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Usage

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Why collect usage statistics?

Introduction

Usage is about how, and particularly how much, the resources and services a library has made available to its customers are being utilized. Whereas user studies look at human information behaviour, usage is more concerned with the resources and services themselves, and with obtaining quantifiable, statistical information.

Usage is much more easily measured in an electronic environment: users leave digital footprints which make it comparatively easy to see who has used what, and when. Vendors and publishers can provide information on use down to the level of page viewed, whereas in a print environment it is much more difficult to measure usage systematically and therefore obtain reliable performance data. Collecting usage statistics, or e-metrics as they are often known, has therefore become an important task for librarians, helping them to ensure that they are providing the right resources and getting good value out of their budget.

Why collect usage statistics?

Because so much user data are available from so many different sources, information overload is a real danger. It therefore helps to know the purpose for which you are collecting statistics. Is it to assess the value of a particular deal? To see the times of the highest usage? To observe the impact of marketing a particular resource? To justify expenditure?

Conyers (2006a and 2006b) presents a number of reasons for libraries to collect usage statistics:

  • Because of the availability of reliable sources. Much work has been done in recent years by publishers and vendors to produce reliable, consistent and credible statistics. The organization COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of NeTworked Electronic Resources) has produced codes of practice for journals, databases, books and reference works with which more and more publishers are complying on an international basis.
  • In order to assess the value of resources. When considering renewing an item, you can find out the level of use, and the cost per request. Particularly in an era of bundled deals, electronic resources do not come cheap, and it is important to know that they are being used. Do people really use a particular database in sufficient numbers and across the range of titles? If there are not that many users would the money be better spent on something else? If only selected titles are being used, and there is a long tail of unused titles, would it be better to negotiate a deal around those titles? Knowledge of how resources are used can help not only justify expenditure, but also inform purchasing decisions, and find better purchasing models.
  • For the purposes of library promotion and publicity. If a particular resource has been heavily used, or if there has been a large percentage increase in, say, use of the library website or OPAC, letting people know is good public relations.
  • To illustrate and examine trends. For example, are there fewer visits to the library, but more use of the website? Book issues going down, but full-text articles on the increase? For example, in their study of Newcastle University Library, Taylor-Roe and Spencer (2005) found usage statistics showed declines in interlibrary loans and photocopying of over 60 per cent, but a significant increase in full-text downloads.
  • It can help plan infrastructure. If customers are still coming to the library, although in fewer numbers, we need to know why in order to provide appropriate resources: is it the computers, or the study space, which may elsewhere be at a premium?
  • It can determine the level of help needed by users. It might be that a particular resource needs more publicity – do marketing students know about the acquisition of an e-textbook? What are the most popular ways of accessing resources – through the catalogue, the library web pages, etc.?
  • Because it is a requirement. There is an "e-measures" question as part of the statistics which the Society of College, University and National Libraries (SCONUL) requires libraries to produce. In fact, the reason for collecting statistics is not purely to justify your own library’s performance, but to add to the wider picture of what libraries are doing both nationally and internationally. How do the metrics you produce for your library compare with those produced by other libraries? What are the emerging trends?

Publishers and other vendors also benefit from usage statistics in that the knowledge gained will help them adjust their marketing mix. For example they can experiment with new pricing models, assess what are the most productive distribution channels, make informed product development decisions and generally benefit from improved market analysis (Shepherd, 2006).