Assessing Collections and Info. Resources

ImageImageAssessing Collections & Information Resources In Science & Technology: A Joint Effort By ACS CINF & SLA Chem


It is always interesting for chemistry librarians to consider our collections, and we’ve become skilled at making tough choices over the years as the gap between pricing and budgets has widened. Understanding and leveraging the impact of collections on research is becoming even more critical as scholarly communication trends, information technologies, and librarianship shift as never before. What kinds of measures are available and how can we combine them to inform decisions about budgets and services? Do we need different metrics for different resources - journals, books, databases? How do different stakeholders utilize information about usage? CINF joined forces with the SLA CHEM Division to tackle these questions in a lively symposium in Boston that covered the spectrum from usage of books, journals and databases; user preferences for format, starting place and discovery; to reshaping the functions of libraries in acquiring and using resources. Collection assessment in academic research libraries dominated the discussion, but speakers and audience members included government and corporate attendees whose perspectives indicated that many of the issues are similar, although the paths to solutions may vary.

Assessing journals in the face of cancellation in tight budgets is an age – old, but still elusive challenge to remain as locally relevant as possible. Grace Baysinger (Stanford University) gave an excellent overview of various approaches to looking at journals such as benchmarking. Excellent national data on science and engineering can be had from, including data on academic article/patent output and statistics showing the relative focus on the physical sciences in the United States and Europe (falling) compared to Asia (rising). Hone local collections to local needs through gap analysis on publication activity and monitoring requests for full text not available through link resolvers.

Luti Salisbury (University of Arkansas) used citation analysis within her institution to consider allocations across discipline collections, identify collection strengths, zero in on large publishers to manage impact of package subscriptions, and identify key journals. Just 100 titles covered half of publishing in sciences, and roughly 80% of cited references were to less than 20% of titles. Repeated studies indicated some improvements in the selections, increased cancellations from budget pressures, and changes in the local research emphasis.

A numeric comparison can be helpful in considering a range of journals, talking with stakeholders and making cancellation choices. Matthew Willmott (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) presented on a points system constructed with colleagues built on cost-per-use, impact factor, local publication and citation metrics. Targets can be dynamically set for various measures to assist librarians with professional collection decisions. Further enrichment of the tool is being considered through incorporation of additional measures such as trend analysis and the Eigenfactor.

Book metrics are less familiar to many of us, but as more statistics become available and books make the transition to electronic format, assessment becomes more critical in this area. Michelle Foss and Stephanie Haas (University of Florida) considered a range of data collection techniques, including circulation, shelving, and usage from a patron - driven e-book acquisition pilot. The authors sliced the analysis by call number subclass and visualized the results as a TagCloud to zero in on subjects and specialized areas for increased collecting.

What the potential utility is in investing in large packages of e-books is the question Norah Xiao (University of Southern California) tackled. What can the usage data tell us about user behavior and what is user interest in these new collections? Usage data drove the questions of a survey to determine how people were finding the books and also serve to raise awareness of the resources. Keys to discovery were multiple discovery points, such as a library e-books lists, Google, and publisher links.

Teri Vogel (University of California San Diego) sought user input from focus groups, often expensive and yielding complicated results. But nothing beats live dialogue to learn more about how faculty and students find and use resources from their own perspectives and determine where to put energy into promotion and instruction of resources. Students and faculty both indicated a preference for Google for locating known items and specialized databases for general browsing for articles, although some concern was expressed about the need to evaluate material found through Google.

Publishers also consider usage statistics and other measures of their resources to target needs of both users and authors of their material. Melissa Blaney and Sara Rouhi (ACS Publications) discussed several approaches, including web hits, COUNTER reports, mobile app hits and surveys. Qualitative inputs is also sought through a visitation program to institutions, ACS on Campus, converging around a variety of timely themes such as scholarly publishing, peer review, ethics and alternate careers.

Susan Makar and Stacy Bruss (National Institute of Standards and Technology) also brought a new perspective to the academic librarians in the audience with their work on SciFinder usage in a government lab. Database usage in this setting is characterized by comprehensive searching and significant index browsing. Scientists and librarians were challenged with the change in format and complex pricing for the new web version and looked to statistics help inform the transition. Multiple metrics enabled analysis by type of searching, temporal trends and labs from various disciplines, and framed the case for improved funding and development support.

Assessing current and future roles of library collections was Leah Solla’s goal (Cornell University), using a variety of analyses to convert an entire collection from print to electronic. Several examples were presented including historic trends, usage, circulation, requests, and user feedback. General trends indicated most use was online, and that print acquisitions were drastically reduced from budget pressures, but there was still an active print core collection. Deeper analysis was conducted on journals and books to inform where to relocate these print materials for continued access and how to expand electronic access.

A lively discussion ensued among the panel and audience members with several emergent themes: broadening the scope of metrics and improving collection and analysis metrics; e-only/virtual libraries (are we ready?), corporate perspective where most libraries as places have already disappeared and information professionals are still trying to figure out how best to access resources and make them easier to find; managing in-house source materials; and return-on-investment type studies. Clearly this is a topic that resonates across the information profession and grows richer in complexity as it ages. Any of these themes would be a compelling future symposium and CINF and SLA-DCHE are well poised to bring together the critical voices. I look forward to the next joint symposium hosted by SLA-DCHE, tentatively scheduled for 2012.

Leah Solla, Co-organizer, Assessing Collections and Information Resources…Symposium