Usage and Usability Assessment: Library Practices and Concerns
by Denise Troll Covey
Copyright 2002 by the Council on Library and Information Resources. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transcribed
in any form without permission of the publisher. Requests for reproduction should be submitted to the Director of Communications
at the Council on Library and Information Resources.
About the Author
Denise Troll Covey is associate university librarian of arts, archives, and technology at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2000-2001 she was also
a distinguished fellow in the Digital Library Federation, leading the initiative on usage, usability, and user support. Her
professional work focuses on the research and development of digital library collections, services, and software; and assessment
practices, copyright permissions, and change management as they relate to digital libraries. Covey has academic degrees in
theology, philosophy, and rhetoric. Her graduate work emphasized the history of information storage and retrieval.
The author and the Digital Library Federation sincerely thank the 71 individuals who participated in the DLF telephone survey.
Their time, experiences, concerns, and questions about library use and usability made this report possible. If the report
facilitates discussion and research and encourages the development of benchmarks or best practices, it is because so many
talented people shared their rewards and frustrations in trying to understand what is happening in their libraries and how
to serve their users better.
- About the Author
- 1.1. Report Structure
- 1.2. Summary of Challenges in Assessment
- 2. User Studies
- 2.1. Surveys (Questionnaires)
- 2.1.1. What Is a Survey Questionnaire?
- 2.1.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct Surveys?
- 2.1.3. How Do Libraries Conduct Surveys?
- 2.1.4. Who Uses Survey Results? How Are They Used?
- 2.1.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges With Surveys?
- 188.8.131.52. The Costs and Benefits of Different Types of Surveys
- 184.108.40.206. The Frequency of Surveys
- 220.127.116.11. Composing Survey Questions
- 18.104.22.168. Lack of Analysis or Application
- 22.214.171.124. Lack of Resources or Comprehensive Plans
- 2.2. Focus Groups
- 2.2.1. What Is a Focus Group?
- 2.2.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct Focus Groups?
- 2.2.3. How Do Libraries Conduct Focus Groups?
- 2.2.4. Who Uses Focus Group Results? How Are They Used?
- 2.2.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges With Focus Groups?
- 126.96.36.199. Unskilled Moderators and Observers
- 188.8.131.52. Interpreting and Using the Data
- 2.3. User Protocols
- 2.3.1. What Is a User Protocol?
- 2.3.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct User Protocols?
- 2.3.3. How Do Libraries Conduct User Protocols?
- 2.3.4. Who Uses Protocol Results? How Are They Used?
- 2.3.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges ith User Protocols?
- 184.108.40.206. Librarian Assumptions and Preferences
- 220.127.116.11. Lack of Resources and Commitment
- 18.104.22.168. Interpreting and Using the Data
- 22.214.171.124. Recruiting Participants Who Can Think Aloud
- 2.4. Other Effective Research Methods
- 2.4.1. Discount Usability Research Methods
- 126.96.36.199. Heuristic Evaluations
- 188.8.131.52. Paper Prototypes and Scenarios
- 2.4.2. Card-Sorting Tests
- 3. Usage Studies of Electronic Resources
- 3.1. What Is Transaction Log Analysis?
- 3.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct Transaction Log Analysis?
- 3.3. How Do Libraries Conduct Transaction Log Analysis?
- 3.3.1. Web Sites and Local Digital Collections
- 3.3.2. OPAC and Integrated Library Systems
- 3.4. Who Uses the Results of Transaction Log Analysis? How Are They Used?
- 3.4.1. Web Sites and Local Digital Collections
- 3.4.2. OPAC and Integrated Library Systems
- 3.4.3. Remote Electronic Resources
- 3.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges With Transaction Log Analysis?
- 3.5.1. Getting the Right (Comparable) Data and Definitions
- 184.108.40.206. Web Sites and Local Digital Collections
- 220.127.116.11. OPAC and Integrated Library Systems
- 18.104.22.168. Remote Electronic Resources
- 3.5.2. Analyzing and Interpreting the Data
- 3.5.3. Managing, Presenting, and Using the Data
- 4. General Issues and Challenges
- 4.1. Issues in Planning a Research Project
- 4.2. Issues in Implementing a Research Project
- 4.2.1. Issues in Sampling and Recruiting Research Subjects
- 4.2.2. Issues in Getting Approval and Preserving Anonymity
- 5. Conclusions and Future Directions
- APPENDIX A: References and Selected Bibliography
- APPENDIX B: Participating Institutions
- APPENDIX C: Survey Questions
- APPENDIX D: Traditional Input, Output, and Outcome Measures
- Survey Instruments
Making library services available online is not only expensive; it is also very risky. The library's roles there are not at
all clear. Neither are its relationships with users or with other information services. There is little information about
how library users behave in a network environment, how they react to online library services, and how they combine those services
with others such as search engines like Google, bookstores like Amazon, Internet gateways like Voice of the Shuttle, and instructional
technologies like WebCT or Blackboard. Digital libraries are still relatively immaturemost are still at a stage where limited
experimentation is more important than well-informed strategic planning. While libraries have excelled at assessing the development
and use of their traditional collections and services, comparable assessments of online collections and services are more
complicated and less well understood.
Against this backdrop, the Digital Library Federation (DLF) has committed to driving forward a research process that will
provide the information that libraries need to inform their development in a networked era. The goals of this process are:
- to develop a better understanding of methods effective in assessing use and usability of online scholarly information resources
and information services; and
- to create a baseline understanding of users' needs to support strategic planning in an increasingly competitive environment
for academic libraries and their parent institutions.
This report is an initial step in achieving the first of these goals. It offers a survey of the methods that are being deployed
at leading digital libraries to assess the use and usability of their online collections and services. Focusing on 24 DLF
member libraries, the study's author, Distinguished DLF Fellow Denise Troll Covey, conducted numerous interviews with library
professionals who are engaged in assessment. In these interviews, Covey sought to document the following:
- why digital libraries assessed the use and usability of their online collections and services
- what aspects of those collections and services they were most interested in assessing
- what methods the libraries used to conduct their assessments
- which methods worked well and which worked poorly in particular kinds of assessments
- how assessment data were used by the library, and to what end
- what challenges libraries faced in conducting effective assessments
The result is a report on the application, strengths, and weaknesses of assessment techniques that include surveys, focus
groups, user protocols, and transaction log analysis. Covey's work is also an essential methodological guidebook. For each
method that she covers, she is careful to supply a definition, explain why and how libraries use the method, what they do
with the results, and what problems they encounter. The report includes an extensive bibliography on more detailed methodological
information, and descriptions of assessment instruments that have proved particularly effective. Examples are available on
the Web for all to see, and potentially to modify and use. The work concludes with a review of the challenges that libraries
face as they seek to gather and use reliable information about how their online presence is felt. These concluding remarks
will be of general interest and are recommended to senior library managers as well as to those more directly involved with
Given its practical orientation, Usage and Usability is an ideal launching pad for CLIR's new series, Tools for Practitioners. The series emphasizes the immediate, the practical, and the methodological. As it develops, it will include work that, like
Covey's, appeals to and provides guidance for particular professional audiences.
