Library Usage Statistics
The development and use of statistics by librarians to evaluate the use of library resources and services has matured into a set of standardized tools that demonstrate the value of data. Before the emergence of digital libraries during the last decade, librarians evaluated collection usage data, when they were:
(a) interested in measuring their libraries’ performance,
(b) asked to compile statistics for professional associations or governmental agencies, or
(c) when confronted with budget cuts, librarians had to determine how the collection was being used.
Prior to the advent of modern library technologies and systems, relatively straightforward data was difficult to compile and analyze. Librarians typically relied on gross circulation counts and routinely employed tedious, time consuming, and ultimately unscientific and unreliable sampling plans and simple in-house data collection methods such as asking users not to re-shelve library materials so the library could count them.
The data collected was not reliable and, most likely, inconsistent. This began to change once libraries began to automate in the last quarter of the twentieth century, using their equivalent of electronic inventory control systems. The data collected by the automation of cataloging and circulation systems made it easier to count collection size and circulation, and break them out by subject.
Journal usage review in print environment (predominantly in response to budget crises) were undertaken largely to cancel titles that were perceived as less frequently used and/or seemed overpriced.
Collection development in the print environment, without robust usage data, was therefore more of an art than a science. Libraries knew how much they were spending, but were unable to ascertain how their collections were being used or how to use the data they collected for collection management and acquisitions.