Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Putting the Science Back in Library Science: Collection Development, Diversity Audits, & Understanding Teens – Analyzing Data for Decision Making

I began working at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio in January of 2015, for the second time. This was actually the public library I got my start in and I, along with a peer named Holly, were the first people ever hired to do teen services at this library. We started the collection from scratch as paraprofessionals and it has been interesting to return and work with this collection once again, a little over 20 years later.

As an experienced and now professional librarian, I work with collections much differently than I did when I began in the early 1990s. For one, there is now far more YA literature than there was in the beginning. Also, my understanding of adolescent development, collection development, and the role of libraries has changed dramatically. I have a greater sense of purpose that comes with having more experience and a stronger foundational knowledge. The collections I build today are more purposeful, and less personal, than they were in the beginning.

So after spending the first year getting re-acclimated to my home library, I dived deep into some real data analysis. I like working with data, facts and figures, to help me better understand who I’m serving, what they’re reading, and how I can best meet their needs. Below I will outline the lengthy process I went through to put together some good data and a plan of recommendations that I drew from analyzing that data.

Step 1: Understanding Teens as a Whole

Serving Full TILT Infographic

As part of our Serving Full T.I.L.T. series a few years back, several fellow YA librarians and myself went through and put together a good, foundational statistical report of what we knew about teens today in the United States. This helps us understand what teenage life is like in the United States.

Step 2: Local Community Demographics

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I then went through the process of putting together an extensive local community demographics profile. I searched high and low for every piece of data I could find about our community, including census data, poverty rates, high school graduation rates, etc. I didn’t just focus on teens at this point, though it does have a lot of data about teens which I eventually extracted out for my final report. These two steps gave me a solid portrait of what the national picture of teens looks like as well as at my local level. I won’t go into the process in depth here because I wrote a post about this step here: Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Understanding Your Local Community (Part 1)

Step 3: Diversity Audit

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I then spent a solid month really look at my library collection, focusing on YA fiction and GNs/Manga, to get a look at how diverse my collection was – or wasn’t – to help guide selections and acquisitions. My goal was to build a more diverse collection to help my teens live in a more diverse world. I wanted them to see both themselves reflected and to step into the shoes of lives different than their own to help increase their knowledge, understanding, and compassion of the world they are living in. Again, I have previously blogged about this process and you can read those posts here:

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

Step 4: Circulation and Collection Analysis

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I then worked with reports to do a lot of weeding, a lot of purchasing, and a lot of data analysis. I looked at what percentage of the collection each part of my YA collections made up and compared it to the overall library holdings. I compared circulation statistics in the same way. For example, I could determine that my YA Fiction holdings were approximately 2% of the entire library holdings and then look to see what percentage of the overall circulation YA Fic items made up. You want the percentage to be the same or more than the holdings. So if YA Fic is 2% of the overall holdings, you want the circulation to be 2% or more of the overall circulation.

If the percentage of holdings is less than the percentage of circulation, you then have to work to find out why. For example, we have a small physical YA Audio collection that is an even smaller percentage of our overall circulation. The most probable reason why is that most teens no longer have CD players to play books on CD on. But the statistics make it clear that these items are not circulating well for us and we should devote less money and shelf space to these items.

In comparison, we have a fairly small collection of GNs and Manga, but the percentage of their circulation is higher. This means that one way we could increase our circulation may be to increase the size and holding of our GN and manga collection.

The data I collected included:

  • Total number of items held in the library collection
  • Total number of item per each collection that I purchased for, including YA fiction, graphic novels and manga, YA audio, and YA nonfiction
  • Total number of circulations for the entire library collection
  • Total number of circulations per each collection that I purchased for, including YA fiction, graphic novels and manga, YA audio, and YA nonfiction
  • Total percentage of holding for each collection that I purchase for
  • Total percentage of overall circulation for each collection that I purchase for
  • Percentage of collection that hasn’t circulated in the last calendar year
  • Number of items added to each collection in the last calendar year
  • Total amount spent on purchasing new items for the collection in the last calendar year
  • Average cost per item spent in the last calendar year
  • Total number of items weeded in each collection in the last calendar year

Some of the data I wanted to analyze I did not have good access to. For example, we subscribe to Hoopla and they do not break out YA items from children/youth items. We have contacted Hoopla and hope that they will work to provide some better data for us in the future.

We do not catalog or shelve our YA titles by genre, but if you do this type of analysis can also help guide future purchasing as you develop a better idea of what types of books your teens are reading. I can do this to some extent just by weeding because I have a long track record in YA, read it a lot, and have just worked a lot with YA fiction. Someone new to YA would have a harder time, though it would definitely help them learn more about their new collection.

Step 5: Findings and Recommendations

I took all of this data and put it into a visual report, an infographic, and then submitted a number of findings and recommendations. For example, I suggested that we stop purchasing YA on CDs and allow the collection to self-weed and put a greater emphasis on our digital YA audio collections. I recommended a variety of other things as well, such as moving the physical location of a couple of collections, increasing the size of a couple of collections, and looking into keeping track of in-house item use for materials such as GNs, manga and nonfiction because a lot of our patrons tend to read them in-house, put them on a shelving cart, and never really check them out. I have observed teens sitting in the YA area and reading entire stacks of GNs and manga that never get checked out and we are missing not only circulation stats, but useful collection development numbers to help guide series retention.