Director, Digital Library Federation
As the needs and expectations of library users change in the digital environment, libraries are trying to find the best ways
to define their user communities, understand what they value, and evolve digital library collections and services to meet
their demands. In part, this effort requires a closer, more formal look at how library patrons use and respond to online collections
To synthesize and learn from the experiences of leading digital libraries in assessing use and usability of online collections
and services, the Digital Library Federation (DLF) undertook a survey of its members. From November 2000 through February
2001, the author conducted interviews with 71 individuals at 24 of the 26 DLF member institutions (representing an 86 percent
response rate at the 24 institutions). Participants were asked a standard set of open-ended questions about the kinds of assessments
they were conducting; what they did with the results; and what worked well or not so well. Follow-up questions varied, based
on the work being done at the institution; in effect, the interviews tracked the efforts and experiences of those being interviewed.
The results of the survey reveal the assessment practices and concerns of leading digital libraries. They are not representative
of all library efforts; however, they do show trends that are likely to inform library practice. The study offers a qualitative,
rather than quantitative, assessment of issues and practices in usage and usability data gathering, analysis, interpretation,
1.1. Report Structure
The survey indicates significant challenges to assessing use and usability of digital collections and services. The rest of
Section 1 summarizes these challenges. Subsequent sections elaborate on these challenges and draw on examples from the assessment
efforts of DLF libraries. Sections 2 and 3 describe libraries' experiences using popular
methods to conduct user studies, such as surveys, focus groups, user protocols, and transaction log analysis. The report explains
what each of these methods entails, its advantages and disadvantages, why and how libraries use it, the problems encountered,
and the lessons libraries have learned from experience. Section 4 covers general issues and challenges in conducting research,
including sampling and recruiting representative research subjects, getting Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval to conduct
research with human subjects, and preserving user privacy. Section 5 summarizes the conclusions of the study and suggests
an agenda for future discussion and research. Appendix A provides a selected bibliography. A list of institutions participating
in the survey appears in Appendix B, while Appendix C lists the interview questions. An overview of more traditional library
input, output, and outcome assessment efforts, and the impact of digital libraries on these efforts, is provided in Appendix
D; this information is designed to help the reader position the information in this report within the context of library assessment
practices more generally.
To preserve the anonymity of DLF survey respondents and respect the sensitivity of the research findings, the report does
not associate institution names with particular research projects, incidents, or results. The word "faculty" is used to refer
to teachers and professors of for-credit academic courses. The word "librarian" is used, regardless of whether librarians
have faculty status in their institutions, or, indeed, whether they hold an MLS degree.
1.2. Summary of Challenges in Assessment
DLF respondents shared the following concerns about the efficiency and efficacy of their assessment efforts:
- Focusing efforts to collect only meaningful, purposeful data
- Developing the skills to gather, analyze, interpret, present, and use data
- Developing comprehensive assessment plans
- Organizing assessment as a core activity
- Compiling and managing assessment data
- Acquiring sufficient information about the environment to understand trends in library use
Collecting only meaningful, purposeful data. Libraries are struggling to find the right measures on which to base their decisions. DLF respondents expressed concern that
data are being gathered for historical reasons or because they are easy to gather, rather than because they serve useful,
articulated purposes. They questioned whether the sheer volume of data being gathered prohibits their careful analysis and
whether data are being used to their full advantage. Working with data is essential, time-consuming, and costlyso costly
that libraries are beginning to question, and in some cases even measure, the costs and benefits of gathering and analyzing
different data. Respondents know that they need new measures and composite measures to capture the extent of their activities
both the digital and traditional realms. Adding new measures is prompting many DLF sites to review their data-gathering practices.
The libraries are considering, beginning, or completing needs assessments of the data they currently gather, or think they
should gather, for internal and external purposes. If such information is not needed for national surveys or not useful for
strategic purposes, chances are it will no longer be gathered, or at least not gathered routinely. However, deciding what
data should be gathered is fraught with difficulties. Trying to define and measure use of services and collections that are
rapidly changing is a challenge. The fact that assessment methods evolve at a much slower rate than do the activities or processes
they are intended to assess compounds the problem. How can libraries measure what they do, how much they do, or how well they
do, when the boundaries keep changing?
Developing skills to gather, analyze, interpret, present, and use data. Several DLF respondents commented that they spend a great deal of time gathering data but do not have the time or talent to
do anything with this information. Even if libraries gather the right measures for their purposes, developing the requisite
skills to analyze, interpret, present, and use the data are separate challenges. For example, how do you intelligibly present
monthly usage reports on 8,000 electronic journals? The answer is you don't. Instead, you present the statistics on the top
10 journals, even though this severely limits the dissemination and application of data painstakingly gathered and compiled.
Though DLF respondents indicated that they are learning slowly from experience how to make each research method work better
for their purposes, many said they need methodological guidance. They need to know what sampling and research methods are available to recruit research subjects and assess use and usability of the digital library,
which methods are best suited for which purposes, and how to analyze, interpret, present, and use the quantitative and qualitative data they gather to make effective decisions and
Developing comprehensive assessment plans. Planning assessment from conception through follow-up also presents challenges. Ideally, the research process should flow
seamlesslyfrom deciding to gather data to developing and implementing plans to use the data. In reality, however, DLF respondents
reported frequent breakdowns in this process. Breakdowns occur for a number of reasons. It may be that something went awry
in the planning or scheduling of the study. People assigned responsibility for certain steps in the process may lack the requisite
skills. Staff turnover or competing priorities may intervene. Respondents also made it clear that the more people involved
in the research process, the longer it takes. The longer the process takes, the more likely it is that the results will be
out of date, momentum will be lost, or other phenomena will intrude before the results are implemented. Finally, if the study
findings go unused, there will be less enthusiasm for the next study, and participation is likely to decrease. This applies
both to the people conducting the study and to the research subjects. Conducting a study creates expectations
that something will be done with the results. When the results are not applied, morale takes a hit and human and financial
resources are wasted. Participants lose confidence, and the study planners lose credibility.
Organizing assessment as a core activity. DLF respondents well understood that in an environment of rapid change and limited resources, libraries cannot afford these
outcomes from their assessment efforts. They also seemed to understand that the way in which an assessment is organized affects
the outcome. At some institutions, user studies are centralized and performed by recently hired experts in the field. At others,
user studies are decentralized and performed systemwide; they involve efforts to teach librarians and staff throughout the
organization how to conduct research using different methods. Still other institutions, sparked by the interests of different
personnel, take an ad hoc approach to user studies. A few libraries have established usability testing programs and laboratories.
If the goal is a culture of assessment, then making assessment a core activity and allocating human and financial resources
to it is essential. The key is not how a study is organized, but that it is organized and supported by commitment from administrators and librarians. Comments from DLF respondents suggested that
given sufficient human and financial resources, requisite skills could be acquired, guidelines and best practices developed,
and assessments conducted routinely, efficiently, and effectively enough to keep pace with the pace of change.
Compiling and managing assessment data. Many DLF respondents expressed concern about the effort required to compile and manage data collected by different people
and assessments. Libraries need a simple way to record and analyze quantitative and qualitative data and to generate statistical
reports and trend lines. Several DLF sites have developed or are developing a management information system (MIS) to compile
and manage statistical data. They are wrestling with questions about how long data should be kept, how data should be archived,
and whether one system can or should manage data from different kinds of assessments. Existing systems typically have a limited
scope. For example, one site has a homegrown desktop reporting tool that enables library staff to generate ad hoc reports
from data extracted and to update them regularly from the integrated library system. Users can query the data and run cross-tabulations.
