Using Statistics Effectively

Totals, percentages, averages, ratios. We’re guessing you’ve got no shortage of numbers to share! Statistics are compelling when used strategically to tell your library’s story.

Keep these points in mind as you incorporate numbers and figures into your message:

Consider your message. Are statistics the best choice to help you convey your main points? The most powerful messages combine statistics and stories. In a very brief message, you may need to choose one over the other.

Know your audience. Is your audience likely to be compelled by numbers? If so, numbers will be most intriguing. Determine which statistics will have the maximum impact for the individuals or groups you’re addressing.

Be selective. One powerful statistic is better than three weak ones. Not all statistics are created equal, and a little can go a long way.

Keep it relevant. Ensure your statistics are relevant, interesting, and clear.

Offer perspective. Consider using both “bad” and “good” statistics. Example: Bad - In our county, 60% of children in 3rd grade are not reading at grade level. Good - The library’s new early literacy training is reaching 95% of the child care providers in our county.

Use context creatively. Change the context of numbers to create a clear visual image that packs a punch. Example: 10,000 petition signatures = almost seven straight days of testimony from citizens if they were given one minute each to speak. Hint: The Google search box will do these calculations for you!

Be accurate. Ensure your correlations are correct and unforced.

Stay current. Use the most current data you can. If your data is 10 or 15 years out of date, is it still relevant?

Make it fun! Use visuals, such as infographics, whenever possible. Infographics can be fun and imaginative, and a great graphic can help tell the story of the statistic.

Make it real. Use a library value calculator to show exactly how much families would pay for the books and other services the library provides.

Cast a wide net. Create a comprehensive list of resources to obtain statistics you can use in a variety of situations and settings. Here are some source ideas:

  • Local: Local governmental units (town, city, county) often make available information on their websites. Census data has information on such topics as number of single-parent households with children, number of youth in various age groups, number of grandparents responsible for grandchildren, and much more. American Fact Finder is easy to use and very helpful!
  • State: State governmental departments, often the state library, provide data. Census data is available chunked by state also.
  • National: ALA offers quotable facts about America’s libraries with excellent statistics.