By Bethan Smith, on 30 August 2023
We recently attended the 15th LibPMC International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries, which took place from 11th to 13th July 2023. With a focus on data analysis and its applications to librarianship, as well as customer service excellence principles, the conference offered an excellent opportunity to examine and learn from the interesting work being undertaken by peer institutions at both a national and international level.
There were many interesting concepts discussed at the conference which were particular highlights, such as:
Data presentation – the introductory session of the conference introduced us to the useful term ‘clubhouse data’ – data which only makes sense to a limited number of players and results in a niche understanding with limited practical applications. This keynote provided a useful reminder to us all to avoid falling down our own data rabbit-holes, or producing data for its own sake, while reinforcing that clear presentation of data is as key as the data itself.
Technology – many sessions throughout the three days highlighted software that can be used to create data visualisations for data-driven decisions, such as Tableau and Power BI. As creating service dashboards has long been an ambition within Service Improvement, it was reassuring to hear institutions (such as Lancaster and Cambridge) reporting on both their successes with using this software, as well as sharing their familiar struggles with combining data from multiple sources in one sharable, accessible place.
Peer Reviewing – Two interesting peer review exercise exemplars were provided by the Open University and Sussex University. The OU provided a case study on how sharing chat enquiry responses in small working groups helped their enquiries team to facilitate peer feedback and share best practice. At Sussex, they obtained funding to invite Bloomsbury Publishing to take part in in a two-way process to evaluate their burgeoning open press, to help transition their outputs from running on ‘pilot energy’ to creating successful ongoing processes. Facilitating peer-reviews can be challenging, but the exercise can encourage a growth mindset and offer unique insights into ways of working.
EDI, Values and Data – many sessions examined the potential of using qualitative and quantitative data gathering techniques as a health-check for EDI principles. The classic adage of the disability movement, ‘nothing about us without us’, was a repeated throughout as a reminder to ensure that data-driven decision-making considers the authentic experience of our diverse user-base. There was also a refreshing examination of impostor syndrome in librarianship from Ramona Naicker, who provided us all with reassuring encouragement to make the most of our positions within the library to contribute to research in the field.
Customer Service Excellence – it was interesting to hear that other institutions in the UK that have obtained the CSE standard had encountered similar challenges to us, in particular bringing together feedback from different channels/sources; finding time to conduct regular service reviews while “fire-fighting” operational issues; and demonstrating to colleagues the benefits of collecting feedback by presenting evidence of service improvements.
UX work – a key theme of the conference was the importance of providing greater context to data. One presenter commented that historically there has been too much focus on quantitative data that demonstrates what we have, such as the number of study spaces or size of collections, and not enough focus on how our customer’s expectations compare to their perception of our services and facilities. As they put it, past data has been “a mile wide and an inch deep.” To improve the depth of our data we will need to engage our customers using UX methods. For example, when evaluating our learning spaces our occupancy data might indicate areas of high usage, but without engaging our customers we won’t know why they prefer these study areas, if they are aware of alternatives, and if they are why they choose not to use those study areas instead. UX work is an exciting area which we are hoping to use more and more in the coming years, and it was great to hear examples of how these methods can help to contextualise the data we already collect.
We found the conference to be a very interesting experience, and across the three days it was encouraging to hear about the successes and challenges from international peer institutions. We certainly felt that we learned a lot and hope to take inspiration from these highlights in our own work going forward.
By Bethan Smith & Jonathan Fowles