The tool is used for a variety of purposes, including analysis of collection development, materials expenditures, and the
productivity of the cataloging department. Reports can be printed, saved, or imported into spreadsheets or other applications
for further analysis or manipulation. New systems being developed appear to be more comprehensive; for example, they attempt
to assemble statistical data from all library departments. The ability to conduct cross-tabulations of data from different
departments and easily generate graphics and multiyear trend lines are important features of the new systems.
Acquiring sufficient information about the environment to understand trends in library use. Several DLF respondents noted that
emerging new measures will assess how library use is changing in the networked environment, but these measures will not explain
why library use is changing. Academic libraries need to know how students and faculty find information, what resources they
use that the libraries do not provide, why they use these resources, and what they do with the information after they find
it. This knowledge would provide a context for interpreting existing data on shifting patterns of library use and facilitate
the development of collections, services, and tools that better meet user needs and expectations. Library user studies naturally
focus on the use and usability of library collections, services, and Web sites. The larger environment remains unexplored.
2. USER STUDIES
DLF respondents devoted the bulk of their discussion to user studies, reflecting the user-centered focus of their operations.
One respondent referred to the results of user studies as "outcome" measures because, although they do not measure the impact
of library use on student learning or faculty research, they do indicate the impact of library services, collections, facilities,
and staff on user experiences and perceptions.
Libraries participating in the DLF survey organize, staff, and conduct user studies differently. Some take an ad hoc approach;
others use a more systematic approach. Some sites have dedicated staff experts in research methodologies who conduct user
studies; others train staff throughout the libraries to conduct user studies. Some libraries take both approaches. Some have
consulted experts on their campuses or contracted with commercial firms to develop research instruments and analyze the results.
For example, libraries participating in the DLF survey have recruited students in library science and human-computer interaction
to conduct user studies or hired companies such as Websurveyor.com or Zoomerang.com to host Web-based surveys and analyze
the data. Libraries that conduct user studies use spreadsheet, database, or statistical analysis software to manage and analyze
the data. In the absence of standard instruments, guidelines, or best practices, institutions either adapt published efforts
to local circumstances or make their own. There is clearly a flurry of activity, some of it not well organized or effective,
for various reasons discussed elsewhere in this report.
Learning how to prepare research instruments, analyze and interpret the data, and use the results is a slow process. Unfortunately,
however, the ability to quickly apply research results is often essential, because the environment changes quickly and results
go out of date. Many DLF respondents reported instances where data languished without being analyzed or applied. They strongly
cautioned against conducting research when resources and interest are insufficient to support use of the results. Nevertheless,
DLF libraries are conducting many user studies employing a variety of research methods. The results of these studies run the
gamut: they may reinforce
librarian understanding of what users need, like, or expect; challenge librarian assumptions about what people want; or provide
conflicting, ambiguous, misleading, or incomplete information that requires follow-up research to resolve or interpret. Multiple
research methods may be required to understand fully and corroborate research results. This exacerbates an already complicated
situation and can frustrate staff. Resources may not be available to conduct follow-up studies immediately. In other cases,
new priorities emerge that make the initial study results no longer applicable; in such a case, any attempt at follow-up is
worthless. Moreover, even when research data have been swiftly analyzed, interpreting the results and deciding how to apply
them may be slowed if many people are involved in the process or if the results challenge long-held assumptions and preferences
of librarians. Finally, even when a plan to use the results is in hand, implementation may pose a stumbling block. The longer
the entire research process takes, from conception to implementing the results, the more likely the loss of momentum and conflict
with other priorities, and the greater the risk that the process will break down and the effort will be wasted. The issue
appears to be related to the internal organization and support for the library's assessment effort.
To help libraries understand and address these concerns, this section of the report describes popular user study methods,
when and why DLF libraries have used them, where they succeeded, and where they failed. Unless otherwise noted, all claims
and examples derive from the DLF interviews. The focus is surveys, focus groups, and user protocols, which are the methods
DLF libraries use most often. Heuristic evaluations, paper prototypes and scenarios, and card-sorting exercises are also described
because several DLF institutions have also used these methods successfully. 
2.1. Surveys (Questionnaires)
2.1.1. What Is a Survey Questionnaire?
Survey questionnaires are self-administered interviews in which the instructions and questions are sufficiently complete and
intelligible for respondents to act as their own interviewers.  The questions are simply stated and carefully articulated to accomplish the purpose for which the survey is being conducted.
Survey questions typically force respondents to choose from among alternative answers provided or to rank or rate items provided.
Such questions enable a simple quantitative analysis of the responses. Surveys can also ask open-ended questions to gather
qualitative comments from the respondents.
Surveys are an effective way to gather information about respondents' previous or current behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and
feelings. They are the preferred method to gather information about sensitive topics because respondents are less likely to
try to please the researcher or to feel pressured to provide socially acceptable responses than they would in a face-to-face
interview. Surveys are an effective method to identify problem areas and, if repeated over time, to identify trends. Surveys
cannot, however, establish cause-effect relationships, and the information they gather reveals little if anything about contextual
factors affecting the respondents. Additional research is usually required to gather the information needed to determine how
to solve the problems identified in a survey.
The primary advantage of survey questionnaires is economy. Surveys enable researchers to collect data from large numbers of
respondents in relatively short periods of time at relatively low cost. Surveys also give respondents time to think about
the questions before answering and often do not require respondents to complete the survey in one sitting.
The primary disadvantage of survey questionnaires is that they must be simple, impersonal, and relatively brief. If the survey
is too long or complex, respondents may get tired and hurriedly answer or skip questions. The response rate and the quality
of responses decline if a survey exceeds 11 pages (Dillman 1978). Instructions and questions must be carefully worded in language
meaningful to the respondents, because no interviewer is present to clarify the questions or probe respondents for additional
information. Finally, it is possible that someone other than the selected respondent may complete the survey. This can skew
the results from carefully selected samples. (For more about sampling, see section 4.2.1.) When necessary, survey instructions
may explicitly ask that no one complete the survey other than the person for whom it is intended.
2.1.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct Surveys?
Most of the DLF respondents reported conducting surveys, primarily to identify trends, "take the temperature" of what was
happening among their constituencies, or get a sense of their users' perceptions of library resources. Occasionally they conduct
surveys to compare themselves with their peers. In summary, DLF libraries have conducted surveys to assess the following:
A few respondents reported conducting surveys as a way to market their collections and services; others commented that this
- Patterns, frequency, ease, and success of use
- User needs, expectations, perspectives, priorities, and preferences for library collections, services, and systems
- User satisfaction with vendor products, library collections, services, staff, and Web sites
- Service quality
- Shifts in user attitude and opinion
- Relevance of collections or services to the curriculum
was an inappropriate use of survey research. One respondent referred to this type of survey as "push polling" and stated that
there were easier, more appropriate ways than this to market what the library offers.
The data gathered from surveys are used to inform decision making and strategic planning related to the allocation of financial
and human resources and to the organization of library units. Survey data also serve political purposes. They are used in
presentations to faculty senates, deans' councils, and library advisory boards as a means to bolster support for changes in
library practice. They are also used in grant proposals and other requests for funding.
2.1.3. How Do Libraries Conduct Surveys?
DLF respondents reported that they conduct some surveys routinely; these include annual surveys of general library use and
user priorities and satisfaction. Other surveys are conducted sporadically; in this category might be, for example, a survey
to determine user satisfaction with laptop-lending programs. The library administrator's approval is generally required for
larger, more formal, and routine surveys. Smaller, sporadic, less expensive surveys are conducted at the discretion of middle
Once the decision has been made to conduct a survey, libraries convene a small group of librarians or staff to prepare the
survey instructions and questionnaire, determine the format of the survey (for example, print, e-mail, Web-based), choose
the sampling method, identify the demographic groups appropriate for the research purpose, determine how many participants
to recruit in each group and decide how to recruit them, and plan the budget and timetable for gathering, analyzing, interpreting,
and applying the data. A few DLF respondents reported using screening questionnaires to find experienced or inexperienced
users, depending on the purpose of the study.
