Using data analytics to measure academic library worth

Knowing what is the most beneficial to your patrons and measuring the valuable work of libraries has traditionally fallen into two major categories: circulation data (also known as circ count) and gate counts. Traditionally, bookkeeping was the norm for these types of records. However, using data analysis has become the gold standard for 21st century libraries with software, which has become quite advanced over the years.

The use of this information in a proactive manner is "what it really means to be a data-driven organization" Sarah Tudesco, an assessment librarian at Yale University, explained in Library Journal's "What is a Data-Driven Academic Library?" Tudesco went on to state that instead of asking open-ended questions during library meetings, such as "is our library meeting the needs of our community now, and will it in five years?," a centralized data strategy is needed for libraries to prove their worth in the digital age.

Handling the volume
Librarians are likely saying "easier said than done" at this point, and there is some truth to that statement. Most of that sentiment is centered around the sheer volume of data that librarians come into contact with. The amount of data can make it very easy for certain projects to become lost or ignored.

However, there is a solution to handling these numbers: grouping the data. For instance, Tudesco suggested having three major categories dedicated to systems, patron input and workflow.

Systems: Using tools like Google Analytics can help you track website trends on the system's end, while vendor support can help with issues like financial reports, collections, acquisitions, e-book usage and gate counts, which can be tracked internally. In many ways, systems data tracking is the most scientific and straightforward since much of the information is made up of concrete, hard numbers.

Patron input: Librarians might have to rely on more engaging data analytics to track patron input. This can come from several sources, such as internal surveys. However, there are some platforms that are geared toward a more digital format, like tracking social media. In fact, social media can give you information about both systems and workflow and how hey affect patrons in real time. Focus groups are another tool you can use at your disposal to better understand library usage from a patron perspective.

Workflow: This is the most difficult of the three categories, as tracking the time spent helping patients at reference desks and many different systems can prove difficult. However, there are ways to track the number of items the library catalogs per year in addition to preservation projects that were completed with the help of library staff, such as circ counts.

Library circulation trends in academia
A 2012 report from the Association of College & Research Libraries proves what many librarians have seen coming for several years, even decades: circulation is down. In fact, if the current patterns stay the same, the charts reveal that circulation desks might as well no longer exist.

Although circulation might appear to be down across the U.S., these numbers might not reflect the figures in their entirety. Circulation for many librarians includes the property of the library, not just the resources offered on the user end. Another interesting fact revealed through the charts proved that although circulation is declining, enrollment in universities is actually increasing.

Obviously, since there are more students on campuses than ever before, there is a disconnect between the reported circulation and how many items students are actually checking out. On the surface, librarians might assume the rise of e-books and e-journals are to blame for this statistical anomaly, but there is already data available that tracks this shift (after all, e-publications have been on the rise for quite some time). The bigger answer is Web usage in general, since data circulation began to drop in the mid-90s, the same period when widespread Internet usage began. Before this time, data mining - at least in an academic sense - usually required at least one trip to the library and maybe one or two checkouts.

What do these trends mean? Librarians need to be tracking data and analyzing this information more than ever, especially since part of library administration is demonstrating worth and value across all spectrums.


Robert Storer
Marketing Manager