Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends

Benchmark logoBenchmark is a new tool PLA will launch in fall 2021. It will provide libraries with data visualizations that allow them to compare their inputs and outputs to statistically valid peer groups and nationwide data. Peer comparisons, or benchmarking, can help libraries better understand their performance and can support everyday decision making, such as establishing baselines and identifying opportunities to improve service. 

Benchmark serves two main functions: 

  1. Survey Administration. Annual surveys on a rotating roster of topics will replace the Public Library Data Service (PLDS) surveys. The topics will include:
    1. Technology
    2. Programs & Services
    3. Library Staff & Diversity

Additional ad-hoc surveys may be administered as needed.

  1. Data Access and Visualizations that Facilitate Peer Comparison. Benchmark features a range of visualizations of IMLS Public Libraries Survey data, Census data, historic PLDS data, and new PLA survey data. The data dashboards and comparison tools are robust, interactive, and user-friendly. Each visualization includes three data points: an individual library’s data,  peer group data, and national data. 

All public libraries  will have free access to their own survey responses and select summary data in Benchmark. To access the full suite of peer data and interactive tools, libraries and other individuals or organizations interested in library data will be able to subscribe. Subscription discounts will be available to PLA organizational members and libraries that participate in Benchmark surveys. 


PLA has been investing in tools and resources (like Project Outcome and the Benchmark Briefings) that help libraries understand and use data to drive decision making. Data analysis can help libraries plan, make informed decisions, tell the story of their impact, and advocate for themselves. 

In 2018, PLA analyzed their existing data tools and discovered a notable decline in the use of the PLDS, which annually administered surveys and published the results of a rotating slate of library measures. PLA solicited feedback from subscribers and held two virtual town halls to hear how a new tool could better support their needs. Library staff reported that they wanted less redundancy in data collection, better peer comparison data, improved data training related to community indicators, and a user-friendly interface for analysis and reporting. In 2019, after much discussion, research, and planning, PLA and the Measurement, Evaluation, and Assessment Committee (MEAC) made the decision to discontinue the PLDS and invest resources in developing a tool that would better support the field. 

The result has been the development of Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends. It is PLA’s latest investment in data resources and fills a gap in U.S. libraries’ ability to understand their own performance as it relates to their peers. In designing Benchmark, PLA:

  • Is focusing on future data collection work on new topics and trends in the field,
  • Has developed a set of library peer groups that will help libraries better understand who their peers are and what key operational data points look like for those groups, and
  • Is increasing resources and training to help library staff gain confidence in their own data skills and improve their ability to use existing tools and data sets to understand their community.

Further details and updates will be shared as the timeline for the launch of Benchmark is confirmed.

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