Different procedures are followed for formal surveys than for small surveys. The former require more work. Because few libraries
employ survey experts, a group preparing a formal survey might consult with survey experts on campus to ensure that the questions
it has drafted will gather the information needed. The group might consult with a statistician on campus to ensure that it
recruits enough participants to gather statistically significant results. When a survey is deemed to be extremely important
and financial resources are available, an external consulting or research firm might be hired. Alternatively, libraries with
adequate budgets and sufficient interest in assessment have begun to use commercial firms such as Websurveyor.com to conduct
If the survey is to be conducted in-house, time and financial constraints and the skills of library staff influence the choice
of survey format. Paper surveys are slow and expensive to conduct. Follow-up may be needed to ensure an adequate response
rate. Respondents are not required to complete them in one sitting; for this reason, paper surveys may be longer than electronic
surveys. E-mail surveys are
less expensive than paper surveys; otherwise, their advantages are similar. Web-based surveys might be the least expensive
to conduct, particularly if scripts are available to analyze the results automatically. They also offer several other advantages.
For example, they can be edited up to the last minute, and the capabilities of the Web enable sophisticated branching and
multimedia surveys, which are difficult or even impossible, in other formats. Both Web and e-mail surveys are easier to ignore
than are paper surveys, and they assume participants have computer access. Web surveys have the further disadvantage that
they must be completed in one sitting, which means they must be relatively short. They also require HTML skills to prepare
and, if results are to be analyzed automatically, programming skills. Whether Web-based surveys increase response rate is
not known. One DLF library reported conducting a survey in both e-mail and Web formats. An equal number of respondents chose
to complete the survey in each format.
Considerable time and effort should be spent on preparing the content and presentation of surveys. Instructions and questions
must be carefully and unambiguously worded and presented in a layout that is easy to read. If not, results will be inaccurate
or difficult or impossible to interpret, worse yet, participants may not complete the survey. The choice of format affects
the amount of control libraries have over the presentation or appearance of the survey. Print offers the most control; with
e-mail and Web-based formats, there is no way for the library to know exactly what the survey will look like when it is viewed
using different e-mail programs or Web browsers. The group preparing e-mail or Web surveys might find it helpful to view the
survey using e-mail programs and Web browsers available on campus to ensure that the presentation is attractive and intelligible.
Libraries pilot test survey instructions and questions with a few users and revise them on the basis of test results to solve
problems with vocabulary, wording, and the layout or sequence of the questions. Pilot tests also indicate the length of time
required to complete a survey. Libraries appear to have ballpark estimates for how long it should take to complete their surveys.
If the time it takes participants to complete the survey in the pilot tests exceeds this figure, questions might be omitted.
The survey instructions include the estimated time required to complete the survey.
DLF respondents reported using different approaches to distribute or provide access to surveys, based on the sampling method
and survey format. For example, when recruiting volunteers to take Web-based surveys, the survey might automatically pop up
when users display the library home page or click the exit button on the online public access catalog (OPAC). Alternatively,
a button or link on the home page might provide access to the survey. Posters or flyers might advertise the URL of a Web-based
survey or, if a more carefully selected sample is needed, an e-mail address to contact to indicate interest in participating.
Paper surveys may be made available in trays or handed to library users. With more carefully selected sample populations,
e-mail containing log-in information to do a Web-based
survey, or the e-mail or paper survey itself, is sent to the targeted sample. Paper surveys can be distributed as e-mail enclosures
or via campus or U.S. mail. DLF respondents indicated that all of these methods worked well.
Libraries use spreadsheet or statistical software to analyze the quantitative responses to surveys. Cross-tabulations are
conducted to discover whether different user groups responded to the questions differently; for example, to discover whether
the priorities of undergraduate students are different from those of graduate students or faculty. Some libraries compare
the distribution of survey respondents with the demographics of the campus to determine whether the distribution of user groups
in their sample is representative of the campus population. A few libraries have used content analysis software to analyze
the responses to open-ended questions.
2.1.4. Who Uses Survey Results? How Are They Used?
Libraries share survey results with the people empowered to decide how those results will be applied. The formality of the
survey and the sample size also determine who will see the results and participate in interpreting them and determining how
they will be used. High-profile, potentially contentious survey topics or research purposes tend to be treated more formally.
They entail the use of larger samples and generate more interest. Survey results of user satisfaction with the library Web
site might be presented to the library governing council, which will decide how the results will be used. Data from more informal
surveys might be shared strictly within the department that conducted the survey. For example, the results of a survey of
user satisfaction with the laptop-lending program might be presented to the department, whose members will then decide whether
additional software applications should be provided on the laptops. Striking or significant results from a survey of any size
seem to bubble up to the attention of library administrators, particularly if follow-up might have financial or operational
implications or require interdepartmental cooperation. For example, results of a survey of reference service that suggest
that users would be better served by longer reference desk hours or staffing with systems office personnel in addition to
reference librarians should be brought to the addition of library administration. Survey data might also be shared with university
administrators, faculty senates, library advisory boards, and similar groups, to win or bolster support for changing directions
in library strategic planning or to support requests for additional funding. Multiyear trends are often included in annual
reports. The results are also presented at conferences and published.
Although survey results often confirm expectations and validate what the library is doing, sometimes the results are surprising.
In this case, they may precipitate changes in library services, user interfaces, or plans. The results of the DLF survey indicate
the following applications of survey data:
DLF respondents mentioned that survey results often fueled discussion of alternative ways to solve problems identified in
the survey. For example, when users report that they want around-the-clock
- Library administrators have used survey results to inform budget requests and secure funding from university administrators
electronic resources and library facilities.
- Library administrators and middle managers have used survey results to guide reallocation of resources to better meet user
needs and expectations. For example, low-priority services have been discontinued. More resources have been put into improving
high-priority services with low satisfaction ratings or into enhancing existing services and tools or developing new ones.
- Collection developers have used survey results to inform investment decisionsfor example, to decide which vendor's Modern
Language Association MLA) bibliography to license; whether to license a product after the six-month free trial period; or
whether to drop journal titles, keep the titles in both print and electronic format, or add the journals in electronic format.
Developers have also used survey data to inform collection-development decisions, for example, to set priorities for content
to be digitized for inclusion in local collections or to decide whether to continue to create and collect analog slides rather
than move entirely to digital images.
- Service providers, such as reference, circulation, and resource sharing (interlibrary loan [ILL] and document delivery) departments,
have used survey results to identify problem areas and formulate steps to improve service quality in a variety of ways, for
example, by reducing turnaround time for ILL requests, solving problems with network ports and dynamic host assignments for
loaner laptops, helping users find new materials in the library, improving staff customer service skills, assisting faculty
in the transition from traditional to electronic reserves, and developing or revising instruction in the use of digital collections,
online finding aids, and vendor products.
- Developers have used survey results to set priorities and inform the customization or development of user interfaces for the
OPAC, the library Web site, local digital collections, and online exhibits. Survey results have guided the revision of Web
site vocabulary, the redesign of navigation and content of the library Web site, and the design of templates for personalized
library Web pages. They have also been used to identify online exhibits that warrant upgrading. Survey results have been used
to inform or establish orientation, technical competencies, and training programs for staff, to prepare reports for funding
agencies, and to inform a Request for Proposals from ILS vendors.
