CAPTURING METRICS for Undergraduate Usage of Subscription Databases

Article excerpt

Reliable and accurate statistics of database usage are critical for justifying library expenditures and helping librarians make decisions for future subscriptions and renewals to premium content, subscription-based databases. Capturing metrics for usage, plus analyzing and interpreting them, has emerged as an important task among librarians.

Since Web-based access to subscription databases has enabled users to obtain a huge amount of electronic information without restrictions of time and place, academic librarians have the added challenge of making students aware of the electronic resources available to them. Research on end users' usage patterns is also essential to improve user services. In a rapidly evolving information environment, it is necessary to examine the user's needs on a periodic basis.

This study investigates whether there are differences among user groups, both in their amount and frequency of subscription database use, based on user characteristics such as gender, location of network access, and participation in user instruction. This study also seeks to identify the reasons for nonuse of subscription databases by analyzing the answers to open-ended questions.

PRIOR RESEARCH

The professional literature concerning subscription databases encompasses user preferences for database features, factors affecting database use, and local usage patterns. Although I won't mention them all here, a full bibliography follows this article; further discussion can be found in the full dissertation, User Acceptance ofWeb-Based Subscription Databases: Extendingthe Technology Acceptance Model [http://etd.lib.fsu.edu/the ses/available/etd-04112005-205602/].

A number of empirical studies identified factors affecting database use. The positive relationship between easier access and use suggests that people are likely to use easily accessible information, even though it is not the most appropriate information (Bishop, 1998; Kresge, 2000). Budd and Connaway (1997) found that accessibility is a critical factor in the use of networked information by faculty. Physical access was found to be the most significant determinant of adoption of network use (Abels, liebscher, & Denman, 1996).

Database training and user assistance have also been emphasized by many researchers and practitioners as factors influencing database use. Marshall and Allan (1990) pointed out that the poor search outcomes resulting from lack of training were a major factor contributing to the low use of online systems. Adams and Bonk (1995) found that lack of information on the databases was the biggest obstacle to faculty use of electronic information technology. However, research findings also report that even users with formal training experience more difficulties than is commonly realized (DiMartino & Zoe, 1996). Marshall (1989), in a study on the impact of training on end users, found that there was no correlation between user training and user search performance.

Although previous studies examined factors affecting database use, little research has been conducted in the context of Web-based services. Considering that the environment surrounding subscription databases has changed greatly since some of these earlier studies, that users' competency in searching for information has increased, and that their preferences have evolved, studying current users should show corresponding differences.

DATA COLLECTION

I conducted this study at Florida State University in the summer semester of 2004. The data was gathered using a Web survey targeting undergraduate students. At the university, Web-based subscription databases were available both on campus and off campus, and access to some of the databases from off campus required a proxy setup. Online database workshops were offered to all members of the university by the university libraries.

The questionnaire was posted on a commercial Web survey host site. …