Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Measures of reach

On the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries blog, Joseph Matthews discusses measures of reach and impact that were recommended waaaaay back in the mid- 1990's (about the time I started my professional training).  Now, nearly 20 years later, we still haven't made much progress.  Part of that is will (only recently have we had the need to do this), and part of it is's just not that easy to get these measures.  Here are some examples, with my comments about the technical feasibility of obtaining these values:
  • The percent of courses with materials in the reserve reading room.
    • Possible, but difficult. This would require access to the courses database and manually matching up courses with data from the ILS.  
  • The percent of students enrolled in these courses who actually checked out/downloaded reserve materials.
    • Not terribly difficult, but not very accurate. A gross value of this could be generated simply by using the total number of enrolled students divided by the total number of users with status of "student" with a circulation greater than 1.  But this is not really accurate - individuals in the numerator may or may not actually be counted in the denominator.  
  • The percent of courses requiring term papers based on materials in the library’s collections.
    • Ugh - how would we do this?  I can't imagine the work involved in a census of all courses, but surveying a random sample of courses would provide fairly reliable estimates.
  • The percent of courses requiring students to use the library for research projects
    • See above...Possible to get estimates, but not easily.
  • The number of students who checked out library materials.
  • The number of undergraduate (and graduate) students who borrowed materials from the library.
    • These two are similar to #2 above - fairly easy to get rough estimates.  
  • The number of library computer searches initiated by undergraduates.
    • This is virtually impossible to measure here.  Our users are not required to log into the databases unless they are off-campus.  While users of in-library computers must log in, there are far more users who use their laptops and own PCs.
  • Percent of library study spaces occupied by students.
    • We are finally starting to put card-swipes on some of our classrooms.  Eventually, we hope to put them on all study rooms.  But there are still many open areas that would be impossible to measure usage.  
  • Number of pages photocopied by students.
    • Easy to get...practically useless now.  However, we can get usage of ebooks, including page and chapter downloads.  Unfortunately, we can not yet distinguish user types because they usually do not need to log in.
  • Percent of freshmen students not checking out a library book.
    • Good idea - need to get a handle on non-usage.  This is the antithesis of items discussed above.
  • The percent of faculty who checked out library materials.
    • Fairly easy to get and fairly valid.  The Faculty population is more stable than the students, so a ratio of gross measures would likely be more valid.
  • The number of articles and books published by faculty members.
  • The number of references cited in faculty publications that may be found in the library’s collections.
    • Difficult but highly useful.  I'm working towards a systematic way of collecting this information.
In general, the recommendation was to provide:
  • The percent (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and researchers) who borrowed materials
    • Easy to get rough estimates
  • The percent who downloaded online materials
  • The percent who used the physical and virtual collections.
    • Virtually impossible in our environment.  
So, you can see, it takes more than simple recommendations.  The technical environment would need to be changed to support this.

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