- A multilibrary organization has conducted surveys to assess the need for original cataloging, the use of shared catalog records
and vendor records, the standards for record acceptance (without local changes), and the applicability of subject classifications
to library Web pagesall to inform plans for the future and ensure the appropriate allocation of cataloging resources.
access to library facilities, libraries examine student wages (since students provide most of the staffing in libraries during
late hours) and management of late-night service hours. When users complain that use of the library on a campus with many
libraries is unnecessarily complicated, libraries explore ways to reorganize collections to reduce the number of service points.
When users reveal that the content of e-resources is not what they expect, libraries evaluate their aggregator and document
2.1.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges With Surveys?
22.214.171.124. The Costs and Benefits of Different Types of Surveys
DLF respondents agreed that general surveys are not very helpful. Broad surveys of library collections and services do provide
baseline data and, if the same questions are repeated in subsequent surveys, offer longitudinal data to track changing patterns
of use. However, such surveys are time-consuming and expensive to prepare, conduct, and interpret. Getting people to complete
them is difficult. The results are shallow and require follow-up research. Some libraries believe the costs of such surveys
exceed the benefits and that important usage trends can be tracked more cost-effectively using transaction log analysis. (See
Point-of-use surveys that focus on a specific subject, tool, or product work as well as, or better than, general surveys.
They are quicker to prepare and conduct, easier to interpret, and more cost-effective than broad surveys. However, they must
be repeated periodically to assess trends, and they, too, frequently require follow-up research.
User satisfaction surveys can reveal problem areas, but they do not provide enough information to solve the problems. Service
quality surveys, based on the gap model (which measures the "gap" or difference between users' perceptions of excellent service
and their perceptions of the service they received), are preferred because they provide enough information to plan service
improvements. Unfortunately, service quality surveys are much more expensive to conduct than user satisfaction surveys.
126.96.36.199. The Frequency of Surveys
Surveys are so popular that DLF respondents expressed concern about their number and frequency. Over-surveying can decrease
participation and make it more difficult to recruit participants. When the number of completed surveys is very small, the
results are meaningless. Conducting surveys as a way to market library resources might exacerbate the problem.
188.8.131.52. Composing Survey Questions
The success of a survey depends on the quality and precision of the questions askedtheir wording, presentation, and appropriateness
to the research purpose. In the absence of in-house survey expertise, adequate training, or consultation with an expert, library
often contain ambiguous or inaccurate questions. In the worst cases, the survey results are meaningless and the survey must
be entirely revised and conducted again the following year. More likely, the problem applies to particular questions rather
than to the entire survey. For example, one DLF respondent explained that a survey conducted to determine the vocabulary to
be used on the library Web site did not work well because the categories of information that users were to label were difficult
to describe, particularly the category of "full-text" electronic resources. Developing appropriate and precise questions is
the key reason for pilot testing survey instruments.
Composing well-worded survey questions requires a sense of what respondents know and how they are likely to respond. DLF respondents
reported the following examples. A survey conducted to assess interface design based on heuristic principles did not work
well, probably because the respondents lacked the knowledge and skills necessary to apply heuristic principles to interface
design (see section 184.108.40.206). Surveys that ask respondents to specify the priority of each service or collection in a list
yield results where everything is simply ranked either "high" or "low," which is not particularly informative. Similarly,
surveys that ask respondents how often they use a service or collection yield results of either "always use" or "never use."
Where it is desirable to compare or contrast collections or services, it is important to require users to rank the relative priority of services or collections and to rank the relative frequency of use. Otherwise, interpreting the results will be
Asking open-ended questions and soliciting comments can also be problematic. Many respondents will not take the time to write
answers or comments. If they do, the information they provide can offer significant insights into user perceptions, needs,
and expectations. However, analyzing the information is difficult, and the responses can be incomplete, inconsistent, or illegible.
One DLF respondent reported having hundreds of pages of written responses to a large survey. Another respondent explained
that he and his staff "spent lots of time figuring out how to quantify written responses." A few DLF libraries have attempted
to automate the process using content analysis software, but none of them was pleased with the results. Perhaps the problem
is trying to extract quantitative results from qualitative data. The preferred approach appears to be to limit the number
of open-ended questions and analyze them manually by developing conceptual categories based on the content of the comments.
Ideally, the categories would be mutually exclusive and exhaustive (that is, all the data fit into one of them). After the
comments are coded into the categories, the gist would be extracted and, if possible, associated with the quantitative results
of the survey. For example, do the comments offer any explanations of preferences or problems revealed in the quantitative
data? The point is to ask qualitative questions if and only if you have the resources to read and digest the results and if
your aims in conducting the survey are at least partly subjective and indicative, as opposed to precise and predictive.
220.127.116.11. Lack of Analysis or Application
Theoretically, the process is clear: prepare the survey, conduct the survey, analyze and interpret the results, decide how
to apply them, and implement the plan. In reality, the process frequently breaks down after the survey is conducted, regardless
of how carefully it was prepared or how many hundreds of respondents completed it. Many DLF respondents reported surveys whose
results were never analyzed. Others reported that survey results were analyzed and recommendations made, but nothing happened
after that. No one knew, or felt comfortable enough to mention, who dropped the ball. No one claimed that changes in personnel
were instrumental in the failure to analyze or apply the survey results. Instead, they focused on the impact this has on the
morale of library staff and users. Conducting research creates expectations; people expect results. Faculty members in particular
are not likely to participate in library research studies if they never see results. Library staff members are unlikely to
want to serve on committees or task forces formed to conduct studies if the results are never applied.
The problem could be loss of momentum and commitment, but it could also be lack of skill. Just as preparing survey questions
requires specific skills, so too do analysis, interpretation, and application of survey results. Libraries appear to be slow
in acquiring the skills needed to use survey data. The problem is exacerbated when survey results conflict with other data.
For example, a DLF respondent reported that their survey data indicate that users do not want or need reference service, even
though the number of questions being asked at the reference desk is increasing. Morale takes a hit if no concrete next steps
can be formulated from survey results or if the data do not match known trends or anecdotal evidence. In such cases, the smaller
the sample, the more likely the results will be dismissed.
18.104.22.168. Lack of Resources or Comprehensive Plans
Paper surveys distributed to a statistically significant sample of a large university community can cost more than $10,000
to prepare, conduct, and analyze. Many libraries cannot afford or choose not to make such an investment. Alternative formats
and smaller samples seem to be the preferred approach; however, even these take a considerable amount of time. Furthermore,
surveys often fail to provide enough information to enable planners to solve the problems that have been identified. Libraries
might not have the human and financial resources to allocate to follow-up research, or they could simply have run out of momentum.
The problem could also be a matter of planning. If the research process is not viewed from conception through application
of the results and follow-up testing, the process could likely halt at the point where existing plans end.
2.2. Focus Groups
2.2.1. What Is a Focus Group?
A focus group is an exploratory, guided interview or interactive conversation among seven to ten participants with common
interests or characteristics.  The purpose of a focus group is to test hypotheses; reveal what beliefs the group holds about a particular product, service,
or opportunity and why; or to uncover detailed information about complex issues or behaviors from the group's perspective.
