November 05, 2007

NISO Forum

Last week I attended the NISO Forum Understanding the Data Around Us: Gathering and Analyzing Usage Data. This forum came at an appropriate time for me, as many of our databases (as I'm sure is the case at most libraries) renew in January. So, I've spent the past couple of weeks digging for usage statistics and then trying to interpret what I got.

The Forum was basically two well spent days. I won't give a synopsis of every session, but will point out ones I particularly enjoyed and then some of the key pieces of information and thoughts that I walked away with.

For the most part, all sessions were good, but there were a few that I particulalry enjoyed: Usage Data: Seeing the Full Picture by Kevin Cohn, Product Director, Atypon; From What to Why: Electronic Resource usage Data in Collection Development and User Behavior by Karen Coombs, Head of Web Services, Univeristy of Houston Libraries; SUSHI & COUNTER by Oliver Pesch, Chief Strategist, E-Resources, EbSCO Information Services; Why Collect Data? by Colleen Cook, Dean of the Texas A&M University Libraries; Real World Data: Using Usage to Shape Libraries by Virginia Steel, University Librarian, University of California, Santa Cruz; and Electronic Resource Usage Statistics: Defining a Complex Problem by Caryn Anderson, Doctoral Studies Program Manager, GSLIS, Simmons College.

One idea stated by many presenters is that all data is good. The key is knowing what to do with it. There was some overlap between presentations, but the general consensus is that usage data are a good thing. This may sound basic, but apparently there are folks out there who do not think usage data serve a purpose. I like usage stats, so I have to agree with this. I have an undergraduate business degree and business experience; I tend to say if it isn't being used, then don't subscribe to it. However, we live in the real world and while I'd like to live by this adage, sometimes you can't, given the nature of programs offered by the university. I'm not sure if the same would ring true in public libraries. However, usage statistics are being used for a variety of reasons outside of subscription/renewal decisions - weeding/deselection, marketing, editorial decisions by journal editors, just to name a few. An off shoot of this is that everyone approaches usage statistics from a different perspective; the variety of ways to use usage statistics are limitless. In the end though, usage statistics of any kind should help you be better informed about your users.

There is no standard, so to speak, on how to use usage data, however, there is a standard for getting/providing those usage stats. I felt like I'd had my head in the sand when several presenters mentioned the problems with COUNTER. After listening to them, they made some good points. (Several presenters mentioned problems with COUNTER, but Kevin Cohn with Atypon defined them well. Link to the presentations is provided at the end of this post). I agree with what they were saying, but, I have a slightly different perspective. All of those presenters were assuming that usage stats were coming in a COUNTER compliant format. Ah... if that were true. There may be faults with COUNTER, but I deal with a lot of business databases and they are not COUNTER compliant, which makes it quite difficult to compare usage for similar databases, though admitedly many business databases provide unique resources. One database provides usage for their Quick Search, Company Snapshot, General Sources, etc. The only totals they provide for all this are the "What if Total Price," the amount we would have been charged if we didn't subscribe. I don't find that particular piece of information useful. I then had to try and reconcile what I did have to something along the lines of searches and sessions. There was also the assumption that usage statistics were being provided. I have a subscription to one commercial database that does not provide statistics and has no intention of doing so. Their viewpoint - it's the same cost regardless of the number of users. My thought of course, is if no one uses it, why should I subscribe.

Powerpoints for the NISO Forum are available at

Also available is a new Usage Data wiki at Join the community conversation about developing a usage data decision framework (and other usage data issues). For more information about the usage data conversation, see Caryn Anderson's closing remarks (available on the presentations page).