On a Need to Know Basis

LighthouseOne of the assumptions that librarians make is that the value of our services is self-evident. We see the value every day, but we take it for granted that others (ones who have a say over library budgets, for example) see things our way.

How do we justify our existence to our stakeholders? Do we present numbers from usage reports? Do we present anecdotal evidence? What can we use to incontrovertibly prove our worth to those who hold our fates in their hands?

As mentioned in Measuring Points, my office has trying to determine what usage data that we’ve collected best shows the success of our electronic resources platform. The conclusion we came to is that, while we have a lot of good data, we need to make some tweaks to improve their quality.

Certainly, it should be easy enough to enhance the data we get from the systems we built ourselves. We can also use code to improve the type of data that we collect using Google Analytics.

We don’t have a say in the types of data we get from our resource providers. We can (and have been) requesting additional reports beyond the canned ones in the client services modules. Some of these reports exist, some have become enhancement requests. Honestly, not all of the reports we’ve asked for would be useful to other clients, so it’s probably easier for our reps to just run them when we ask for them.

There are other types of analysis that we can do to enhance the data we already have. We’re going to do cost analysis reports from a couple of different angles to figure out where we’re getting bang for our buck and where we can get more bang.

We also need to do more analysis of qualitative data, but we have to figure out how to get it. There’s a central system where spaces in the field report on their work and activities, and just about all of the items related to our platform that have been submitted are about training sessions. I’m glad to see the training, but as we enter the fifth year of this project, I really want to see more about how users are using the resources.

That is going to be our biggest challenge moving forward, because, while the hard numbers can be impressive, they don’t measure the impact the resources have had on our users. And that is really what is going to show the value of our services.


Robert Leo Waller

Gramma, Great-Gramma, Mom, Me and Grandpa

Gramma, Great-Gramma, Mom, Me and Grandpa

My grandfather died on this day 20 years ago. I can sort of remember his voice. Every now and then I have a dream about him. His voice never sounds quite right, so I always know I’m dreaming when I see him.

Grandpa was a sailor in World War II. He and Gramma had three kids. He had a drinking problem during the 1950s, but quit after Gramma threatened to leave him. He was a gravedigger at one point. He loved country music, particularly George Strait. Somehow he was distantly related to Buffalo Bill Cody. (It’s one of those family myths whose veracity I’ve never bothered to confirm.)

He had a short fuse and yelled a lot, but had a large heart. He was friendly and profane. Whenever he farted, he would blame the spiders under his chair.

He would clear the dinner table after he finished eating, even though he finished first and we weren’t done yet.

We watched Match Game together in the afternoons after school. We watched a lot of baseball and a lot of hockey together, too; he was a fan of the Boston Braves even after they ended up in Atlanta. I watched the 1986 World Series with him and I still remember him turning the TV off after the Red Sox choked in Game Six, muttering, “Well, they figured out how to blow it again.”

Grandpa, Gramma, me, and Nana

Grandpa, Gramma, me, and Nana

He loved to go out to eat. We used to drive up to my grandparents’ house in New Hampshire together and he would point out every good restaurant we drove by. My parents called it “the Bob Tour.”

He died in a Rexall after having breakfast, contrary to what his obituary states. The newspaper spelled my hometown of Worcester wrong, so what do they know?

At Grandpa’s wake, we had pictures of him blown up and mounted on posters that we had on display around the funeral parlor. Gramma came up to me and pointed out a picture of him from when he was in his early 20s, and she pointed out how much I looked like him. She said, “It’s amazing, isn’t it? And now you know what you will look like when you’re dead, too!”

Some things feel like they happened only yesterday. But it’s been so long since I’ve seen Grandpa that I can feel every one of the 20 years that have passed. I miss him a lot still. I might wish that I could have had one more chance to see him before he died, but that one last chance would not have been enough. It would just replace the actual last time I saw him and that’s it. I’m lucky I had all the time with him that I did, and I’m grateful.


New Representative to the PTPL Advisory Board

Window at Hotel Moskva, BelgradeI have been elected to serve as a District of Columbia Regional Representative (2015-2017) to the Advisory Board of the Potomac Technical Processing Librarians. I’ve been a member of PTPL for a long time, but I haven’t really had a chance to get involved with them up until now.

PTPL is affiliated with the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS), which I’m not a member of even though I’m an ALA member so by the time you read this post I have probably joined ALCTS, too.

