NASIG 2010: What Counts? Assessing the Value of Non-Text Resources

Presenters: Stephanie Krueger, ARTstor and Tammy S. Sugarman, Georgia State University

Anyone who does anything with use statistics or assessment knows why use statistics are important and the value of standards like COUNTER. But, how do we count the use of non-text content that doesn’t fit in the categories of download, search, session, etc.? What does it mean to “use” these resources?

Of the libraries surveyed that collect use stats for non-text resources, they mainly use them to report to administrators and determine renewals. A few use it to evaluate the success of training or promote the resource to the user community. More than a third of the respondents indicated that the stats they have do not adequately meet the needs they have for the data.

ARTstor approached COUNTER and asked that the technical advisory group include representatives from vendors that provide non-text content such as images, video, etc. Currently, the COUNTER reports are either about Journals or Databases, and do not consider primary source materials. One might think that “search” and “sessions” would be easy to track, but there are complexities that are not apparent.

Consider the Database 1 report. With a primary source aggregator like ARTstor, who is the “publisher” of the content? For ARTstor, search is only 27% of the use of the resource. 47% comes from image requests (includes thumbnail, full-size, printing, download, etc.) and the rest is from software utilities within the resource (creation of course folders, passwords creation, organizing folders, annotations of images, emailing content/URLs, sending information to bibliographic management tools, etc.).

The missing metric is the non-text full content unit request (i.e. view, download, print, email, stream, etc.). There needs to be some way of measuring this that is equivalent to the full-text download of a journal article. Otherwise, cost per use analysis is skewed.

What is the equivalent of the ISSN? Non-text resources don’t even have DOIs assigned to them.

On top of all of that, how do you measure the use of these resources beyond the measurable environment? For example, once an image is downloaded, it can be included in slides and webpages for classroom use more than once, but those uses are not counted. ARTstor doesn’t use DRM, so they can’t track that way.

No one is really talking about how to assess this kind of usage, at least not in the professional library literature. However, the IT community is thinking about this as well, so we may be able to find some ideas/solutions there. They are being asked to justify software usage, and they have the same lack of data and limitations. So, instead of going with the traditional journal/database counting methods, they are attempting to measure the value of the services provided by the software. The IT folk identify services, determine the cost of those services, and identify benchmarks for those costs.

A potential report could have the following columns: collection (i.e. an art collection within ARTstor, or a university collection developed locally), content provider, platform, and then the use numbers. This is basic, and can increase in granularity over time.

There are still challenges, even with this report. Time-based objects need to have a defined value of use. Resources like data sets and software-like things are hard to define as well (i.e. SciFinder Scholar). And, it will be difficult to define a report that is one size fits all.

ebook usage statistics

In a recent phone/web town hall discussion with Peter Shepherd, Project Director for COUNTER, mused about why publishers (and libraries) have not embraced the COUNTER Code of Practice for Books and Reference Works as quickly as they have the Code of Practice for Journals and Databases. His approach is that we are paying customers and should have that information. My perspective: meh.

I would like to see ebook usage for items that we purchase as a subscription, but for items we own (i.e. one-time purchase with perpetual access), it’s less of a concern for collection development. Licensed ebooks with annual subscriptions (like regularly updating encyclopedias or book packages) are more like online databases or ejournals than traditional paper books, so in that regard, it shouldn’t be difficult for publishers to implement the COUNTER Code of Practice for Books and Reference Works and provide use information to customers.

For books that are static and don’t have any annual cost attached to them, there isn’t much of a regular need to know what is being used. We keep track of re-shelving stats for the purposes of managing a physical collection with space limitations, and those problems are not replicated in an online environment. Where the usage of owned ebooks comes into play is when we are justifying:
a. The purchase of those specific ebooks.
b. The purchase of future ebooks from that publisher.
c. The amount of money in the ebook budget.

Hopefully Mr. Shepherd, Project COUNTER, and vocal librarians will be able to convince the publishers of the value of providing usage information. When budgets are as tight as they are these days, having detailed information about the use of your subscription-based collection is essential for making decisions about what must be kept and what can be let go (or should be promoted more to the users). Of course, in less desperate times, knowing this information is also important for making adjustments to the library’s collection emphasis in order to meet the needs of the users.

gathering statistics

For the past couple of weeks, the majority of my work day has been spent on tracking down and massaging usage statistics reports from the publishers of the online products we purchase. I am nearly half-way through the list, and I have a few observations based on this experience:

1. There are more publishers not following the COUNTER code of practice than those who are. Publishers in traditionally library-dominated (and in particular, academic library-dominated) markets are more likely to provide COUNTER-compliant statistics, but that is not a guarantee.

2. Some publishers provide usage statistics, and even COUNTER-compliant usage statistics, but only for the past twelve months or some other short period of time. This would be acceptable only if a library had been saving the reports locally. Otherwise, a twelve month period is not long enough to use the data to make informed decisions.

3. We are not trying to use these statistics to find out which resources to cancel. On the contrary, if I can find data that shows an increase in use over time, then my boss can use it to justify our annual budget request and maybe even ask for more money.

Update: It seems that the conversation regarding my observations is happening over on FriendFeed. Please feel free to join in there or leave your thoughts here.