We live in an increasingly data-driven world, and if you're anything like me you find playing with data and statistics fun, interesting, rewarding, and sometimes confusing and frustrating. It can also be time consuming - my colleagues and I spent more hours than I'd like to think about completing all the surveys to our reporting agencies this year. When there's a tool available to make all of this easier and less time-consuming, I'm immediately interested in learning more.
ALLStAR, the new tool created in partnership with NELLCO and Yale, is certainly fun to play with, and while it does have a learning curve, once you've spent a little time with it it can make your life easier. It's preloaded with the last several years of survey data from the ABA, USNews, IPEDS, and other agencies, which gives us a jumping-off point for using the data. We've started to use it to benchmark things like collections spending, staffing levels, volumes and databases added, and records added to the catalog, but the possibilities don't stop there. If you're interested, I'd recommend checking out the link above, and attending the deep dive at the AALL Annual Meeting this year for a great hands-on workshop (we saw a version of it at NELLCO this year).
We've mostly been using it for these benchmarking tools from data preloaded from the major surveys; however, we're also going to start to use it to help us complete those surveys by setting up accounts for all of our staff to complete the ALLStAR Employee Questionnaire. ALLStAR talks to LibAnswers, which we use to track our reference statistics (and statistics from a variety of other library projects, like faculty requests and institutional repository work). After LibAnswers puts its data into the system, it should not be more onerous for staff to complete the Employee Questionnaire than it is for them to email the responses we need to complete the survey data. We are really hoping this cuts down on managerial time completing these surveys.
Finally, if enough schools begin to use ALLStAR, we could use it to define our own benchmarking and statistics that we want to keep. The information we send to various agencies (volume count, anyone?) is not necessarily useful for us. If we have the discretion to create our own tool from ALLStAR, we could begin to keep statistics that are truly meaningful - for internal tracking purposes, for reporting to stakeholders, and for benchmarking among ourselves.
ALLStAR has real possibilities to help us use statistics and data to our advantage. It will be even better if we use it as a community, especially if we decide to use it to track our own metrics as a group. I'd like to encourage everyone to take a look at it and see if we can really use this tool to make our lives easier.