’ve probably heard of the Pew Research Center. It’s a nonpartisan “fact tank” – versus think tank – subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trust. It conducts public opinion polling and media content analysis on a host of topics, and is perhaps best known for its studies on American politics and religion.

It may surprise you to learn that Pew Research Center also polls the public regularly and extensively about library usage and perceptions.

Questionnaire topics run the gamut from library visiting habits, to personal reading habits more generally, to internet and computer usage and beyond. Critically, Pew also collects extensive demographic data on those polled (age, ethnic and economic background, etc.) This allows Pew teams to extrapolate and draw different conclusions for diverse subsets of your library’s service area.


Center for the Future of Libraries

While Pew studies offer a snapshot of how things stand now, and IMLS/PLS survey data gives a longitudinal view of where libraries have been, the American Library Association’s (ALA’s) Center for the Future of Libraries is forward thinking. You probably gleaned as much from the name!

ALA’s library futurists (yes, that’s a job title!) have thoroughly researched and prepared position statements and forecasts around 34 trends likely to impact library service in the coming decade. Everything from anonymity concerns, to increased urbanization, to an aging population and infrastructure, to drones are covered on the Center for the Future of Libraries website. Forecasts for each are thoughtfully divided into “How It’s Developing” and “Why It Matters” sections, the latter of which drives home the trend’s implications for libraries. Each is an easy read, but bolstered by a long bibliography for further reading.


American Libraries ‘Library Systems Report’

Bibliocommons. Biblionix. Bywater. Book Systems Atriuum. Confused yet?

Technology is by far and away the most baffling facet of library service. Cataloging, resource sharing, and automation platforms bring with them an innate learning curve, to be sure. However, that’s only part of the challenge.

Compounding matters, there are also a dizzying number of vendors competing in this arena by offering a host of tools and software solutions – some interchangeable, some not. Industry leaders change with regularity, thanks to evolving library needs, new products brought to market every year, and a long track record of corporate acquisitions.

Unless you are a full-time digital librarian – and maybe even if you are – keeping track of this rapidly changing landscape is impossible without mediation. Fortunately, American Libraries produces an annual Library Systems Report. It is the best available point of departure for library leaders looking to reevaluate and reinvest in their tech infrastructure.

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