In my mind, circulation numbers have been a long-standing measure used by libraries to assess and communicate impact. When I moved into the library from the classroom, I began using circulation data to judge my effectiveness (I didn’t have student grades to use for this judgment). I have been so excited about a continuous increase in circulation over the past four years–I feel like I’m doing a great job getting books into students’ hands. Today, for the first time, I began to think beyond circulation numbers. “What happens when the books leave the library?” Circulation numbers alone do not answer this question. They don’t tell you about the students who check out two books every week yet never finish one. They don’t tell you about the students who check out books because their teachers require it yet have never fallen in love with a book. On the other hand, circulation numbers don’t tell you about the huge impact that a book had on a group of students struggling with issues that they don’t want to talk about. They don’t tell you about the empathy that develops in a student as he, through a book, steps inside the life of someone from a different background.
So. . .while circulation data doesn’t lie, we, as librarians, should not let it be the only measure of our success. If we do, we may be giving ourselves too much credit or less credit than we deserve. As for me, I plan to look beyond the numbers, specifically seeking out those students who are checking out books and never reading them. They deserve a librarian who focuses on more than just circulation data.