Technically Speaking: The New Numbers Racket

By Pace, Andrew K. | American Libraries, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Technically Speaking: The New Numbers Racket


Pace, Andrew K., American Libraries


While it might be said that not all librarians love automation or the all-consuming power technology holds over their patrons, it's still safe to say that most systems librarians love statistics. To some libraries, numbers are the raison d'etre--gate-counts are down, virtual reference numbers are through the roof, ARL rankings are up (or down), and of course everyone loves a system that can tell them all the books in the Dewey 820s published before 1980 that have circulated fewer than three times.

Numbers, ranks, and statistics consume us. It's puzzling, then, why most library systems vendors have failed to give us good numbers for so long. But vendors are beginning to dust off their relational databases and deliver meaningful data, statistics, and reports to libraries. Most of them are doing this through partnerships with third-party business intelligence (BI) software developers.

As standalone or externally developed products, most vendors are offering these new data-mining and data-warehousing tools as optional (read "extra cost") modules. Leave it to vendors to come up with a way to charge libraries for extracting the libraries' own data from their own systems--for which the libraries already pay the vendor a great deal of money.

Fortunately for libraries, more expensive technology is usually (would that it were always) better technology. Most corporations are better at crunching numbers than libraries. They must be, right? They call them BI analytical tools, while we just call them reports.

Some excellent statistical and report software is now available to libraries through their vendors. The list here is but a sampling, including some of the newest products on the market.

Dynix--Horizon Web Reporter. Powered by the MicroStrategy Business Intelligence Platform, Web Reporter includes several standard reports, as well as a "Director's Dashboard" for simple access to data without knowledge of structured query language (SQL). Role-based reporting allows for authenticated access to specific reports, and the data can be queried in real time.

Ex Libris--ARC. ARC stands for Aleph 500 Reporting Center. Like many of the others, it is a web-based statistics and reporting tool, marketed as a plug-in module for Aleph ILS customers. Formerly known as Aleph Data Warehouse, the reports module is powered by Brio software.

Innovative--Web Management Reports. Web Management Reports was one of the first Java web clients available from an ILS vendor. The Innovative product is also unique because it was built and designed internally as a web-based add-on to Innovative's popular and powerful reports module.

Sagebrush--Analytics. Powered by SwiftKnowledge, Analytics puts a lot of emphasis on nonquery language tools that attempt to turn what into why. The tool includes "guided inquiry" Q & A, graphics generation, and more. Moreover, Analytics was designed to help analyze some of the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, requiring integration with external datasets, such as student records and test results.

Sirsi--Director's Station. "Colorful" and "easy-to-read" are the marketing buzzwords that drive this new product niche, and Sirsi's new Director's Station module is no exception.

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