Regarding Statistics

Submitted by Matthew Gengler on

“We aren’t just doing our jobs; we are creating numbers.”


Head of Access Services, Matthew Gengler

2020 has shed a spotlight on the importance of reliable data. Suddenly, with the onset of COVID-19, statistics are everywhere, delivered moments before we fall asleep and immediately as we wake up. Politicians, journalists, and lay people quibble over how data is interpreted in statistics. And while figures about a pandemic create tension, worry, and perhaps sleeplessness, data and statistics are crucial to making plans—from protecting ourselves to protecting a world-class collection of research materials.

A wealth of data has opened up to the Ingalls Library with the recent implementation of WorldShare Management Services (WMS), as outlined in the strategic plan. This transition has been touted by the web-based Library Technology Guides and by WMS’ vendor, OCLC, both in a July press release and in their forthcoming e-mail newsletter that reaches thousands.

Thanks to WMS, Ingalls Library staff are not only able to perform their jobs more efficiently, but now their work has more meaning statistically. Head of Access Services, Matthew Gengler, comments, “We aren’t just doing our jobs; we are creating numbers.” Call it evidence of collective effort. As we move forward with WMS we are as excited as only information professionals can be to find new statistical insights into the minutiae of our collection and our daily work. WMS allows us to scrutinize our collection in a more detailed fashion than in the past. As noted by library director and Ontario native Heather Saunders, a quick drill down into the collection reveals nearly five hundred books on artists from Canada. Certainly a surprise considering that there is nothing about artists from our northern neighbor in the Ingalls Library’s collection development policy. Other interesting outliers include over 600 books about agriculture, which are likely part of the collection devoted to gardening, another 200 books about medicine, which may reflect books in photography documenting challenging moments in our shared history, including pandemics past. Other subjects that seem like outliers are easier to explain; for example, art librarianship literature crosses paths with law, resulting in over 500 volumes on the subject being in our collection.

Looking into these numbers is not just an academic exercise. As the library prepares to move 25,000 volumes off-site to AssureVault facility in Columbus, Ohio, collection analysis will be invaluable. By focusing on material that remains a focus of collecting, but is also low use, we can effectively store material while keeping higher use material more readily available. Everything will remain in circulation, but some items will be closer at hand. Although Ingalls Library is technically non-circulating in not allowing for check-outs like a public library, between lending materials through interlibrary loan and checking them out to CMA staff offices, cubicles, and to a shelf in the library lounge for those without offices or cubicles, almost 10,000 volumes are currently in circulation!

Last month we reported that our early return to resource sharing had been met with brisk use from our partners across the country and the world. And the numbers collected over the month bear that out. All this time indoors has provided time for art research. For interlibrary loan through the SHARES consortium with art museums and academic institutions, Ingalls Library fulfilled 90 resource sharing copy requests last month--double our typical volume. Considering that present copy requests are averaging 50 pages per request, and occasionally more, it would be logical to assume that we have produced at least 4500 digital impressions for our resource sharing partners in the past month

Improving access to scholarship is a mission critical drive for the library. The results of our digitization initiatives continue to provide impressive numbers, with over 1,800 views of digitized books and nearly 16,000 views this year. While we remain pleased with quantitative data, it is qualitative data in the form of positive testimonials from users that encourages us most, like one user who wrote about digitized CMA handbooks on the Internet Archive, “Finally I found you!  Thank you very much for posting this book. Great work!” And another from a user who found our digitized copy of L'art dans les travaux à l'aiguille an 1887 book of needlework design, who commented, “Nice large scans.” To learn more about the Internet Archive, see this recent post.