Focus group studies entail several such group conversations to identify trends and patterns in perception across groups. Careful
analysis of the discussions reveals insights into how each group perceives the topic of discussion.
A focus group interview is typically one to two hours long. A trained moderator guides the conversation using five to ten
predetermined questions or key issues prepared as an "interview guide." The questions are open-ended and noncommittal. They
are simply stated and carefully articulated. The questions are asked in a specific sequence, but there are no predetermined
response categories. The moderator clarifies anything that participants do not understand. The moderator may also ask probing
follow-up questions to identify concepts important to the participants, pursue interesting leads, and develop and test hypotheses.
In addition to the moderator, one or two observers take detailed notes.
Focus group discussions are audio- or videotaped. Audiotape is less obtrusive and therefore less likely to intimidate the
participants. Participants who feel comfortable are likely to talk more than those who are not; for this reason, audiotape
and well-trained observers are often preferred to videotape. The observers' notes should be so complete that they can substitute
if the tape recorder does not work.
Focus groups are an effective and relatively easy way to gather insight into complex behavior and experience from the participants'
perspective. Because they can reveal how groups of people think and feel about a particular topic and why they hold certain
opinions, they are good for detecting changes in behavior. Participant responses can not only indicate what is new but also
distinguish trends from fads. Interactive discussion among the participants creates synergy and facilitates recall and insight.
A few focus groups can be conducted at relatively low cost. Focus group research can inform the planning and design of new
programs or services, be it a means for evaluating existing programs or services, and facilitate the development of strategies
for improvement and outreach. Focus groups are also helpful as prelude to survey or protocol research; they may be used to
identify appropriate language, questions, or tasks, and as follow-up to survey or protocol research to get clarification or
explanation of factors influencing survey responses or user behaviors. (Protocol research is discussed in section 2.3.)
The quality of the responses to focus group questions depends on how clearly the questions are asked, the moderator's skills,
and the participants' understanding of the goals of the study and what is expected of them. A skilled moderator is critical
to the success of a focus group. Moderators must quickly develop rapport with the participant, remain impartial, and keep
the discussion moving and focused on the research objectives. They should have background knowledge of the discussion topic
and must be able to repress domineering individuals and bring everyone into the conversation. Before the focus group begins,
the moderator should observe the participants and, if necessary, strategically seat extremely shy or domineering individuals.
For example, outspoken, opinionated participants should be placed to the immediate left or right of the moderator and quiet-spoken
persons must be placed at some distance from them. This enables the moderator to shut out the domineering person simply by
turning his or her torso away from the individual. Moderators and observers must avoid making gestures (for example, head
nodding) or comments that could bias the results of the study.
Moderators must be carefully selected, because attitude, gender, age, ethnicity, race, religion, and even clothing can trigger
stereotypical perceptions in focus group participants and bias the results of the study. If participants do not trust the
moderator, are uncomfortable with the other participants, or are not convinced that the study or their role is important,
they can give incomplete, inaccurate, or biased information. To facilitate discussion, reduce the risk of discomfort and intimidation,
and increase the likelihood that participants will give detailed, accurate responses to the focus group questions, focus groups
should be organized so that participants and, in some cases, the moderator are demographically similar.
The selection of demographic participant groupings and focus group moderator should be based on the research purpose, the
sensitivity of the topic, and an understanding of the target population. For example, topics related to sexual behavior or
preferences suggest conducting separate focus groups for males and females in similar age groups with a moderator of the same
age and gender. When the topic is not sensitive and the population is diverse, the research purpose is sufficient to determine
the demographic groupings for selecting participants. For example, three focus groupsfor undergraduate students, graduate
students, and facultycould be used to test hypotheses about needs or expectations for library resources among these groups.
Mixing students and faculty could intimidate undergraduates. Although homogeneity is important, focus group participants should
be sufficiently diverse to allow for contrasting opinions. Ideally, the participants do not know one another. This is because
if they do, they tend to form small groups within the focus group and make it harder for the moderator to manage.
The primary disadvantage of focus groups is that participants may give false information to please the moderator, stray from
the topic, be influenced by peer pressure, or seek a consensus rather than explore ideas. A dominating or opinionated participant
more reserved participants hesitant to talk, which could bias the results. In addition, data gathered in focus groups can
be difficult to evaluate because such information can be chaotic, qualitative, or emotional rather than objective. The findings
should be interpreted at the group level. The small number of participants and frequent use of convenience sampling severely
limit the ability to generalize the results of focus groups, and the results cannot be generalized to groups with different
demographic characteristics. However, the results are more intelligible and accessible to lay audiences and decision makers
than are complex statistical analyses of survey data.
A final disadvantage of focus groups is that they rely heavily on the observational skills of the moderator and observer(s),
who will not see or hear everything that happens, and will see or hear even less when they are tired or bored. How the moderators
or observers interpret what they see and hear depends on their point of reference, cultural bias, experience, and expectations.
Furthermore, observers adjust to conditions. They may eventually fail to recognize language or behaviors that become commonplace
in a series of focus groups. In addition, human beings cannot observe something without changing it. The Heisenberg principle
states that any attempt to get information out of a system changes it. In the context of human subjects research, this is
called the Hawthorne or "guinea pig" effect. Being a research subject changes the subject's behavior. Having multiple observers
can compensate for many of these limitations and increase the accuracy of observational studies, but it can also further influence
the behaviors observed. The best strategy is to articulate the specific behaviors or aspects of behavior to be observed before
conducting the study. Deciding, on the basis of the research objectives, what to observe and how to record the observations,
coupled with training the observers, facilitates systematic data gathering, analysis of the research findings, and the successful
completion of observational studies.
2.2.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct Focus Groups?
More than half of the DLF respondents reported conducting focus groups. They chose to conduct focus groups rather than small,
targeted surveys because focus groups offer the opportunity to ask for clarification and to hear participants converse about
library topics. Libraries have conducted focus groups to assess what users do or want to do and to obtain information on the
use, effectiveness, and usefulness of particular library collections, services, and tools. They have also conducted focus
groups to verify or clarify the results from survey or user protocol research, to discover potential solutions to problems
identified in previous research, and to help decide what questions to ask in a survey. One participant reported conducting
focus groups to determine how to address practical and immediate concerns in implementing a grant-funded project.
Data gathered from focus groups are used to inform decision making, strategic planning, and resource allocation. Focus groups
have the added benefit of providing good quotations that are effective
in public relations publications and presentations or proposals to librarians, faculty, university administrators, and funders.
Several DLF respondents observed that a few well-articulated comments from users in conjunction with quantitative data from
surveys or transaction log analysis can help make a persuasive case for changing library practice, receiving additional funding,
or developing new services or tools.
2.2.3. How Do Libraries Conduct Focus Groups?
DLF respondents reported conducting focus groups periodically. Questions asked in focus groups, unlike those included in surveys,
are not repeated; they are not expected to serve as a basis for assessing trends over time. The decision to convene a focus
group appears to be influenced by the organization of the library and the significance or financial implications of the decision
to be informed by the focus group data. For example, in a library with an established usability program or embedded culture
of assessment (including a budget and in-house expertise), a unit head can initiate focus group research. If the library must
decide whether to purchase an expensive product or undertake a major project that will require the efforts of personnel throughout
the organization, a larger group of people might be involved in sanctioning and planning the research and in approving the
expenditure to conduct it.
Once the decision has been made to conduct focus groups, one or more librarians or staff prepare the interview questions,
identify the demographic groups appropriate for the research purpose, determine how many focus groups to conduct, decide how
to recruit participants, and plan the budget and timetable for gathering, analyzing, interpreting and applying the data.
