Indicators for Norwegian public libraries

Libraries face huge challenges. They need to keep up with technological developments and be active contributors to the development of culture and the knowledgesociety. In addition, central and local authorities impose stricter demands on reporting and management by objectives. This requires systematic recording of data and statistics as well as the tools and competence to use the data that have been compiled.

National public library statistics are an important source of information. The National Library of Norway collects and publishes data on public library activities annually. Another important source is KOSTRA (Municipality – State – Reporting)run by Statistics Norway which presents a large body of data on municipal services and finances annually. Moreover Statistics Norway publishes statistics on people’s use of culture and media, including use of public libraries.

Systematically collected data and statistics can reveal activity / achievement / development in individual libraries and in the sector as a whole. They can be used as a basis for making decisions in public administration, locally and centrally, and also in the individual institution as a basis for management and development. Statistics and other data can provide a better overview, insight and information about the libraries and can be used to make visible the activities and importance of libraries.

The study Library Reform 2014 from 2006 and Report no.23 (2008-2009) to the Storting: Libraries – Knowledge Commons,Meeting Place and Cultural Arena in a Digital Age from 2009 place emphasis on the use of statistics. Library Reform 2014 embraces all types of libraries and comprises two documents; firstly, one that sketches out strategies and measures, and secondly a background document Norgesbiblioteket (The Norwegian Library) – network for knowledge and culture. The report launches the term ‘Norgesbiblioteket’ as a coopera tive library network. Working together, all types of libraries will be able to give the public a broad library service. Report no. 23 to the Storting focuses on content and services, on structure and organization and on competence and     research.

In chapter 2 of Library Reform 2014, it states: “The compiling and analysis of statistics and other documentation is important in the evaluation of libraries’ activities and performance compared to the goals that are established for the activities in Norgesbiblioteket. This is an area that will be of even greater importance in the future. It is also important to develop tools that can measure the activity and can contribute to raising the quality of the service…”. This is followed up in Reportno. 23 to the Storting:

Statistics and analysis “In addition to such measures, it is essential that various kinds of indicators be developed for what constitutes adequate provision of service in archives, libraries and museums… In the library field, the work on indicators will first and foremost be concentrated on the field of public libraries.”

Report no. 23 to the Storting emphasizes the use of statistics as a tool to ensure quality in the library field and also the need for indicators that can be used in this connection.Quality in the collections, services and the work processes is essential to the role of libraries in today’s society. Quality can be defined as the totality of features and characteristics of a product, process or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs (NS-ISO 8402).

In order to judge whether the requirements for quality have been fulfilled, they must be stated. Developing quality therefore involves defining visions for the service, setting out goals and preparing guidelines for quality (policy on quality). Visions and goals will to some extent follow on from lawmaking and state guidelines in this area and also partly from political and professional evaluations regionally and locally.

An indicator can be defined as a quantitative and qualitative device to measure the value of an activity/ service. Performance indicators comprise various types of measurement methods; quantitative or qualitative evaluations used in library management, which can measure or describe directly or indirectly to what extent the library achieves its overall goals in a given period. Systematically compiled data and active use of indicators provide an important basis for resource management, decision-making and documentation for the management/owners.


In Norway, KOSTRA is a central source of information on municipal and county service provision and finances. KOSTRA was implemented in 2002 and is a national system for statistics run by Statistics Norway. All Norwegian munici- palities and counties must deliver standardized data about their operations. Large quantities of data are readily available and these are also presented in the form of indicators. Moreover the system allows for comparisons     based on grouping of municipalities according to population and financial frames of reference. KOSTRA is a good tool, but cannot cover all the requirements for indicators in the field of public libraries. The libraries will in addition need various indicators suited to local objectives, and which require data that cannot be compiled from national statistics. As well as annual national statistics, it will be necessary to collect data for example by having public questionnaire surveys, focus groups or observation.

Indicators for public libraries

On account of the need for indicators in the area of public libraries, ABMutvikling (Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority) in 2008 set up two project groups, one for public libraries and one for university and college libraries. The groups were to develop tools for evaluating and managing their own libraries and for making comparisons with other libraries. They were to arrive at recommended sets of indicators; one for the public library sector and one for the university and college library sector. The members of the project group for public libraries represented libraries of different sizes, and both municipal and county libraries were included.

The project group wanted to arrive at measurable indicators that could reveal something about the libraries as:

  • Institutions in society
  • Learning resources and learning arenas
  • Purveyors of literature and culture
  • Arenas of cultural diversity.

The intention was to choose indicators that encompass the most important activities that can be naturally compared, over time and with other libraries. Emphasis has been put on finding good, common indicators, based on unambiguous data. The project group has discussed a wide range of indicators. Many were rejected when the project group could not establish that the indicators had fulfilled the requirements that formed the basis for working with indicators: easy access to data, expedient in relation to comparisons over time and with other libraries, and relevance to public libraries’ activities, tasks and goals. Other suggestions were rejected because it was not possible to find unambiguous or comparable data. The municipalities have varying practices when it comes to organisation and budget allocation and the libraries are arranged differently in terms of physical location, design, tasks and duties. The indicators that have been chosen are based partly on data already easily available in library statistics or in KOSTRA, and partly on data that require separate routines for collection.

