If you work in libraries, especially if you track usage as part of your day job, you might notice that your 2020 usage statistics are different. Very different. And you might be at a loss for how to interpret the data.

While the reports in NoveList Select’s Analytics Dashboard are likely to show a statistically unique 2020, our Reader Engagement and Reader Insights offer helpful windows into your community’s readers. This is especially valuable at a time when we might not have as much face-to-face interaction with the members of our community.

To see how the Dashboard might help tell a story about your readers, ask four guiding questions:

  1. What was popular last month? If you pay attention to your community’s Reader Insights from NoveList Select, it’s worth scanning the top titles, authors, and series to see what readers have been browsing in your catalog. See if you notice shifts in preferences. Have you noticed a change in browsing trends this month? This year? Have the themes shied away from gritty apocalyptic fiction to heartwarming love stories (or vice versa), or are you seeing best-sellers continue to make top billing? Has interest in antiracist literature increased within your community? Are you seeing a preference for realism or escapism? 
  2. Do Reader Insights match checkouts and holds? Once you’ve considered what readers are looking at in the catalog, compare that information to holds and checkouts. Are you seeing similar titles in both data sets? While you might expect users to check out titles they browse most often, it can be educational if the data does not match. For example, consider what titles you are marketing. And ask whether library users were simply window shopping (because the library was closed for service) or whether your curbside service was easy-to-use. 
  3. How has your service model changed this year? For many libraries, service closures and re-openings are easy to spot in the data, since the data tends to spike and drop along with them. For example, March of 2020 is probably a very weird month for North American library statistics. Overall usage for many types of resources likely reached their lowest levels as life was disrupted across the globe and libraries closed or significantly overhauled their services.

    Even if your library never fully closed, it’s helpful to consider when restrictions were put in place in your community. If door counts fell this year, you might expect that Views and Clicks on Novelist Select would change along with it. As your library expanded its services, either through library takeout or fully opening the building, did engagement in your catalog increase as well? 

  4. What does internet access look like in your community? While access to broadband internet has always been a key issue for libraries, it’s likely that this year has raised awareness of access fault lines in our communities. Consider whether your library resources were most likely accessed from within the building’s terminals before the pandemic, or if your users tended to connect more from home.

    If your library needed to close its doors this year, the usage data you see from the past few months might disproportionately represent individuals who have access internet access from home, or who were able to access the library’s internet through hotspots. This might provide an opportunity to think about how the library might continue to meet the needs of the underserved in your community.

As a self-professed data geek, it’s hard for me to admit that statistics don’t stand on their own. Sometimes—most of the time—stats need a good story to bring them to life, give them context, and make a case for their relevance. But the reverse is also true: Data empowers you to tell better stories. By asking the right questions of our data, we can tell stories that truly reflect the experiences of the readers in our community. 

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Sam Stover is a Product Manager at NoveList. He is currently reading Travels with Epicurus: Meditations from a Greek Island on the Pleasures of Old Age by Daniel Klein.