In a world where information flows freely and we’re slowly shedding the limitations of our existing ILSs, it’s easy to take for granted that the statistics and data on which many of our services rely upon is ours. We can run reports on it, use it to justify new programs and services, observe trends and justify (or not justify) the existence of extra staff, resources or departments. Statistics are important and, the longer I work as a cataloguer, the more it’s reinforced. As a result, I’ve become a “data girl”.
I love statistics. On any given day, I can take a look at what is happening in our library, what’s “trending” and the most popular searches. Being able to observe dead-end searches, where our users are coming from and the amount of interaction (in a variety of ways) that patrons are interacting with the catalogue is exciting and informative.
With new discovery tools and social catalogues, library management and cataloguers are taking it for granted that the same freedom we’ve had with our ILS data carries over to these new tools. However, that isn’t always the case. And, just like the many complaints about limitations we’ve had with our ILSs, there are limitations on the access to your data and types of statistics kept by discovery tools.
While many professionals are already pushing for a next next generation catalogue…and maybe even a next next next generation catalogue (perhaps we can think of something easier?), many of us are still navigating through the intricacies of implementing our first “next” generation catalogue. In all of the excitement of what is NOW and what is coming with catalogues, especially the features, potential and “shiny new” characteristics, it’s easy to overlook why we’re implementing them.
And, while it has been a habit in many public libraries simply to say “we’re implementing it because people want it”, there are problems with this method. To get to the point where we know “people want it” we need to look at data – surveys, user groups, usage patterns and a variety of other data sources. To prove that the new catalogue is successful, we need more data – surveys, user groups, usage patterns and so on.
But, what happens when you don’t have access to your data? What if the data provided to you is limited or restricted? What if it’s usage and access is restricted by your vendor? What if the data that concerns you most, such as statistics on social features in catalogues is missing?
Data is powerful. How it is manipulated (and I’m using this word on purpose) for reports, how it is presented and what it can show you is vital to properly evaluating a discovery tool and its success/failure at your library.
For me, I tend to look at statistics throughout the month. But it’s also comforting to know that the data I look at belongs to my library and we can share it with whomever we choose and pull out a variety of detail that may appear useless to someone else.
Because many discovery tools sit on top of your ILS, it’s easy to rely on the data from your ILS to give you a picture of usage. However, your ILS can’t give you usage statistics on social feature usage, use of facet navigation features and user generated information – the key features behind why a discovery tool/social catalogue was implemented. If we can’t see if these features are being used or if the usage changes over time, we can’t justify their existence. And, we certainly can’t provide supporting evidence to vendors when we ask them to change, alter or create additional features for our catalogues.
When choosing a discovery tool, social catalogue, or whatever you call it at your library, ask questions and read the fine print. Who owns your data? How much access will you have to it? Can you share it? While it’s easy to get caught up in the wealth of opportunities and potential benefits that next generation catalogues offer, don’t forget to ask vital questions that will assist you in examining the justification of their existence.