Focus group questions should be pilot tested with a group of users and revised on the basis of the test results to solve problems
with vocabulary, wording, or the sequence of questions, and to ensure that the questions can be discussed in the allotted
time. However, few DLF respondents reported testing focus group questions. More likely, the questions are simply reviewed
by other librarians and staff before conducting the study. Questions are omitted or reorganized during the initial focus group
session, on the basis of time constraints and the flow of the conversation. The revised list of questions is used in subsequent
DLF libraries have used e-mail, posters, and flyers to recruit participants for focus group studies. The invitations to prospective
participants briefly describe the goals and significance of the study, the participants' role in the study, what is expected
of them, how long the groups will last, and any token of appreciation that will be given to the participants. Typically, focus
groups are scheduled for 60 to 90 minutes. If food is provided during the focus group, a 90-minute session is preferred. When
efforts fail to recruit at least six participants for a group, some libraries have conducted individual interviews with the
people they did recruit.
In addition to preparing interview questions and recruiting and scheduling participants, focus group preparation entails the
The focus group moderator or an observer typically arrives at the room early, adjusts the light and temperature in the room,
arranges the chairs, and retests and positions the recording equipment. If audiotape is used, a towel or tablet is placed
under the recording device to absorb any table vibrations. When the participants arrive, the moderator thanks them for participating,
introduces and explains the roles of moderator and observer, reiterates the purpose and significance of the research, confirms
that their anonymity will be preserved in any discussion or publication of the study, and briefly describes the ground rules
and how the focus group will be conducted. The introductory remarks emphasize that the goal of the study is not for the participants
to reach consensus, but to express their opinions and share their experiences and concerns. Disagreement and discussion are
invited. Sometimes the first question is asked round-robin, so that each participant responds and gets comfortable talking.
Subsequent questions are answered less formally, more conversationally. The moderator asks the prepared questions and may
ask undocumented, probing questions or invite further comments to better understand what the participants are saying and test
relevant hypotheses that surface during the discussion. For example, "Would you explain that further?" or "Please give me
an example." The moderator uses verbal and body language to invite comments from shy or quiet participants and to discourage
domineering individuals from turning dialogue into monologue. If participants ask questions unrelated
- Recruiting, scheduling, and training a moderator and observer(s) for each focus group
- Scheduling six to twelve (preferably seven to ten) participants in designated demographic groups, and sending them a reminder
a week or a few days before the focus group
- Scheduling an appropriate room for each focus group. DLF respondents offered the following cautions:
- Make sure that the participants can easily find the room. Put up signs if necessary.
- Beware of construction or renovation nearby, the sound of heating or air-conditioning equipment, and regularly scheduled noise
makers (for example, a university marching band practice on the lawn outside).
- Ensure that there are sufficient chairs in the room to comfortably seat the participants, moderator, and observer(s) around
a conference table.
- If handouts are to be distributed, for example, for participants to comment on different interface designs, be sure that the
table is large enough to spread out the documents.
- Ordering food if applicable
- Photocopying the focus group questions for the moderator and observer(s)
- Testing the audio- or videotape equipment and purchasing tapes
to the research purpose, the moderator indicates that the question is outside the scope of the topic under discussion, but
that he or she will be happy to answer it after the focus group is completed. Observers have no speaking roles.
When the focus group is over, the moderator thanks the participants and might give them a token of appreciation for their
participation. The moderator may also answer any questions the participants have about the study, the service or product that
was the focus of the study, or the library in general. Observer notes and tapes are labeled immediately with the date and
number of the session.
Libraries might or might not transcribe the focus group tapes. Some libraries believe the cost of transcribing exceeds the
benefits of having a full transcription. One DLF respondent explained that clerical help is typically unfamiliar with the
vocabulary or acronyms used by focus group participants and therefore cannot accurately transcribe the tapes. This means that
a professional must also listen to the tapes and correct the transcriptions, which significantly increases the cost of the
study. When the tapes are transcribed, a few libraries have used content analysis software to analyze the transcriptions,
but they have not been pleased with the results, perhaps because the software attempts to conduct a quantitative analysis
of qualitative data. Even when the tapes are not transcribed, at least one person listens to them carefully and annotates
the notes taken by observers.
Analysis of focus group data is driven by the research purpose. Ideally, at least two people analyze the datathe moderator
and observerand there is high interrater reliability. With one exception, DLF respondents did not discuss the process of
analyzing focus group data in detail. They talked primarily about their research purpose, what they learned, and how they
applied the results. Participants who mentioned a specific method of data analysis named content analysis, but they neither
described how they went about it nor specified who analyzed the data. No one offered an interrater reliability factor. Only
one person provided details about the data analysis and interpretation. This person explained that the moderator analyzed
the focus group data by using content analysis to cluster similar concepts, examining the context in which these concepts
occurred, looking for changes in the focus group participants' position based on the discussion, weighting responses based
on the specificity of the participants' experience, and looking for trends or ideas that cut across one or more focus group
discussions. The overall impression from the DLF survey is that focus group data are somehow examined by question and user
group to identify issues, problems, preferences, priorities, and concepts that surface in the data. The analyst prepares a
written summary of significant findings from each focus group session, with illustrative examples or quotations from the raw
data. The summaries are examined to discern significant differences among the groups or to determine whether the data support
or do not support hypotheses being tested.
2.2.4. Who Uses Focus Group Results? How Are They Used?
Decisions as to who applies the results of focus group research and how it is applied depend on the purpose of the research,
the significance of the findings, and the organization of the library. For example, the results of focus groups conducted
to inform redesign of the library Web site were presented to the Web Redesign Committee. The results of focus groups conducted
to assess the need for and use of electronic resources were presented to the Digital Library Initiatives Department. The larger
the study, the more attention it seems to draw. Striking or significant results come to the attention of library administrators,
especially if potential next steps have financial or operation implications or require interdepartmental cooperation. For
example, if the focus group results indicate that customer service training is required or that facilities must be improved
to increase user satisfaction, the administrator should be informed. Focus groups provide excellent quotations in support
of cases being presented to university administrators, faculty senates, and deans' councils to gain support for changing library
directions or receiving additional funding. The results are also presented at conferences and published in the library literature.
The results of the DLF study indicate that focus group data have been used to
In addition, results from focus group research have been used to inform processes that resulted in
- Clarify or explain factors influencing survey responses, for example, to discover reasons for undergraduate students' declining
satisfaction with the library
- Determine questions to ask in survey questionnaires, tasks to be performed in protocols, and the vocabulary to use in these
- Identify user problems and preferences related to collection format and system design and functionality
- Confirm hypotheses that user expectations and perceived needs for a library Web site differ across discipline and user status
- Confirm user needs for more and better library instruction
- Confirm that faculty are concerned that students cannot judge the quality of resources available on the Web and do not appreciate
the role of librarians in selecting quality materials
- Target areas for fundraising
- Identify ways to address concerns in grant-funded projects
- Canceling journal subscriptions
- Providing needed information to faculty
- Redesigning the library Web site, OPAC, or other user interface
- Providing personalized Web pages for library users
- Sending librarians and staff to customer service training
- Eliminating a high-maintenance method of access to e-journals
- Planning the direction and development priorities for the digital library, including the scope, design, and functionality
of digital library services
- Planning and allocating resources to market library collections and services continuously
- Creating a Distance Education Department to integrate distance learning with library services
- Renovating library facilities
2.2.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges with Focus Groups?
