Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Other Peoples' Statistics

I was sympathetic to the news in this article, San Francisco Library Doesn’t Know How Many Books it Has.

Because you know, it's surprisingly hard to get a count for that. The story says that the San Francisco Public Library can provide a number for how many titles they hold, but not how many specific items, and I myself have wrestled with this little distinction.

We don't have nearly as many books as the SFPL where I work, and it's still hard to get a good number. I was especially sympathetic when I learned that SFPL is using Millennium, which is the system we use for our OPAC. Ah, Millennium.

Hearken to these quoted words from a library spokesperson, who reports that Millennium is a "clunky system that works great for circulation but it's hard to pull out metrics that are newsworthy."

Yeah, that sounds about right. Except I can't speak to its efficacy for circulation, since I don't work on that aspect of things myself. Clunky, though, I can attest.

Now I can count items, because our Millennium gives us a Bibliographic record (a description of a specific title, edition, etc.) and an Item record (saying that we have a specific individual copy of said title, edition, etc.).

So I can run a list to pull all of the Item records that have our library's code in them (to differentiate them from all the items that might be in other libraries within the university system), and get a number that way.

But sometimes you might want to include also the number of bound volumes of old journals that you have, and there's no item for that, and sometimes you might want to count, or not count, electronic versions of titles, and there's an item for that but it's not easy to separate them out, and sometimes we forget to include our library code in the correct format (I'm sorry, but it happens), and sometimes depending on the definition you might want to include or not include titles available in other parts of the library system, and it all gets very confusing.

So I'm not sure exactly what issues the SFPL faces in coming up with a specific number of items, but I am sympathetic.

Also, I bet it's a lot. Just go with that, SFPL. "A whole lot."

I saw this on a roundup at This Ain't Livin'.


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