Data-Driven Librarianship

PLA's data initiatives aim to help public library staff use data to better understand and demonstrate their library's impact.
Adult Caucasian male with beard and glasses and an adult African American female with braids viewing a data dashboard displayed on the screen of a laptop; a few coworkers are visible behind them.

Library staff can use these tools and resources to compare their library to their peers and leverage those comparisons for planning, improvement, and advocacy.

Data Tools

Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends
Benchmark is the newest tool for data-driven planning and advocacy in public libraries. Launched in October 2021, it provides libraries with data visualizations that allow them to compare their inputs and outputs to peer and nationwide data. Benchmark features a range of visualizations of new PLA survey data, historic PLDS data, IMLS Public Libraries Survey, and data from the Census data. Use Benchmark to access data that facilitates peer comparisons and complete open PLA surveys.

Project Outcome
Project Outcome is designed to help public libraries understand and share the impact of essential library programs and services by providing simple surveys and an easy-to-use process for measuring and analyzing outcomes. The toolkit also provides libraries with the resources and training support needed to apply their results and confidently advocate for their library’s future.

Benchmark Briefings
To support the public library field’s peer benchmarking needs, PLA has created a set of infographics that display key metrics related to internal decision-making. These metrics, reported annually by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), are freely and publicly available but the data are not typically utilized to their full potential. The Benchmark Briefings are a first step in PLA’s work to support greater adoption and understanding of this annual data set. Continue your journey with PLA using the Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends starting fall 2021.

Impact Survey
PLA is now “home” to Impact Survey, which was originally developed and administered by the University of Washington’s Information School. Impact Survey helps libraries measure patron’s technology needs. The Impact Survey asks patrons about how they use library technology services like public computers, wireless networks, online resources, digital literacy training, as well as outcome-oriented use.

PLDS and PLAmetrics
At the 2019 ALA Midwinter Meeting, PLA’s Measurement, Evaluation and Assessment Committee (MEAC) voted to cancel the FY19 PLDS survey and focus its efforts on measuring the field-reported value of the survey instead. As a result of this work and other data collection efforts PLA has underway, the MEAC voted to sunset the PLDS survey. Historic PLDS data is available to subscribers in the new Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends tool.

Data Literacy

Census Data Literacy
The Census Data Literacy project is an initiative of PLA in partnership with ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office. It aims to build data literacy skills among library staff to enhance their services, programs, and initiatives with the overall goal of promoting awareness and use of Census data in their communities.

Public Library Data and Performance Measures
Evaluation and data analysis can be overwhelming. This resource is intended to raise awareness of data-related resources useful to public libraries, and to assist library staff from all levels in a variety of decision-making moments. It was developed by PLA's Measurement, Evaluation, and Assessment Committee (MEAC).

Data Pathways
ALA Emerging Leaders created this guide to pathways for public library staff, administrators, and managers to gain the skills necessary for working with library assessment data. Use the self-assessment to help you determine what data-related skills you want to work on and find resources for professional development.

Data about Public Libraries

PLA Surveys and Data
PLA conducts annual surveys of the public library field every fall and shares results in a survey report the following spring. Topics covered include public library technology, staff and diversity, and programs and services.

Additional National Data about Public Libraries
A clearinghouse for datasets about public libraries, public datasets that have a library element included in them, or census-like data sites that could help library staff gather information about their communities.