I’ve dedicated a lot of time to SLA over the years (most recently as a panelist in a session at SLA2014) and I feel like I’m cheating on it a little bit! But I’m looking forward to working with members of the organization’s leadership; they are a new cohort of colleagues.

I’m also excited to have a chance to learn more about the technical services community in my local area. I spend so much time on the whole global village in the age of communication thing that I don’t feel like I know this region that well.

If you’re a technical services librarian in the Maryland, Virginia, or D.C. area, consider becoming a member! (You can never start your work too early…)

Measurement Points

Mess-PunktI’ve been working for the past four years on a website that provides access to electronic resources; a digital content resource platform, in the parlance of my place of work. One of my main duties is to collect usage data so we can justify the continued funding of the resources. However, trying to determine what usage data is most useful has been difficult.

For example, we used to make a big deal about the number of account holders that we had. However, we found that a lot of those account holders have never logged into their accounts. We then focused on accounts that were logged into each month. That gets tricky because our account management system reports show the number of accounts that logged in each month, not the total number of logins each month. It’s a subtle difference that we always need to explain.

I also collect usage data from our resource providers. There are a couple of issues with this data. First, not all of the companies have adopted COUNTER standards, so comparing data across resources is like comparing apples to pineapples to oranges to duck a l’orange. Second, we are trying to capture usage by external audiences, but a number of our resources also serve an internal audience. The corporate data reporting tools we access weren’t set up to split the usage down that way. A couple of companies sent us breakdowns of usage by IP address (to differentiate from internal and external users), but these reports are only available via special request right now.

Our website is set up with Google Analytics. We determined early on that site hits were not a useful metric since visiting our site does not constitute usage. My co-worker that manages our website hit upon the idea of tracking clicks on resources using Google Analytics. When a user clicks on a link to one of our resources, they are momentarily taken to a page that racks up a page view in Google Analytics. We then set up a report that just shows totals for the resources links, which we can break down by country, region, or city.

When we first compared data, we were concerned about a gap between our resource “page views” from Google Analytics to the larger number of sessions our resource providers reported. I talked to a technical representative at one of companies we work with, and he pointed out that our method works well if users are going directly to resources. However, there are other ways that users can get to content that bypass our Google Analytics jerry-rigging.

For example, we use a discovery system, which provides direct access to articles (after logging in, of course). It’s the same situation with email alerts and RSS feeds. Some of the content providers have a power search interface that searches all of our licensed resources at once. So if a user clicks to enter one resource, they could end up using another resource after using the power search.

Not all of the companies we license from have a power search interface or can be accessed through our discovery tool, however. There is one company that reported 10 times the number of sessions than our Google Analytics report had logged last year. When I looked closely at how they measured their session statistics, I noticed that they end a session after five minutes of inactivity. If I clicked on the link to their website, that would register as one page view in Google Analytics. If I then used the site for an hour, but walked away from the site three times for 10 minutes, the company would count that as four sessions.

So what is the most reliable indicator of usage? I’m putting a lot of reliance on our makeshift Google Analytics page views solution, but as you can guess, clicking on a link to a resource does not mean the resource was used. I can unscientifically correlate our sessions with other usage data, like searches and full-text downloads, and it feels like it all ties in together. Not the most compelling argument to make to anyone who holds the purse strings.

For years it was easy enough to just report the numbers, but it’s really hard to report on what those numbers mean. Fortunately, we have a data analyst in our office now who is going through all of the data I’ve collected and trying to put together a meaningful report. Even with all the caveats, we feel like we have enough compelling data to justify the website’s existence.

Paul’s Boutique Lyrics That Can Double As Librarian Twitter Bios

And if you don’t believe us you should question your belief, Keith.
(“Shake Your Rump”)

Humpty Dumpty was a big fat egg.

Cash flow getting low so I had to pull a job.
(“High Plains Drifter”)

Expanding the horizons and expanding the parameters.
(“Sounds of Science”)

I’ve been dropping the new science and kicking the new knowledge.
(“Sounds of Science”)

If your life needs correction don’t follow my direction.
(“3 Minute Rule”)

While I’m reading On the Road by my man Jack Kerouac.
(“3 Minute Rule”)

The dirty thoughts for dirty minds we contribute to.

If I had a penny for my thoughts I’d be a millionaire.

I mix business with pleasure way too much.

I’ve got money like Charles Dickens.

One half science and the other half soul.
(“B-Boy Bouillabaisse: Get On The Mic”)

Speak my knowledge to the crowd and the ed is special.
(“B-Boy Bouillabaisse: Year and a Day”)