The group judged each indicator on the following criteria:

  • What does this indicator tell us?
  • Is the indicator suitable for making comparisons with other libraries?
  • Is the indicator suitable as an internal management tool?
  • Which other indicators should it be seen in relation to?
  • Is it difficult/easy to get hold of the data?

The proposed indicators are in part taken from existing sources, partly adjusted to suit Norwegian conditions, and in part created by the project group. The project group has tested the indicators in their own libraries from early summer 2009. Proposals for indicators have been discussed in open blogs and have been circulated for comments and there have been many contributions and comments. The proposed indicators were revised following a review of the comments received and are now recommended for use in libraries.

The goal is not that all libraries should use all the recom- mended indicators. The libraries choose indicators based on their own goals and activities. It is recommended that fewer indicators be used at a national level.

The indicators are also intended for benchmarking at national and local level. The purpose of benchmarking is to find areas for improvement in services and processes by studying best practice in the library field. By using indicators the individual library will also be able to compare its own results over time. The indicators give libraries a broader base for comparison. When comparing oneself with others, it is vital that the data used are similar and  of high quality. This requires, in many cases, collaboration between participants. One must know the libraries one chooses to be compared with. Consideration must be given to special circumstances, for example institutions in the establishment phase, internal restructuring and/or development of collections or services. One also has to take into consideration the municipality’s size, topography and number of branch libraries.

Combined school and public libraries, which provide library services as both public libraries and school libraries, have particular challenges in relation to compiling statistical data on their own activities. In many cases it is difficult to distinguish between school libraryactivities and ordinary public library activities; thus it is hard to make a comparison with ordinary public libraries. Combined school and public libraries ought therefore to compare themselves with similar libraries.

Quality requirements and goals are defined on the basis of user needs,library resources and political guidelines. The libraries need statistics, measurements and surveys to show howwell they succeed, what resources are used for different services and whether the libraries reach their targets. The material must be analysed and presented externally so as to make the libraries visible and internally so as to actively use the data as a management tool.

The indicators for public libraries are intended to serve as a useful tool. Hopefully many public libraries will begin to use and gain experience with them. It will be important to enable libraries to share their experiences so that this basis can be used in the further development of this tool.

Today KOSTRA operates with 13 indicators for public libraries:

  • Net running costs of public library in relation to municipality’s total running costs (percentage.)
  • Net running costs of public library per capita (in NOK)
  • Loans of all media (physical units) from public library per capita
  • Book loans from public library per capita in total
  • Children’s literature; number of book loans per capita 0-13 years old
  • Adult literature; number of book loans per capita 14 years old and above
  • Loans of other media (physical units) in total from public library per capita
  • Circulation of children’s books in public library • Circulation of fiction for adults in public library
  • Additions all media (physical units) in public library per 1,000 inhabitants
  • Number of visits to public library per capita
  • Media and salary expenditure in public library per capita
  • Staff positions; number of inhabitants per full time equivalent staff position in public library.

The project group arrived at the following recommended indicators, divided into four main groups:


  • Library’s proportion of the municipal budget
  • Cost per opening hour
  • Expenditure on media per capita
  • Proportion of salary and media expenditure used on purchase of media/access
  • Expenditure per downloaded document
  • Proportion of expenditure used for purchase/ access to electronic resources


  • Visits to the library per capita
  • Use of net-based services per capita
  • Loans (physical units) per capita
  • Number of downloaded/streamed documents per capita
  • Proportion of visitors who have non-Norwegian speaker background
  • Proportion of borrowers from other municipalities
  • Number of participants at events organized by the library, per capita


  • Total opening hours
  • Number of full time equivalent staff positions per capita
  • Additions (physical media) per 1,000 inhabitants
  • Culture Fund media (media financed by the Norwegian Cultural Fund): proportion of total additions
  • Provision of media in languages other than Scandinavian and English
  • Circulation figures for non-Scandinavian and non-English media
  • Inter-library loans – loans from other libraries in relation to loans to other libraries
  • Proportion of library’s loan total which comes from own collection
  • Number of information requests per staff member
  • Proportion of staff members’ work time allocated to service to the public
  • Proportion of staff members’ work time used for regional/national answer services
  • Proportion of staff members’ work time used for school related activities


  • Proportion of staff members’ work time used for project work
  • Proportion of staff members’ work time used for competence building
  • Number of events organized by the library per full time equivalent staff position
  • Collaboration measures per full time equivalent staff position
  • Number of interactive services

For further reading: ABM-skrift 64: Indikatorer for norske folkebibliotek:

Torill Redse
Senior Adviser
National Library of Norway
Torill.redse AT

Erlend Ra
Senior Adviser
National Library of Norway
Erlend.ra AT
Translated by Akasie språktjeneste AS

Senior Adviser National Library of Norway
Senior Adviser National Library of Norway