April 16, 2007

How many users?

At current work place, we're running quite a few database trials right now. So, this morning I was checking some of them out and giving feedback. One of them is a spiffy little database - Literary Reference Center by Ebsco. I also ran a trial at previous work place. That previous trial is what made me begin to seriously look at the number of users when licensing a database. This database does not solely license unlimited users. You start with one user and work your way up from there. My first thought, was gosh, good price, but only one user?

Then I really thought about it. I would be replacing print editions of criticisms with the database. With a print edition, only one person can use it a time and if it has been used and is laying on a table somewhere waiting to be shelved, then the next user does not have ready access. So, I'm not losing anything, except the amount of money I'm paying. I did the math, the print costs for the titles the database would replace were more than the cost of the database itself. And, the database doesn't require shelf room. Plus, you have the added functionality of being able to search across all reference volumes, articles, criticisms; you get author biographies, books are assigned categories; and it's accessible 24x7 from anywhere. So, only one person can access it a time, but now we have increased accessiblity.

After thinking about this and realizing that realistically, I'd probably want 2-4 user seats, I also realized that based on the type of resource and who would be using it, unlimited usage was really not required. And, given my limited budget, that was a liberating realization. Some standard databases do need unlimited access, Ebsco Academic Search Elite/Premier or ProQuest Research Library, for instance. However, look at the subject areas they cover and the fact that all students, undergraduate and graduate, as well as faculty will use it. Literary Reference Center is a very nice database, but it's usuage is most likely limited to undergraduate students in lower level writing and English courses. It is is not a resource for the graduate or faculty researcher.

Here we're actually taking a hard look at the number of users for a database we already have, which has about four users. We looked at the past year. Some months we had turnaways in the hundreds, but other months we had just two turnaways, other months, there were no turnways, and for a couple of months there was no usage. What we're looking into are the instructional sessions. Are these tying into the high number of turnaways? If so, perhaps, the sessions could be adapted away from "hands on" with the knowledge that a) not everyone will be able to get on (or put them in groups to match the number of logins), and b) when the time comes for the students to do research, odds are they'll be able to get it. If the turnaways are occuring due to the training sessions, then the turnaway numbers aren't really an accurate picture of the number of users we need for the database.

End result: now I approach database licensing and number of users differently. If the "default" is unlimited users, good. If not, then I look more closely at the resource, but I also take a hard look at who my user population will be. Odds are having less than five users will be sufficient. And, if it's not, then we can always evaluate the usage and increase the license if needed.