Recently I figured out one of the most empowering things on my office computer. I know you’re thinking the same thing: usage statistics reports. I KNOW.
Perhaps you, like me, are not on the cataloguing side of things because perhaps you, like me, didn’t do so well in Intro to Cataloguing class and swore off cataloguing forever. If this is the case, and you do collections development, I would encourage you to befriend your Friendly Neighbourhood Cataloguing Librarian and ask about getting some usage statistics reports generated for your perusal. Those Cataloguing people — they really know things. Things that I know nothing about. How did I actually go to school with these people? It’s like they have a different degree than me.
My library uses Millennium as their ILS — hence the blog title — but maybe your library uses a different product (there’s a nice list of ILS products here). I have been forced to learn several modules within Millennium and I have to say: It’s really quite a nice program. Bravo, Innovative Interfaces. I must admit to having wasted an entire afternoon playing around with the module that generates reports. It is FUN! And INSIGHTFUL.
I know it sounds crazy — that as a librarian responsible for collections development, I have no idea what books my students and faculty are checking out of our general collection, what language is being used the most, or what subjects our users are most interested in…. but I don’t. I just buy, buy, buy like a mall rat with their parents’ credit card, and little thought is given to whether the purchases I’m making are good choices specifically for the needs of my students and faculty. And I’m only slightly comforted by the fact that I’m not alone. All this has now changed, since I hunkered down with our Cataloguing Librarians and figured out which books in the catalogue were “mine,” which ones were being checked out, and which ones were not.
The numbers can sometimes be disheartening, but there are some pleasant surprises. For example, it’s obvious that a few of our human resources classes (or perhaps professors?) have come to depend heavily on our print collection. And that despite the fact that e-commerce is an online phenomenon, someone still wants to read paper-based books about it. But I’ll level with ya — there were lots of zeros in that spreadsheet under “times checked out”. These numbers can serve as the cold hard truth in some cases — argument perhaps for more money, or maybe more money somewhere else, or maybe for a change in how collections gets done.
Librarians though, are already on the case. I blogged about Patron-Driven Acquisitions, which will certainly be a step in boosting usage for library collections. There are greater moves towards eBooks which certainly will drive usage too, and digitization projects, and improvements to catalogue interfaces so that users can actually find this stuff. More and more universities are getting those high density storage sites for low-usage books, though sometimes with minor revolts from faculty and students.
Of course there are sound arguments to be made about having books even though they might not get checked out much. A robust research collection includes an enormous amount of materials from a variety of subjects, time periods, and analytical perspectives. Bestsellers stand next to obscure independent-press books and foreign government documents, and books that are considered hearsay is some countries, and that is part of what makes research collections awesome. Research collections are not about popularity contests — this ain’t no Barnes and Noble, y’all. What was that dude, that said something about every reader having his or her own book? Some books will only get checked out once or twice and I am totally okay with that.
It’s just that now I have some sense of which books those actually are. The next steps are to get a hold of eBook usage statistics from our eResources Librarian, to get a sense of which eBooks are being used and how that compares to print books (Thanks Google Analytics). It’s a great feeling to get a full picture of my collections and how they being used. And I’m proof positive that you really don’t have to be a good Cataloguer to do it — you just have to know a good Cataloguer.