Last Tuesday, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) released Measures that Matter Action Plan Step 2.1: A Review of State Public Library Survey Data Elements. We were excited to conduct this phase of work on COSLA’s behalf and believe the findings from this important systematic review of current state public library surveys, as well as states’ data collection and reporting practices, will be helpful for a wide range of libraries.

The Measures that Matter initiative, which is jointly led by COSLA and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), aims to address challenges with data collection for public libraries across the United States. Each fiscal year, State Library Agencies collect and report data to IMLS on their individual library systems. Agencies use the opportunity afforded by this national reporting cycle to also incorporate locally developed inquiries of their own to the collection process, simultaneously collecting both federal- and state-level data elements through one questionnaire. 

The purpose of Step 2.1 of the Measures that Matter Action Plan is to (1) identify locally developed data elements beyond federal IMLS questions and (2) categorize these questions and use them to identify new or improved national and/or state inquiries. Our careful review of each state’s Public Libraries Survey (PLS) determined that agencies are incorporating, on average, approximately 180 additional questions in addition to the 102 data elements provided by IMLS. These state-added elements — which totaled more than 8,800 questions across the 49 states examined — have now been identified and compiled into a thematically coded inventory. 

As our report indicates, after extensive thematic review and analysis we observed substantial commonality across additional state-specific questions to the PLS. Based on the frequency of commonly added content areas within the inventory, as well as insights gleaned from interviews with nine selected State Data Coordinators and two survey platform vendors, we have provided a set of recommendations for additions and improvements to the PLS. Implementation of these recommendations might include IMLS incorporating a new optional section of data elements to the PLS, groups of State Library Agencies collaborating to develop standardized elements and definitions, and/or individual Agencies refining existing areas of inquiry based on a review of data elements from other states.

At the state level, the PLS provides evidence for pursuing funding opportunities, conducting assessment of programming services, and fostering collaboration across libraries and/or schools. Recommendations resulting from Action Step 2.1 of the Measures that Matter project will not only assist libraries in their data collection, reporting, and evidence-based advocacy processes, but we hope will ultimately benefit users through improvements to library programs, collections, and services. We also hope this report prompts further discussion within the wider library community on strategies to systematically maintain long-term surveys and other data collection tools, as well as the collection and reporting processes that support them. 

The full report and inventory can be found here. Measures that Matter is made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services RE-00-16-0181-16. To receive updates on Measures that Matter, visit or sign up for the MtM listerv here.