Capturing Numbers

I've had a couple of people ask me on- and off-line how we record our stats for summer and get staff buy-in with the process.

I like to track just enough data points to give us needed info but no more than is necessary:
  • name
  • grade going into (or age, if preschool)
  • name of school or, if homeschooled
  • participation level (we all know the number of kids registered for the program doesn't reflect the actual number of kids who return and participat
These numbers point me in the direction of how effective our SLP is, where we need to devote more planning or changes in direction, what is effective in our approach. Combined with anecdotal information, it gives us the info we need to meet the needs of our kids.
We have played with a number of methods to get this data. When I worked at a one-location (no branches) library, we set up a very simple excel sheet that we would record info. We could easily handle 1000 entries that way and perhaps more. It allowed us to do single and multiple data point sorting. Staff buy-in was easy because we had been doing alot of this tracking by hand (index cards that volunteers would sort at the end of the summer according to the various data we wanted). The downside of this method is that the spreadsheet could only be open on one computer at a time.
When I moved to my present job, staff used hatchmarks to keep track of kids registered for the program and that was it. We didn't know our participation rate, what schools or ages the kids were, how many incentives we gave out - nada beyond the number involved. Planning was challenging because it was based on...nothing. Our board asked questions when I reported out to them in August that I couldn't answer.
So we designed a simple Microsoft Access database for our three locations so we could enter info and track readers with the database. The same data was collected and we could easily do sorting in the database to extract the numbers we needed. We did have some access issues that made this database too glitchy to use though so we threw ourselves on the mercy of our library's IT guru who wrote a small, helpful database within our "intranet" system to handle the same duties. This is our favorite, of course, because it fits our needs to "T" - but we know not everyone has an IT guy in their library pocket.

Staff wasn't too sure about all this as we did the design for the databases. Once they saw what we could do with the data (anticipate staffing needs; better target buying or incentives and book prizes; calibrate our printing needs more precisely), there was a much better staff buy-in for using this new technology for keeping track of summer business. We have also been able to present some powerful data to our board and school colleagues. And, of course, because we base planning on what really happens, we tailor our design to our community's response - and we are seeing real success in increasing the number of kids who participate!


  1. We're keeping track of this sort of information for the first time, too! We're using Evanced to sign up all participants, which will give us all kinds of reports. We require name, age, gender, library, and zip code. School and grade are optional. With 72 branches plus Central Library, our planning will actually be based on some real data next year!

  2. Eva, don't you love it?!?! And I hear that the CLSP consortium planning group is looking into offering some kind of registration system at a good cost for libraries too. With all our budgetary challenges, knowing who and how we serve will make a total difference!

  3. We used a Google Excel Document and a Google Survey to input their information. The Google Document allows multiple users to have the Excel spreadsheet open/editing at the same time, too.

  4. Using Google excel and survey doc is brilliant. Thanks for the tip!!