The question, simple on the surface, points to a lack of understanding about the industry and most certainly limits the usefulness of the aggregated responses. Print resources are an indication of – what? Surveys, much like directories, league tables and the like provide those who create these industry research pieces with dramatic headlines, website traffic and social media click-throughs, generating soft leads and business or consulting opportunities. Surveys also provide data and data should provide insights, at least that is how it is supposed to go down. But there has to be integrity and mindfulness in both the collection and analysis – the question above and its binary answers with no context, provides for neither.
As I see it, the current model of survey and reporting as discussed at AALL has two flaws. The first: survey creators are often on the sidelines, looking in on the action – they support the game but aren’t in it the same way industry leaders would be. Therefore, to really add value, survey creators need to find a way to include industry leaders or practitioners in the creation of the survey so that the same questions are not asked year after year skewing the results in to a cumulative data mess. If you want to provide real usefulness, start by asking insightful well-crafted questions. The second: despite working in an industry of word smiths who manipulate language to serve the needs of their clients, many of us (myself included) need to brush up on our written communication and analysis skills. That is, we need to be able to draft better questions, that result in stronger more representative and meaningful findings. The size of print collections in the earlier example is no more an indication of a library’s strategy than the number of beds in a hospital speaks to the quality of care. Correlation is not causation, and poorly constructed survey questions, limit analysis to trite observations adding little benefit to the working body of industry knowledge.