Library Report Data 

Monthly Circulation Statistics - NWLS provides the following reports for member libraries:

  • Annual report statistics broken down monthly by circulation for adult and children, nonresident users, and interlibrary loans.
  • Media statistics on circulation of fiction, nonfiction, audio, movies, etc.  (Media statistics include the bulk loans and interlibrary loans to other library systems that are checked out from the library.)
  • Monthly Electronic Resources Reports - NWLS provides reports on usage of shared library databases including LearningExpress, Ancestry Library Edition, WorldCat,  OverDrive, EBSCO, and Heritage Quest:  2016  • 2015 • 2014  • 2013  •  2012  •  2011  • 2010

Annual NWLS Status Report and Budget Planning - The Status Report (pdf) compiled by NWLS annually uses data from each member library's annual report. This data can be used to make comparisons and identify trends useful in planning.

Annual Wisconsin Public Library Service DataThe Public Library Development Team compiles annual statistics for Wisconsin public libraries on system and state level, system and county level, county level, and public library level.

Annual National Public Library Statistics - The Institute of Museum and Library Services provides databases useful for searching and creating a comparison group of U.S. libraries based on selected information.

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Annual Reports 

Annual Reporting Overview

The Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning collects library statistics annually in order to:
  • compare information between libraries
  • develop standards between libraries
  • analyze demographics
  • gauge outreach and promotion
  • check for technological and operational viability
  • measure funding equities and reimbursements
  • seek accountability and offset litigation
  • demonstrate that statutory requirements are being met
Library boards are required to file annual reports with the Division and its municipal governing body within 60 days of the conclusion of the fiscal year (the report must be completed and filed by March 1 of the current year.  The information collected will be made available online in the Wisconsin Public Library Service Data, and the Wisconsin Public Library Directory on the Department of Public Instruction’s web site.

The State has a clear message that any data libraries record for Annual Report purposes should be accurate.  To collect accurate public library data, weneed data that is (a) valid, (b) reliable, and (c) timely.
  • Valid means we’re measuring what we all agree to measure and are using the same definitions.
  • Reliable means measurement methods are consistent.
  • Timely means within timelines and by due date.
It is the mission of NWLS staff that when we runreports and statistics, that we do so with a commitment to accuracy.

Accurate Reporting

While it is a statutory requirement to gather librarydata and compile it in the form of an Annual Report, it should be noted thatthe Annual Report is also a legal document. The report is evidence of the legal existence of the library and itsgoverning structure.  It is a reflectionof how the library is operated.  Thelibrary board must understand that when authorizing the signing of the annualreport, it is certifying that the document is, true, accurate, andcomplete.  The Annual Report can be andhas historically been used in court as formal exhibits to prove and disprovelegal issues.

To fix problems, libraries are often forced to amendtheir annual reports for the erroneous data. This requires Division staff to unlock submitted reports, NWLS staff tocheck over the report again for mistakes, and the library Director topotentially talk with Board and local government authorities to resolve issuesbefore resubmitting an amended report – a time consuming and frustratingprocess.  Reporting accurately one time (thefirst time) saves everyone a lot of grief.

Accurate Records
  • Innaccurate bibliographicrecords affect searching and match points with other catalogs.
  • Inaccurate item (holdings)records can affect loan rules, searching, verification and checkout, andcross-tab statistics.
  • Inaccurate patron records affect accessibility, library notice delivery, statistics, patron verification, and loan rules
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Annual Report Instructions

Reference Transactions

Reference Transactions are information consultations in which library staff recommend, interpret, evaluate, and/or use information resources to help others to meet particular information needs.

A reference transaction includes information and referral service as well as unscheduled individual instruction and assistance in using information sources (including web sites and computer-assisted instruction). Count Readers Advisory questions as reference transactions.

Information sources include (a) printed and non-printed material; (b) machine-readable databases (including computer-assisted instruction); (c) the library's own catalogs and other holdings records; (d) other libraries and institutions through communication or referral; and (e) persons both inside and outside the library.

When a staff member uses information gained from previous use of information sources to answer a question, the transaction is reported as a reference transaction even if the source is not consulted again.

