The Wisconsin public library annual report is currently being evaluated through the lens of the pandemic. There will be updates to the programming stats (especially virtual), and many other areas as well. In the meantime, continue to keep track of what you are doing, who you are reaching, and how you know.
Local Data Counts
It is important to communicate in a meaningful way to your library board how you have served the community during this public health crisis by adapting services. This includes virtual storytimes, grab and go bags, interactive social media posts, phone calls to patrons, newspaper articles, community partnerships for meal and book delivery….the list goes on and on. The numerous ways in which you serve your community have never, and will never, be captured in totality on the public library annual report; there are simply too many locally specific and creative means of providing library service. Use local data to tell your library’s story year round. This is the essence of everyday advocacy--the best insurance policy to invest in.
Definitions and Tracking
We have made extensive resources available in the Wisconsin Public Library Annual Report Instructions "Library Programs" section to help you determine what counts as a program or self-directed activity, and what does not. If your library offers programs or self-directed activities as defined by state and federal reporting, being uniform and consistent with your data is critical. If your library offers something that does not fit the state and federal definitions (which is highly likely), make it count for your local library. The new Programming and Activity Count tracker workbook (downloads an Excel file) and corresponding video tutorial demonstrate ways to maximize local, state, and federal data points. You can now also find the Programming and Activity Count tracker workbook in Google Sheets for enhanced collaboration - just sign in to your Google account and make a copy.
When thinking about quantifying your library’s efforts to provide programming virtually - whether that be livestreaming on social media, recording programs and posting the recording to a video sharing website, or some other method for connecting with your library users - be sure you are tracking that attendance in a way that is meaningful to your library.
For the Wisconsin Public Library Annual Report, it is important to remember if you are providing virtual programming for your users you may only include livestreaming views and live interactions with programs in the Programs and Program Attendance Annual Count portion of the annual report. Views of program recordings (after the fact) are not counted on the annual report, though you are encouraged to share those numbers with your library board if you track them.
Grab and Go Efforts
When thinking about grab and go bags, or similar packaged independent activities, consider keeping track of how many were distributed, where, when, etc. Depending on the details of your grab and go bag structure, it could potentially count as a self-directed activity if the grab and go bags have a report-back feature. For example, an independent reading log activity is a classic self-directed activity. With an independent reading log activity, libraries distribute a number of reading logs, and participants usually turn their sheets in at the end as a means of reporting back to the library. With grab and go bags, consider how you will know how many grab and go bags were distributed versus actually used.
While self-directed activity numbers are counted on the state level, the importance really matters on a local level, and your counting practices reflect this. If you, or someone else, were to do grab and go bags, or something similar, next year or 5 years from now, the means of tracking should stay consistent to get the best data.
Every metric we are conditioned to use in our libraries has limited value right now. Statistics cannot accurately convey the ways we are responding to our communities through service, especially when one of those ways is to give everyone space (social distance and emotional distance). Regarding statistics, it comes down to managing expectations and letting go of certain numbers. We are used to reporting on the quantity, but this is an opportunity to focus on the quality.
Telling Your Story
We anticipate seeing a decline in hours and weeks open to the public, program numbers and program attendance, circulation of traditional materials, and public computer use in Wisconsin public libraries. Rather than focus on what is out of your control, communicate what you are doing and the impact it is having. Be specific and share examples of patron interactions and patron feedback. Whether it was helping someone get a printed document in the nick of time or providing hand-selected titles for an avid reader stuck at home, or the thank you notes from your virtual storytime fans or the caregivers grateful for your grab and go kits, you are making a difference. Telling your story to your community and being available to serve them is the most important thing you can do right now.
Tessa Michaelson Schmidt
Public Library Consultant