Sunday, April 06, 2008

Building Systems that Support Librarians

I've said in the past that one reason why the ILS vendors build the systems that they do is because their customers are librarians, not library users. Unfortunately, that doesn't explain the failure of our ILSs and other systems to support the work that we do as librarians.

Imagine this scenario: We have some money left at the end of the year, so we're looking at what we can spend it on. One option is to pay the one-time fee to purchase electronic access to journal backfiles (and yes, this is "purchase" for us; it will be loaded on the consortial server to which we will have ongoing access). Of course, in order to decide if buying the backfiles is worth what the Large Dutch Multinational (LDM) is charging, we need to figure out how much the backfiles might be used. One would think that it would be easy to use a list of ISSNs to generate data from the various sources of usage data that are available to us.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. Part of this is our own fault, for creating internal processes that are not conducive to gathering statistics as we go, and part of it is the fault of vendors who don't provide convenient access for "small bulk" access to data to which we subscribe, or just don't give us easy access to our own data. For example, given a list of one hundred ISSNs, how hard would it be for you to find out how many ILL requests were placed for each one?

As a programmer, I'm willing to accept a certain level of data format inconsistency between systems, since I can write my own tools to even out such problems, but my programming background also makes my sensitive to the data that's just not available, or demands inordinate amounts of manual (ie, typing and browser clicking) to reach it.

We must begin to take notice of how all the systems we use professionally fail to mesh, and demand that vendors make it easier for us to gather the scattered data we need for decision-making into a coherent format: a librarian's decision support system.

2 comments:

Dan Scott said...

Hey, sounds like you were going through the same exercise I was going through over the last few weeks - with the same thoughts. Reading through a list of journal article requests per quarter is not the most efficient way to identify the potential value of additions to your collection. Even CSV would help!

To be fair, I just received access last week to the reporting application myself, so perhaps I can pull something more munge-friendly out of the system.

David J. Fiander said...

ILL is just part of the picture. How about Journal Citation Reports, the titles we already own in print, and when (or if) we canceled the print.