Your New Advocacy Narrative Must Start with eMeasurements
The rapid shift by public libraries to digital, online, and virtual services during COVID must be measured and reported in order to create new advocacy narratives and budget justifications for the coming budget crisis.
Since the beginning of library-time, public libraries have been measuring and reporting on what staff does inside the library with and for people who come into the library to do their own things. It is only natural to measure what you do. In the United States, the existing IMLS Public Libray Survey captures and reports on in-person, in-building, synchronous programs, services, and circulations quite well. Over time, either through evolution or intelligent design, certain digital versions of otherwise in-person or physical activities have been added to our measurements. Ebook downloads, website visits, and wifi sessions are, in a certain respect, a simulacrum of what we measure in-person. But the COVID shutdowns have forced public libraries to rapidly and radically pivot away from familiar in-person activities to deliver a whole new class of digital, online, and virtual services, programs, and content. The new reality of contactless or curbside pickup, limiting capacity inside buildings, curtailed programming options, and adapting to real concerns about safety are all appropriate to protect library patrons and workers alike. But the measurements of what we do - and therefore who we are as the public library - have been outpaced by the new reality and need to be updated in real-time as well.
We need to reframe our advocacy narratives and budget justifications about the role of libraries and library workers very quickly in order to mitigate significant budget cuts. For nearly a generation, library leaders have staked a claim that libraries are the true Third Place in their communities. Urban planners and rural boosters alike have looked to Third Places as a way to stabilize neighborhoods and extend benefits more equitably across communities. Library leaders have embraced the concept of libraries being “not home and not the workplace” in their programs, services, and collections. As a sector, we have pushed the image of the library as the “living room of the city” or the town’s backyard. But as we know, the COVID-19 shutdowns have rapidly and radically telescoped the First Place (home) and the Second Place (work) into a one-in-the-same-place for a significant number of people. The same necessary and ongoing disruptions that limit the use of library buildings negates or even voids our familiar and comfortable Third Place narratives.
Because of these changes to the core identity of public libraries, it is critically important that library leaders start to collect robust measures of digital activity to create new narratives about library impact during COVID and make the case for new or renewed funding. That is why the EveryLibrary Institute is proud to partner with and support the eMeasures Snapshot Survey from Counting Opinions. The eMeasures Snapshot Survey is specifically designed to help library administration measure and understand their own newly expansive digital, online, and virtual work and compare it to that of other libraries. The eMeasures Snapshot Survey enables participating libraries to collect nearly 100 data points including website use, social media engagements, database access, and digital downloads. More importantly, the eMeasures Survey expands the definitions of reportable staff activities to include asynchronous programs and the understanding of services to include low-to-non-intermediated patron activities like viewings, classes, and courses.) A significant feature of Survey is its focus on recording ones marketing expenditures for outreach and advertising through social media and search engines.
The eMeasures Survey covers both retrospectives activities (from March to June 2020) and current library activities though a “snapshot” week or month approach. Our goal is to help you record what occurred during the initial crisis as well as compile an immediately-useful dataset by collecting one week of library service usage levels at a self-selected point. We are asking participating libraries to complete a count week before August 31st, 2020. Likewise, many libraries are choosing to record all their eMeasues activities for August 2020. The survey tool normalizes your data across either timeframe. Participating libraries will receive free access to infographic reports of their own data as well as summary reports and an analysis of the findings as they become available. Counting Opinions is also offering robust DIY comparative reports through a subscription to eMeasures & Benchmarking reports and current Counting Opinions subscribers have free access. The EveryLibrary Institute will report on national comparative results in September 2020. Each and every library in the United States and Canada is pre-loaded into the eMeasures platform with records tied to existing IMLS PLDS or provincial records. This will allow for comparisons between libraries and benchmarking activities pre-COVID and during-COVID.
During the ongoing COVID crisis, policymakers, elected officials, voters, and philanthropic funders want to see their money go to effective programs and competent staffing in ways that deliver results. They want to support programs and projects that can be justified through data as well as stories. Your funders and elected officials are also concerned with closing gaps and fixing failures, especially ones around equity and access. They are looking for the right way to apply limited funding resources - whether taxes or philanthropy or grants - to solve those problems. Your library has quickly become the community’s partner for digital, online, and virtual services while maintaining your position as a legacy anchor institution. The eMeasures Snapshot Survey can help you define your new role and delineate your place in the budget for your library.
You can review the eMeasures Survey questions and watch our orientation webinar at https://www.everylibraryinstitute.org/emeasures_webinar to learn more.