In June 2017, the Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), along with the Research Institute for Public Libraries (RIPL), held a meeting at the ALA annual conference in Chicago, Illinois. The group, comprised of individuals representing public libraries, state library agencies, library associations and research organizations, came together for a one-day meeting to discuss the public library outlook for data competency training and tools. Upon further evaluation, the team decided that additional resources and pathways were needed in an effort to create data-driven public libraries, leaders and staff.

Shortly, thereafter, the 2018 class of Emerging Leaders (EL) was charged with identifying data competency training resources to continue the initial findings and work developed by the group at the 2017 ALA Conference in Chicago. The EL Team, under the advisement of project leaders, created this resource guide of pathways for public library staff, administrators, and managers to gain the skills necessary for working with library assessment data.

Purpose/Rationale for this project:

At a time when funding for libraries is often scarce and increasingly under threat it is important for library staff to make data informed decisions related to programming, staffing and allocation of library resources. As a profession moving toward data driven decisions will also help the communities we serve to understand what we do and show them the value of public libraries and ultimately increase support for library services and initiatives. This tool and resource guide will serve as a professional development guide that can be used to move library staff forward to become data competent. As library professionals it has become increasingly important to be able to gather, analyze, and communicate data in order to navigate a data-rich world and make data-driven decisions related to funding, policies and other resources needed to support the communities we serve.


This project is intended to serve the needs of all library staff including but not limited to librarians, assistants, clerks, aides, pages, managers and administrators. This collection of resources were developed to meet each individual at their current skill level and are not equated to job title.

Explanation of Terms

Data 101:

If you have never worked with data before, you may want to start by focusing on skills at the Data 101 level.

  • Determine what data to use to make a decision
  • Interpret basic charts
  • Administer a survey using templates such as Project Outcome
  • Understand the difference between an anecdote and evidence

Data Geek:

If you have worked with data before but want to increase your knowledge, you may want to focus on skills at the Data Geek level.

  • Design a data collection instrument (survey, interview guide, etc.)
  • Conduct a focus group or interview
  • Understand the concepts of validity and reliability
  • Demonstrate knowledge of government datasets
  • Perform basic data analysis using common software

Data Expert:

If your job focuses primarily on data, or if you have worked extensively with data previously, you may want to sharpen your skills at the Data Expert level.

  • Understand various statistical analyses such as regression
  • Conduct statistical analysis using software such as SPSS or R
  • Enable others to understand the results of statistical analyses
  • Combine data from various sources to identify issues, assess trends, etc.