If a contact includes both reference and directional services, it should be reported as one reference transaction. Duration should not be an element in determining whether a transaction is a reference transaction.

NOTE: It is essential that libraries do not include directional transactions in the report of reference transactions. Directional transactions include giving instruction for locating staff, library users, or physical features within the library. Examples of directional transactions include, “Where is the reference librarian? Where is Susan Smith? Where is the rest room? Where are the 600s? Can you help me make a photocopy?”

If an annual count of reference transactions is unavailable, count reference transactions during a typical week or weeks, and multiply the count to represent an annual estimate. [If the sample is done four times a year, multiply totals by 13, if done twice a year multiply by 26, if done only annually, multiply by 52.] A "typical week" is a time that is neither unusually busy nor unusually slow. Avoid holiday times, vacation periods for key staff, or days when unusual events are taking place in the community or in the library. Choose a week in which the library is open its regular hours.

Questions about the revised definition or the public library annual report can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Annual Report FAQ


Can we use an actual count for some areas and a survey for others?  For example, could we use an actual count of Internet users and library visits, but a survey for reference questions?


The annual report form will ask you to tell whether you used an actual count or a survey for each question.  If you neither take an actual count or use a survey week you will respond with a '-1' to indicate that on the form.


How can my library create a survey of reference questions?


You can easily create your own survey by simply keeping a tally at the desk of reference questions for the week.  (In the future I suggest keeping a tally in each of the four quarters of the year since it will give a more accurate result, but that isn't an option for 2010 at this point).

Each day put a blank sheet of paper at the desk and ask staff to tally the number of reference questions they get.  It is important to follow the federal definition of a reference question since the data is submitted will be included in national public library data.


What can be considered reference?


According to the DPI a reference transaction is an information contact which involves the knowledge, use, recommendation, interpretation, or instruction in the use of one or more information sources by a member of the library staff. The term includes information and referral service. Information sources include printed and non-print materials, machine-readable databases, catalogs and other holdings records, and, through communication or referral, other libraries and institutions and persons both inside and outside the library. The request may come in person, by phone, by fax, by mail, or by electronic mail or networked electronic reference service from an adult, a young adult, or a child.

Note: Do not count directional transactions or questions of rules or policies in the report of reference transactions. Examples of directional are "Where are the children's books?" and "I'm looking for a book with the call number 811.2G." An example of a question of rules or policies is "Are you open until 9:00 tonight?"

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Merlin Reports 

Reporting Tools

The Innovative software provides a few different ways of generating statistics.  Two very powerful tools for running reports include the Sierra Create Lists (Review Files) and Statistics functions, and Web Management Reports (WMR).  The lesser-known Cataloging Session Statistics provides some basic reporting.

  • Cataloging Session Statistics - records created / modified / deleted per session or by user defined dates.  Staff can access these statistics by clicking on Session Stats on the Millennium Cataloging toolbar. 
  • Web Management Reports - Circulation reports on fixed codes or call numbers that can be limited by library collection, physical location, and time period.
  • Sierra Create Lists - Used to run subsets of the database based on record codes and date ranges.
  • Sierra Statistics - useful for gathering current data on authority, bibliographic, item, and patron records (cannot pull data from deleted records).

Reports Provided by NWLS

Listed below are some of the common reports run by NWLS on behalf of the libraries:
  • Annual Report collection, circulation, ILL, patron, and nonresident data
  • Monthly circulation, ILL, and nonresident data
  • Collection weeding reports upon request
  • Collection reports for insurance purposes upon request
  • Inventory reports upon request
  • Collection reports for items based on any given status code
  • Patron Reports upon request
NWLS staff prefers to run statistical reports on behalf of libraries whenever possible, for several reasons:
  • There are a limited number of available Review Files.
  • The nature of Web Management Report search criteria can be  cumbersome to navigate and confusing for those unfamiliar with the programs or the records codes.
  • There are two different WMR programs, and one is no longer supported. It uses an outdated plugin, making it a challenge to access with current versions of Java.
  • When Merlin codes change, results from previous years are affected.
  • While libraries feel they lose some control or autonomy from not running their own reports, Merlin members also gain from being provided with accurate data.