Coping with the Numbers: Worth Doing? (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I had “One quick question for librarians” and received a couple of positive responses.

This is the next step–offering a basic outline of the proposed book, in the hopes of getting more feedback, either positive or negative.

I anticipate a down-to-earth book, not intended to make readers statistical whizzes but intended to make them better able to recognize bullshit misleading statistics when they see them, maybe more familiar with the basics of “statistics” (really numbers more than anything fancy enough to be called statistics), and definitely able to gather their own comparative information from the big national databases without investing in new tools or needing to become statistical gurus.

[Part 4 would, for each of the two library categories, take a possible example of something your library might want as background and show, step by step, how to do it with the tools you probably already have.]

Worth doing? I’d like to think so, but unless I have reason to believe that at least one hundred and preferably a few hundred library folks also think so, it’s not economically feasible.


The Mythical Average Library: Coping with the Numbers–Outline

Part 1. Problems with Statistics and Graphs

  1. Misleading Graphs
  2. Misleading Samples: When 30 is Not Enough
  3. Exaggerated Exactness
  4. When Normal Distribution Doesn’t Work
  5. Doing it Right: Transparency and Ethics
  6. Fair Presentations and Coping with Outliers

Part 2. The Basics of Real-World Number-Handling

  1. The Terms You Need to Know
  2. The Other Terms You’ll Encounter
  3. The Tests You Can Probably Ignore
  4. The Tools I’m Using for This Book
  5. Mostly Numbers, Not Really Statistics

Part 3. The Real Complexity of Library Numbers

  1. Public Libraries
  2. Academic Libraries

Part 4. How-To: Getting the Most out of Public Datasets

  1. Using Excel to Expand Your Public Library Awareness (using IMLS)
  2. Using Excel to Expand Your Academic Library Awareness (using NCES)

Part 5. Beyond Numbers

  1. When You Need Actual Statistics



Intended length: <200 pages.

To be made available as an ebook (at least PDF, probably Kindle, maybe EPUB) and print book; prices set at $8 above costs. (Which would suggest $9.99 for ebooks, probably around $18 for trade paperback, $28 for hardback–but since the length and outline are both subject to change, so are the prices.)

Feedback of any sort, either as comments here or as email to, would be greatly appreciated.

2 Responses to “Coping with the Numbers: Worth Doing? (Part 2)”

  1. Roy Kenagy says:

    I really like the idea of a section on “Mostly Numbers, Not Really Statistics,” and I hope you choose that as the overriding theme of the book. I’ll buy it. The innumeracy of the library profession is not necessarily a bad thing. But it would be less embarrassing if we at least knew enough about numbers to feel comfortable with what we don’t know.

  2. waltcrawford says:

    I think it’s fair to say that “mostly numbers” would be a running theme–I wouldn’t be dealing with the more sophisticated statistical concepts. My goal would be to make “innumerate” librarians comfortable enough to be able to recognize garbage when they see it and to do simple analyses on their own.