Counting on Counter: The Current State of E-Resource Usage Data in Libraries

By Welker, Josh | Computers in Libraries, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Counting on Counter: The Current State of E-Resource Usage Data in Libraries


Welker, Josh, Computers in Libraries


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There seems to be a categorical misunderstanding among vendors regarding why libraries want usage statistics. For the most part, librarians don't care about sessions, searches, IP addresses, or page views. It's all about cost per use.

Any librarian who has managed electronic resources has experienced the--for want of words--joy of gathering and analyzing usage statistics. Such statistics are important for evaluating the effectiveness of resources and for making important budgeting decisions. Unfortunately, the data are usually tedious to collect, inconsistently organized, of dubious accuracy, and anything but a joy to work with.

Once the internet became the ubiquitous way to access content, it did not take long for the library community to create standards to ease the process of collecting usage data. In 2002, librarians formed Project COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources). A year later, COUNTER issued Release 1 of its Code of Practice, which outlined standards for publishers and vendors to report usage statistics.

In 2007, the information science standards body NISO (National Information Standards Organization) created the Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative protocol, known casually as SUSHI, which provides an automated way to download COUNTER reports via the web.

While COUNTER and SUSHI have helped libraries come a long way toward improving the adoption and availability of usage statistics for library market vendors, I soon came to learn that there is still a good amount of work libraries must do to get the data they need to make critical collection development and database budgeting decisions. I learned my lesson the hard way, by first turning to SUSHI with the hope it would fulfill my library's need for data about database usage. Let me start at the start ...

Building a SUSHI Client

In early 2012, Southwest Baptist University (SBU) Libraries began the daunting task of collecting electronic resource usage statistics. As the new electronic resources librarian, I got the job, which I immediately attempted to systematize and hopefully simplify. SBU did not have the funds to acquire a commercial electronic resource management (ERM) system, so after much difficulty, I built a functioning SUSHI harvester based on Python and MySQL. To make a long story short, details, instructions, and source code for this project can be found on my blog at http://josh-welker.blogspot.com.

The bottom line was that building a working SUSHI client may not have even been necessary, but it certainly was not sufficient. In order to fully evaluate usage, I needed to conduct a standard cost-per-use analysis of SBU's electronic resources. Cost-per-use studies require two simple data ingredients: cost and usage. Cost was easy enough to find, but usage proved impossible to measure with SUSHI for most vendors. The only COUNTER report available via SUSHI that measures full-text uses is the JR1 report, which counts uses per journal title. But since the SUSHI standard does not allow librarians to specify a particular database, the JR1 report contains all the journals the library can access from a vendor's platform. SBU might subscribe to 2 dozen databases from a vendor, each with its own price tag. There is no way to calculate cost per use for those dozens of databases when a vendor lumps all the usage figures together into one report. So at the end of the day and after all my work building a SUSHI client, I still ended up having to visit dozens of vendor websites to manually collect, collate, format, and analyze all the data myself, using the classic desktop applications Access and Excel.

A Study of Electronic Resource Statistics in Libraries

After becoming thoroughly disillusioned with SUSHI, I wanted to know if I was alone or if other libraries were bogged down in the same statistical quagmire. …

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Counting on Counter: The Current State of E-Resource Usage Data in Libraries
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