Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Was it worth buying?

In November last year I posted a comment on The Practical Librarian's blog about measuring circulation. The blog post discusses the limitations of using circulation statistics alone as a method of measuring library performance. In my comment I spoke about how I planned to measure the usage of items purchased following tutor requests in the hope of obtaining a better picture of the impact of our stock management. I was curious to see whether usage reflected the demand perceived by tutors.

Six months later and I've just taken a look to see what the statistics can tell me. Unfortunately, there are so many variables affecting the usage that I've found the exercise to be almost pointless! Since September we have ordered 79 titles following a request from a tutor. First I want to discuss those that have been borrowed.

The level of usage cannot give an accurate picture of the demand as there are several factors that can give the illusion of genuine issues and some factors that mean not all use if reflected in the statistics:
  • transit between LRC sites - we have reader records set up for each location and issue any items in transit to them so that we can track where they are
  • mis-use of self-issue - we have seen several instances in the usage information where a student has managed to issue, return and then issue a book to themselves in quick succession!
  • display browsing - from January I have put all new stock on display. It is impossible to tell whether borrowing from the display is as a result of browsing or whether the book was particularly sought for. I've watched with interest over several days as one particular students 'borrows' the BTEC textbook for sport from the display whilst he works on a computer and puts it back when he's finished!
Out of the 79 titles 30 have not been borrowed but, again, I can't make any assumptions about why this might be:
  • tutors may not be recommending the titles to students, or they may be but the students just aren't bothered!
  • by the time the book is shelf-ready the topic has passed and it won't really be needed again until the same time the following year
  • the title might be the course textbook so the tutors simply feel we 'ought' to have it in the LRC
This exercise, although not a success, is a great example at demonstrating how we cannot rely on statistics alone and that if we are going to use them we must carefully consider whether there are any other factors that can significantly distort the image they give.

In terms of what I was trying to achieve I've had to accept some truths:
  • in a tutor's eyes every title they request is deemed important
  • we must trust that they are passing these recommendations on to their students
On the other hand, there are also some truths that reinforce the role of the librarian in collections management:
  • the librarian is best placed to judge how many copies should be bought (tutors often want several, particularly of the core textbooks) through local knowledge of use, demand and student behaviour
  • relevant titles should be promoted to students through their course areas in Moodle - we can't expect them to be enthusiastic or expert searchers.James Clay expands this point further in his blog post on adding resources to VLEs.

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