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Playing the Numbers: NISO/NASIG Focus On Best Practices for Library Usage Statistics
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Posted On June 3, 2014
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Release 4 of the COUNTER Code of Practice for e-Resources was “developed with input from vendors, librarians and intermediaries. This Release is a single, integrated Code of Practice covering journals, databases and books, as well as multimedia content.” In his presentation, Shepherd described key features in this release that went into effect this year:
  • Searching or organizing data by time ranges now allow for better analysis of changes, growth or decline
  • Improvements to reports have been made and new reports allow for analysis of mobile services
  • They have expanded the categories for “access denied” instances—was the limit reached for number of users? Was there a technical problem at the institution or vendor? Other factors?
  • The ability to collect metadata to facilitate linking of usage statistics to other datasets (such as subscription information).

The Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative (SUSHI) Protocol is “a standard developed by NISO, in co-operation with COUNTER, which defines an automated request and response model for the harvesting of electronic resource usage data using a Web services framework. It is intended to replace the time-consuming, user-mediated collection of usage data reports.” As an enhancement, the organizations developed a harvesting initiative to improve and streamline the collection of data.

Even if you never have to personally find, manipulate, and present this type of information, the very fact that standards and procedures are now in place should be a relief. Oliver Pesch, EBSCO Information Services’ chief strategist, presented information at the webinar on the benefits and challenges of usage data today. “Gathering usage is just the first step,” he explained. “Both SUSHI and COUNTER are maturing and we need to decide what the next step is.” EBSCO is a long-time participant in COUNTER and Pesch noted that “combining usage with other data for a more complete picture” is critical, as is the ability to “present data in ways to give them meaningful context.” He demonstrated the COUNTER dashboard, which provides an easy-to-use method of selecting and downloading data in many categories, such as number of titles, total cost, unit cost, total use, percentage of titles used, percentage of use by percentage of journals and “core” journals used—with institutions able to create their own sets of “core” materials.

Still, Pesch admitted, challenges in terms of data definitions remain. Where does the user come from into the resource—through a database, the library’s homepage, a discovery system, Google Scholar links, or another source? Combination deals or Big Deals also pose problems since the cost for a total set may be more reasonable than cherry-picking a smaller subset of materials from that publisher.

EBSCO’s 2012 survey of librarians found that 83% used usage/cost data in decision-making, 59% used faculty recommendation, 38% used historic price-increase data, and 31% used value metrics (such as impact factors). These metrics were used in 98% of cancellation/renewal decisions and 72% of decisions about negotiating package deals from vendors or publishers. Clearly data is key to librarians in their daily work. “Usage is a means to an end,” Pesch concluded. “It needs to be combined with other data to be truly effective; and sometimes ‘close’ has to be good enough” when data doesn’t provide a clear choice.

Using Data Is Just a Part of the Justification Process

The last webinar speaker, Jill Emery, collection development librarian at Portland State University Library, provided tips and strategies for determining the data needed, ways to use current standards and vendor systems for data gathering, and ways to provide the most effective reporting of usage to administrators or other audiences.

Shepherd asserted that there is a strong future for the standards and usage data: “All of the major STM publishers and vendors are COUNTER R4 compliant, which represents over 15,000 full text journals, as well as databases and books. We cannot compel a publisher to become COUNTER compliant and we encourage librarians to make COUNTER-compliant statistics a requirement in their vendor agreements, as there is really no excuse for vendors not to provide the COUNTER reports. As far as new media are concerned, we now provide reports that cover mobile devices as well as multimedia content.”

Pesch stressed the strong value in the roles of COUNTER, vendors, and librarians in the process: “In the end, content providers only have [so] much time and money to spend on technology and they will focus on those areas that their customer bases demand—which basically means that it is important for librarians to become engaged with their providers (and standards initiatives) to make sure their voice is heard and work with others to make sure what they are asking for is useful and practical. Organizations like COUNTER offer a nice carrot by offering an opportunity for a publisher to be seen as compliant.”


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Nancy K. Herther, recently retired from the University of Minnesota, has been following technology and information trends since the 1970s.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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