I did all of this background work while doing the daily business of managing staff, maintaining a Teen MakerSpace, working the Reference desk on occasion, etc. So yes, it took a few months to almost a year, but the information I have gained has been invaluable. I now have a much deeper understanding of my local community and a more comprehensive knowledge of my collection. I feel like I am making more informed decisions all around in serving my teens and building our collections. I enjoyed both the process and the outcome. I highly recommend it.

Sunday Reflections: When There is No Village

What if I wrote a Sunday Reflections, but on a Wednesday? What if I couldn’t wait until Sunday to share my heart with you? Today is that day.

Canvas4Summer is coming. It doesn’t quite have the ring to it as Winter is Coming, but it’s true. And with the winding down of the school year comes all the end of year pageantry that schools can muster. End of year concerts, field days, field trips, awards ceremonies and more.

And somewhere in your community is a child who doesn’t have a special adult that can come and support them. Their single mom or dad can’t get off work to go watch them receive that math student of the year certificate. They have no grandparent to take in for Grandparents Day. There is no aunt or uncle or older sibling. They will walk across that stage to receive an award and there will be no one there to take a picture, clap, and beam with pride. On this day, this child or teen will be reminded of how alone they are in the universe.

Recently someone tweeted about how no matter what, your family will always have your back. But this is patently untrue for millions of kids all over this world. Some families are toxic, abusive. Some are broken. Some are isolated. Some are alienated. Some are just barely surviving. Some are struggling with sickness or grief. There are tons of reasons, but the the results are the same – many kids don’t have a village. Some kids don’t even have a person.

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In 2011 my family moved from the state of Ohio to Texas in order to have a job so we could afford to feed our kids. Food and shelter is important, but our kids continue to struggle with the lack of emotional bonds that many families take for granted. As I write this I am praying every day that my husband will be able to find a job in one of two other states where we do have family so that my kids can finally learn what it’s like to go to grandma’s house or to have that aunt who will take them to a movie on a Saturday night. My family is beautiful and blessed, but we are also isolated and alone. And my phone is not the exception, I see it all around us.

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be a blood relative. Any adult who can honestly love and mentor a kid will do.

Our kids are desperate for it. And when I say our kids, I don’t mean mine, I mean our nations. Because as a parent I finally understand what it means when we say it takes a village, though I fear that we are losing our villages. Everybody works too much to barely survive, social media has taken out of our in real life communities and we bond with strangers who can’t help us out in a pinch with childcare, and our kids don’t have anyone to sit on an uncomfortable school bleacher while they win an award or blow a whistle on a hot, dusty field day.

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But we, the adults of this world, can change that. We can make the conscious decision to be mentors. To be “aunts” and “uncles” or “grandmas” and “grandpas” to kids that we are in no way related by blood. But make no mistake, it has to be a long term commitment. Changing your mind somewhere along the lines can often be more damaging than having never said yes. Abandonment, betrayal, and just plain being let down can have far more lasting impacts than feeling alone.

The village is dying. Each person is looking out for themselves. We’re debating whether or not sick children deserve health insurance (they do), whether poor children deserve free lunches (again, they do), or whether we want to pay to support education (we should), in part because we are losing ability to care for someone other than ourselves and those we relate to by birth. We are for me and mine, but the neighbor across the street has to fend for themselves. We are moving away from being communities and the impact is devastating.

There are communal benefits to raising our neighbors out of poverty and supporting education, to name just a few of the issues on the table. Strong, healthy communities are supportive, nurturing, and work together to meet common goals. There is safety, advancement, and an overall wellness in healthy communities. Poverty and disenfranchisement can be linked to decreased health (which increases health care costs for all), increased crime, and things like decreased property values.

But it’s more than that, children who grow up with a lot of stress, poverty and trauma – their brains are literally remapped. There are long term consequences for the individual and society when our communities fall apart. Lonely, unhappy, unsupported, and hungry children aren’t just inhumane, they are bad for society.

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I work in public libraries with teenagers and I have the distinct honor of being a mentor to many teens. But I also have made the conscious effort to try and be a part of and build community outside of my job. And I would like to ask you to do the same. “Adopt” a kid in your church or neighborhood. Choose to be that adult mentor that a kid or teen can ask to come and blow that whistle on field day or clap as they walk across the stage to win an award. Sometimes it’s because their parents literally can’t as they work to try and put food on the table, other times it’s because, in all honesty, kids need more than one or two adults in their lives who value them. We don’t all have networks of healthy, connected extended families that meet together on Sunday nights for family dinner to help nurture a child’s soul. Geography, toxicity, death – these are just a few of the reasons. But the reason doesn’t really matter, what matters is the love. People need love and nurture and support. They need a village. Choose to be a village.