Trying to get usage statistics has long been the bane of electronic resources collection development librarians. Some databases are so costly that you want to make sure they are really being used and serving the needs of patrons. And these days, with our tight and shrinking budgets, any expenditure is reviewed closely for its effectiveness, so good, reliable data is more important than ever. Statistics can also help with vendor price negotiations. Use data that shows how much your resources are accessed (and needed) can also help justify expenses and assist in advocacy efforts. Legislators love hard numbers.
For a long time some vendors wouldn’t even provide statistics so libraries had to try to collect their own. Now that providers usually do send statistics, it’s still hard to compare one database’s use to another’s as their measures for collecting the data often vary. Some libraries get around this by comparing use of the same database from year to year (if use is increasing each year, that’s got to be good), but even then, the vendor might change the way they are collecting statistics at any point, leaving the library without comparisons from previous years to measure the current year use against.
So I was excited to find out about COUNTER and listened to two paid audio conferences on it from NISO (National Information Standards Organization) over the last two weeks. COUNTER’s mission is to develop an international code of standards and protocols (see Release 3) governing the recording and exchange of online usage data that’s agreed upon and used by both publishers and libraries. This will assist the vendors and publishers too as producing useful resources and including them in their database offerings can help them with staffing decisions and marketing their products (to say nothing of their bottom line). Currently over 100 journal and database vendors/producers of over 15,000 journals are COUNTER compliant. In addition, 13 vendors of books and reference works are compliant.
Unfortunately, though vendors who followed COUNTER protocols (and allowed themselves to be audited by COUNTER approved auditors) provided good statistics, actually getting your statistics was an extremely time consuming procedure. No mechanism existed for automatically retrieving, combining, and storing COUNTER usage data from different sources. So SUSHI (Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative – love the acronym) was born. SUSHI greatly reduced the amount of time and effort required to get usage statistics and put them in a usable format. (See BCR’s Free Friday Forum on this – though it’s from 2007, and there have been updates since then.)
In the future, COUNTER will be looking at such issues as providing benchmarks so you can see how your database usage compares to others’ and user retrieval (what keywords are used to find the articles). There is a mailing list for those interested in keeping abreast of this topic.
So tell us - are your database usage statistics acceptable for your needs and how are you using them?