Earlier this week, I received a marketing email from one of the hotel loyalty programs I participate in. The email touted my "Year in Review" and it pointed out to me all I have "accomplished" in staying at their hotel chain. First of all, I didn't need to be reminded of my travel schedule and how often I am not with my family, especially while I am away on trips. But more importantly, the figures that the email touted had really nothing to do with what I had accomplished. The email simply counted up the things that make me valuable to the hotel chain, but not the value that was generated from the trips: the people I met, the projects that were discussed and advanced, the people whom I educated about NISO efforts, the new memberships that were forged, or the people who were served by all of NISO's collective efforts. These are the things that matter, not how many nights it took or how many cities I've visited. The real purposes of the time spent out of the office and the real goals I've sought to achieve are what I want to quantify.
I've been thinking a lot about metrics lately, in part because of conversations during several meetings this fall, which covered areas from alternative metrics to metrics for data sets. A project led by DataCite, DataONE, and the California Digital Library, called Making Data Count, is being pushed forward by analytics collection and data aggregation efforts. Further work on traditional public library metrics is being advanced by IMLS and COSLA in an effort called Measures that Matter. Of course, more on metrics will be discussed during the NISO virtual conference on Advancing Altmetrics next Wednesday.
When we look back on the past year, as people often do in December, it is worth reflecting on what metrics we apply and how we assess our achievement relative to those metrics. Are we really assessing things of value or simply measuring those things about which data are easily captured? Standards can help define what is measured and how those data are collected, distributed, and analyzed. NISO has been involved in a variety of metrics-related efforts that aim to define what gets counted and how those data are gathered.
Unfortunately, these quantifiable things aren't always correlated with the values that an organization deems most important. To take a simple example, we can easily quantify searches in a discovery service, but if the number of queries increases, does that mean we are providing a useful service? What if someone has to query seven or eight times to find the item they are seeking? That isn't really serving the patron's needs; it is quantifying the failure to meet those needs.
So, as we draw the year to a close, let us reflect on the things that bring real value to our institutions, our roles, and our lives more generally. If we aren't focused on those things and trying to measure them appropriately, it is easy to head down the wrong path. We need metrics that point us in the right directions and for which we can reward ourselves when we've achieved our true goals.
By those metrics, I hope each of you ends the year in peace, in health, and with prosperity.