Personalizing Assessment: Making Collections Data Work for You

The ALCTS Acquisitions Managers and Vendors Interest Group (AMVIG) and the ALCTS Collection Development Librarians of Academic Libraries Interest Group co-sponsored a program at the 2017 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois on Saturday, June 24, which focused on gathering and utilizing data to inform collection development decisions.

The program featured four presenters who gave attendees a better understanding of what the librarians at the University of Houston — Clear Lake were looking for in terms of e-book data and perspectives from representatives from GOBI Library Solutions and ProQuest, as well as information about using Tableau and “R”. Shannon Burke, Discovery Services Librarian, and Clarke Iakovakis, Research and Instruction Librarian, both work at the Alfred R. Neumann Library at the University of Houston — Clear Lake. They began by describing some of the challenges they found harnessing collection data and what they have utilized to make it work for them. Kim Anderson, Senior Collection Development Manager for GOBI Library Solutions and Kari Paulson, VP of Market Development at ProQuest Books provided information about trends in the market and what data their customers could gather utilizing their customer interfaces.

Shannon Burke pointed out that data is everywhere. Librarians need data to make informed collection development decisions and are looking for ways to visualize data to make it more accessible. Kim Anderson talked about how vendor interfaces can provide real time data to librarians for data-driven resource allocations. GOBI Library Solutions (also known as YBP) is able to provide a wide range of information about print books, e-books, approval plans, and notifications in which librarians can gather data using their GOBI interface. Kim described what data was available. He also said that they are able to put the data into context. There are many ways to look at the data that customers may not be aware of such as looking at which publishers have the highest circulation. Customers can run an activity report in the GOBI interface to gather data but GOBI Library Solutions also has the ability to run retrospective reports and customized reports to offer information that is more granular. Given decreasing budgets, making informed decisions based on usage trends is important. Kim discussed the options that Gobi Library Solutions offers for purchasing books. Currently, about 23% of titles are demand driven acquisitions (DDA) eligible.

Kari Paulson, with ProQuest, chose to take a higher-level perspective offering her observations about trends as opposed to what ProQuest can do. She mentioned an article published by the Pew Research Center a few days prior, “Millennials are the most likely generation of Americans to use public libraries.” Kari noted that the environment is changing and we are still seeing a shift toward e-books and changing student expectations. With budgets under scrutiny, proving value is important. She also pointed out that library workflows are not yet designed to seamlessly integrate print books and e-books. There is confusion for users and it is difficult for librarians to show return on investment. After years of budget pressures in libraries, funding for books is disproportionally impacted. Kari talked about serials and how pricing increases and inflation means the research institutions are having trouble keeping up. There is an increased pressure to demonstrate value, which libraries struggle to do. There are changing user demands. Students are used to everything being at their fingertips. She also talked about how everyone is constantly being bombarded with information which has been called “infobesity.” This is impacting users who need to know what sources to trust. She provided a helpful analysis of trends that went beyond just what ProQuest was capable of. She talked about the “Kent Study” from 1979 about library use at the University of Pittsburgh, which found that 40% of books never circulated. She noted that Rick Anderson wrote an article for Scholarly Kitchen recently in which data pulled from about 20 studies showed that the 40% statistic remains fairly accurate. Kari said that ProQuest used e-book data from 1,194 libraries over the course of nine years using eight years of purchases to get one-nine years of usage statistics and found that 41.2% were rarely used (one time or less) for firm orders and found that 13.5% of demand driven acquisitions were rarely used post purchase. She emphasized needing to know what you want to measure and to find the best time to measure it to be the most strategic. She said that ProQuest is there to help provide insights into the data. They know how to navigate and mine their data.

Shannon described their desire to make better-informed decisions and create reports that were useful, not just for the sake of reporting. They wanted to be able to make decisions using it. They used Tableau to visualize their data to make it less overwhelming and be able to look at their collection more holistically and in an interactive way. Tableau was easy to learn and customize. They looked at the lifetime metrics of the e-books and the last usage date. It is important to consider what is happening across the university and how that may impact usage and needs.

Clarke Iakovakis talked about gathering and cleaning the data from the integrated library system (ILS), COUNTER reports, and e-book acquisition platforms. It was a time-intensive process. He described using “R” which is a language and environment that is used for statistical computing and graphics. It is a free and open source command line programming language that has a complex syntax. Clarke said it takes time to learn. He used it to compare e-book and print holdings. He took online classes to learn how to use it. Clarke did not have any previous coding experience, which means there is hope for the rest of us who like the idea but do not have a coding background. Clarke described the process they used and parameters. They took the data and used Tableau to visualize it for their colleagues.

Some core takeaways from the presentation:

  • Data literacies are critical skills for librarians.
  • Think creatively about data questions.
  • Interactive visualization is the key to personalizing assessment.

There was a lively question and answer period. Their librarians are thinking more holistically about the collection by being able to visualize it. They are no longer buying DDA eligible titles outright. Their assessment has led them to see subject collection in a new way. They want to be transparent with data while being careful about privacy. They want to look more at how materials are being used by patrons and track unique users but not individuals. There were questions about learning and getting access to “R” and Clarke said that Coursera courses were good. Kari said, with a smile, that Springer has e-books with downloadable data that ProQuest or GOBI Library Solutions would be happy to sell us. Clarke shared his github page for additional information. After the question and answer period, all of the presenters fielded one-on-one questions, as well.

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