As Subscriptions Manager and Electronic Resources Coordinator at the University of Manchester, part of our jobs is to make sure the university gets the best deal on its e-resource investment. But what does “best deal” really mean? Does it mean the least expensive materials? Well, an inexpensive subscription isn’t a good deal if it isn’t used at all. And even free, open source content has a cost associated with the cataloging, discovery, and course management systems we use to make it available.
The challenge is to find better ways to assess the value our students, teachers, and researchers gain from the e-resources we provide. And the end result should be a better plan for accurately conveying the importance of library collections within the larger goals of the institution. But how do you get there? Having spent some time recently tracing the pathways of e-resource usage, we have a few suggestions.
When, what, who, how …
Isolated data, like metrics without contextual information, can have some real shortcomings. This makes it difficult to create a holistic picture of e-resource usage that maps back to student or research success—and ultimately, overall value. Below are five questions that can help assess and improve the full view of your e-resource data.
When will your reports have the most impact? Timing is important. For example, if the proportion of open access resources within a package has gone up, and the cost hasn’t gone down, why is that? With the right information about changes tracked over time, you can negotiate for better rates.
What are you actually paying for? Good metadata is critical. We knew that good metadata was the key to driving up discovery and usage—which is what drives value for our students and faculty. By appointing a metadata specialist for our digital collections, we were startled to discover that some of our primary source resources were supported only by very brief MARC records. We have initiated a series of discussions with all our major suppliers to discuss the level of MARC records available for our legacy collections and to ensure that new digitization projects seriously consider metadata provision at the start of the planning process. We believe that this will enhance the discovery experience and usage will improve dramatically.
Who is using your content? Get specific about audiences. You need to track purchases to the people they were intended for. So, if your anonymized reports can’t tell you which patron group is viewing which articles or databases, an expensive package used by a small group may seem like a bad deal. But if exactly the right students in a specific discipline or important cohort are using them the way the department intended, it’s actually a win.
How can you improve ROI across the board? Add marketing to your mix. Measure your costs, then run a promotional campaign, and then analyze the impact. It’s amazing what even a small marketing effort can do to increase usage. And every new click drives overall cost-per-view down.
Why should the library budget go up? Because the data doesn’t lie. Regardless of where you get your data, the key is to use specific analytics about target audiences at the right time to make the case for your library budget. For us, we were really pleased to be a pilot library for OCLC EZproxy Analytics—getting data quickly from one centralized source was a huge step forward.
Bonus question: Where?
The University of Manchester has a number of off-site administration centers, and in the future as these are developed, we will be keen to demonstrate the merits of those locations to students around the world. We’re on our way with EZproxy Analytics as we will be able to use our new data combined with a mapping tool to visualize our global impact. This provides a powerful view—and goes way beyond gate-count numbers, clicks, and hits.
For us, weaving in context and comparisons to our data will support finding, verifying, and communicating our success stories. And these stories are what illustrate e-resource ROI.
So, ask yourself some similar questions about the “value narratives” hiding in your library’s e-resource data. If you can answer them and tell those stories, you can make a stronger case for your library’s budget—and influence—going forward.
Want to learn more about the University of Manchester Library EZproxy Analytics pilot? Download the full case study here.
Hear Tim O’Neill from the University of Manchester share his experiences of using EZproxy Analytics on this on-demand webinar, “Driving library value and impact with EZproxy Analytics.”