Statistics are interesting, but what do they tell us?

Jimmie Epling
Darlington County Library System

The late Aaron Levenstein, a business professor at Baruch College, said what statistics “reveal is interesting, but what they hide is vital.” He is right! It is what we glean from the statistics we have and how we use them to help others that matter.
About this time every year, many companies and organizations compile annual statistics to determine how well they performed in the previous fiscal year. The Darlington County Library System and most of local, county and state government in South Carolina use a fiscal year that begins on July 1st and ends the following year on June 30th. Last week, the State Library called on all libraries to send in their statistics for the past year by the end of October. We have gathered many of the statistics we need for the report and they are interesting, but what do they, figuratively speaking, hide?

The Library is one of the few institutions where individuals of all ages and socio-economic levels are welcomed without any question of purpose for their visit. One way we can know how effective we are serving Darlington County is by the number of visitors who come through the doors of our library branches at Darlington, Hartsville, Lamar, and Society Hill. There were 280,469 visitors through our doors. There are a lot of businesses and organizations that would love to have had that many visitors last year. Just what is behind this “visitors” statistic? Why did we have so many visitors? It is vital that we know.
When you think of the Library’s “stock and trade” or “brand,” what comes to mind first? For three quarters of people, it is “books.” Yes, we do have books and lots of them for all ages. We also have magazines, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, e-books, e-audiobooks, e-magazines, and more you can borrow. Last year, 302,820 items were borrowed from the Library. These items were borrowed from a collection of about 210,000 books, 12,000 DVDs, 5,000 audiobooks, 2,900 e-books, 900 e-audiobooks, 300 magazine titles, and just recently, 30 e-magazines. We loaned about 12,000 more items this year! What is vital for us is to learn how we can sustain that growth in borrowed items.

Our visitors come to the Library to do more than just borrow things!

Many came for the programs the Library offered last year. There were programs for all ages. The Library offered 407 children’s programs, with 7,215 children attending. The Library’s children’s librarians also made 803 visits to daycares, Head Starts, schools, and children’s events in the county, reaching 17,723 children with programs, books, and more. Teens were not left out, as we had 93 programs that attracted 630 teens. There were also 135 adult programs with an attendance of 1,021 adults. The Library screened 121 movies throughout the year, drawing 1,500 viewers. The increase in children’s and teen program attendance came with an increase in the number of programs. It is vital for us to find what makes a good program so that we remain relevant in our community.

The Library is the meeting place of choice for many organizations. Why is this? Our meeting rooms may be used free of charge and they come with tables, chairs, projectors, wireless Internet access, a small kitchenette, and more. Hartsville, Darlington, and Lamar have large meeting spaces. They also have smaller rooms that are ideal for committee meetings, study groups, webinars, tutoring, online interviews, or a quiet place to study. Last year, our meeting rooms were booked a total of 1,229 times by various groups. As we have added meeting room space over the years, use has increased. For this reason, two staff offices in Darlington were converted to small meeting rooms. The statistics indicate we are an important community meeting place. What is vital is we seek ways to improve these spaces for the use of members of our community.

Our statistics show the Library is still the place to get answers to questions. When the information you need is buried somewhere among a hundred thousand Google “hits” or is locked up behind a “paywall,” what do you do? You turn to the Library for help. Last year, the Library’s staff answered about 27,500 questions, an increase of some 4,000 questions over last year, using not only our print collection, but also DISCUS, South Carolina’s Virtual Library. DISCUS is your online source for thousands of magazines, newspapers, and reference books available 24/7 for research from home. DISCUS,, Mango Languages, Universal Class, local maps and statistics, and more are available from the Library. All it takes is a visit to our website at The increase in questions is interesting. Now we have to look behind what is happening to determine if we need to purchase or develop information resources to meet the needs of visitors to our “brick and mortar” and “digital” locations.

For many of our visitors, the Library is the only place they have to access a computer and the Internet. Many come to use SCWorks for employment, apply for benefits or a job, prepare a resume, research a topic for class, and check their e-mail. Some come for the online chat, YouTube, FaceBook, and to do other fun things. Our public computers were very popular last year with over 80,000 use sessions. This is not to mention the tens of thousands of uses our wireless networks get from those using their own laptops, tablets, and smartphones to reach the Internet. There are times when there is a wait of an hour or more to get on a computer. The statistics show we are a vital Internet “hotspot” in each of our locations. Because our network is vital to the community, we will be making significant investments to upgrade in the coming year.

This year’s statistics are interesting because they show the Darlington County Library System had a very good year serving you. By almost every measure, Library use has increased. Now the challenge for the Library is to find what do the statistics, figuratively speaking, hide- and how can we use what we discover to improve how we can better serve you!

Author: Jana Pye

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