CLIRinghouse Number 5

CLIRinghouse Number 5

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 5, January 2002

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

Who Is Using The Fruits of Digital Investment?

Whether you head a liberal arts college or a large university, whether your library digitizes its own collections or provides online access to other digital collections or both, the question is the same: Who uses these materials and how? Do your online resources provide what students need for class assignments, what teachers need to enhance course content and create new learning modes, and what scholars need to do research more efficiently and open new lines of inquiry? What investments in digital resources would enhance your institution’s appeal to top students, distinguished faculty, and sources of external support? Are digital investments helping your institution reach its strategic goals? And how can you know?

The Challenges:

“Hit” Statistics Are Not Enough

Academic librarians are working in multiple projects to find answers to such questions. But measuring use, actual or potential, is not easy. Rapid changes in library services make data collection and interpretation difficult. The absence of widely accepted standards for use measurement further complicates the matter. Consistent data are particularly needed from outside vendors of e-journals and other electronic resources so that campus librarians can evaluate expenditures on access licenses. Librarians have made progress in measuring the extent, variety, and cost of online collections and services and the volume, duration, and nature of “hits” by users. But librarians want to know also about Web visits’ usefulness. Therefore, tools are in development for assessing usage quality, and librarians are investigating how students and scholars perceive, find, and use networked information from their campus libraries in relation to other sources. What are we learning from such studies?

Discoveries and Options:

Getting the Most Out of Library Resources

Preliminary reports indicate that

  • some digitally reformatted materials get far more use online than they ever did in the library stacks
  • Internet access promotes interdisciplinary study by facilitating cross-collection searches
  • online catalogs enable scholars to accelerate their searches and enlarge the base of resources they explore
  • use of online materials varies greatly by discipline but seems growing in all fields
  • scholars are increasingly comfortable with online research, even many humanists, who once were expected to resist the application of new technologies to their work.

Reports also suggest that while students and faculty still come to libraries for books and journals, they may increasingly value the library less as a repository than as a gateway to resources throughout the world, an identifier of high-quality materials for specific courses and research projects, and an organizer of customized search-and-retrieval services. An institution may best serve its strategic goals by facilitating access to a coordinated aggregation of materials from multiple sources that can meet an individual school’s particular needs. For the administrator, effective digital-resource development thus includes supporting assessments by librarians of the online behaviors and needs of campus users, and rewarding faculty members who are willing to help.

Additional Information:

Use-study reports of value to academic administrators include