22.214.171.124. Unskilled Moderators and Observers
If the moderator of a focus group is not well trained or has a vested interest in the research results, the discussion can
easily go astray. Without proper facilitation, some individuals can dominate the conversation, while others may not get the
opportunity to share their views. Faculty in particular can be problematic subjects. They frequently have their own agendas
and will not directly answer the focus group questions. A skilled, objective moderator equipped with the rhetorical strategies
and ability to keep the discussion on track, curtail domineering or rambling individuals, and bring in reticent participants
is a basic requirement for a successful focus group.
Similarly, poor observer notes can hinder the success of a focus group. If observers do not know what comments or behaviors
to observe and record, the data will be difficult, if not impossible, to analyze and interpret. The situation worsens if several
observers attend different focus group sessions and record different kinds of things. Decisions should be made before conducting
the focus groups to ensure that similar behaviors are observed and recorded during each focus group session. The following
list can serve as a starting point for this discussion (Marczak and Sewell).
- Characteristics of the focus group participants
- Descriptive phrases or words used by participants in response to the key questions
- Themes in the responses to the key questions
- Subthemes held by participants with common characteristics - Indications of participant enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm
- Consistency or inconsistency between participant comments and observed behaviors
- Body language
- The mood of the discussion
- Suggestions for revising, eliminating, adding questions in the future
126.96.36.199. Interpreting and Using the Data
A shared system of categories for recording observations will simplify the analysis and interpretation of focus group data.
No DLF respondent mentioned establishing such a system before conducting a focus group study. Imposing a system after the
data have been gathered significantly complicates interpreting the findings. The difficulty of interpreting qualitative data
from a focus group study can lead to disagreement about the interpretation and delay preparation of the results. The limited
number of participants in a typical focus
group study, and the degree to which they are perceived to be representative of the target population, exacerbate the difficulty
of interpreting and applying the results. The greater the time lapse between gathering the data and developing plans to use
the data, the greater the risk of loss of momentum and abandonment of the study. The results of the DLF study suggest that
the problem worsens if the results are presented to a large group within the library and if the recommended next steps are
unpopular with or counterintuitive to librarians.
2.3. User Protocols
2.3.1. What Is a User Protocol?
A user protocol is a structured, exploratory observation of clearly defined aspects of the behavior of an individual performing
one or more designated tasks. The purpose of the protocol is to gather in-depth insight into the behavior and experience of
a person using a particular tool or product. User protocol studies include multiple research subjects to identify trends or
patterns of behavior and experience. Data gathered from protocols provide insight into what different individuals do or want
to do to perform specific tasks.
Protocol studies usually take 60 to 90 minutes per participant. The protocol is guided by a list of five to ten tasks (the
"task script") that individuals are expected to perform. Each participant is asked to think aloud while performing the designated
tasks. The task script is worded in a way that tells the user what tasks to accomplish (for example, "Find all the books in the library catalog published by author Walter J. Ong before 1970),
but not told how to accomplish the tasks using the particular tool or product involved in the study. Discovering whether or how participants
accomplish the task is a typical goal of protocol research. A facilitator encourages the participants to think aloud if they
fall silent. The facilitator may clarify what task is to be performed, but not how to perform it.
The participant's think-aloud protocol is audio- or videotaped, and one or two observers take notes of his or her behavior.
Some researchers prefer audiotape because it is less obtrusive. Experts in human-computer interaction (HCI) prefer videotape.
In HCI studies, software can be used to capture participant keystrokes.
Protocols are very strict about the observational data to be collected. Before the study, the protocol author designates the
specific user comments, actions, and other behaviors that observers are to record. The observers' notes should be so complete
that they can substitute for the audiotape, should the system fail. In HCI studies, observer notes should capture the participant's
body language, selections from software menus or Web pages, what the user apparently does or does not see or understand in
the user interface, and, depending on the research goals, the speed and success (or failure) of task completion. Employing
observers who understand heuristic principles of good design facilitates understanding the problems users
encounter, and therefore the recording of what is observed and interpretation of the data.
User protocols are an effective method to identify usability problems in the design of a particular product or tool, and often
the data provide sufficient information to enable the problems identified to be solved. These protocols are less useful to
identify what works especially well in a design. Protocols can reveal the participant's mental model of a task or the tool
that he or she is using to perform the task. Protocols enable the behavior to be recorded as it occurs and do not rely on
the participants' memories of their behaviors, which can be faulty. Protocols provide accurate descriptions of situations
and, unlike surveys, can be used to test causal hypotheses. Protocols also provide insights that can be tested with other
research methods and supplementary data to qualify or help interpret data from other studies.
For protocols to be effective, participants must understand the goals of the study, appreciate their role in the study, and
know what is expected of them. The selection of participants should be based on the research purpose and an understanding
of the target population. Facilitators and observers must be impartial and refrain from providing assistance to struggling
or frustrated participants. However, a limit can be set on how much time participants may spend trying to complete a task,
and facilitators can encourage participants to move to the next task if the time limit is exceeded. Without a time limit,
participants can become so frustrated trying to complete a task that they abandon the study. In HCI studies, it is essential
that the participants understand it is the software that is being tested, not their skill in using it.
The primary disadvantage of user protocols is that they are expensive. Protocols require at least an hour per participant,
and the results apply only to the particular product or tool being tested. In addition, protocol data can be difficult to
evaluate, depending on whether the research focuses on gathering qualitative information (for example, the level of participant
frustration) or quantitative metrics (for example, success rate and speed of completion). The small number of participants
and frequent use of convenience sampling limit the ability to generalize the results of protocol studies to groups with different
demographic characteristics or to other products or tools. Furthermore, protocols suffer from the built-in limitations of
human sensory perception and language, which affect what the facilitator and observer(s) see and hear and how they interpret
and record it.
2.3.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct User Protocols?
Half of the DLF respondents reported conducting or planning to conduct user protocols. With rare exception, libraries appear
to view think-aloud protocols as the premier research method for assessing the usability of OPACs, Web pages, local digital
collections, and vendor products. Protocol studies are often precipitated or informed by the results of previous research.
For example, focus groups, surveys,
and heuristic evaluations can identify frequently performed or suspected problematic tasks to be included in protocol research.
(Heuristic evaluations are discussed in section 188.8.131.52.)
Libraries participating in the DLF study have conducted think-aloud protocols to
One DLF respondent reported plans to conduct a protocol study of remote storage robotics.
- Identify problems in the design, functionality, navigation, and vocabulary of the library Web site or user interfaces to different
products or digital collections
- Assess whether efforts to improve service quality were successful
- Determine what information to include in a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) database and the design of access points for the
2.3.3. How Do Libraries Conduct User Protocols?
DLF respondents reported conducting user protocols when the results of previous research or substantial anecdotal evidence
indicated that there were serious problems with a user interface or when a user interface was being developed as part of a
grant-funded project, in which case the protocol study is described in the grant proposal. When protocols are conducted to
identify problems in a user interface, often they are repeated later, to see whether the problems were solved in the meantime.
In the absence of an established usability-testing program and budget, the decision to conduct protocols can involve a large
group of people because of the time and expense of conducting such research.
After the decision has been made to conduct user protocols, one or more librarians or staff members prepare the task script,
choose the sampling method, identify the demographic groups appropriate for the research purpose, determine how many participants
to recruit in each group, decide how to recruit them, recruit and schedule the participants, and plan the budget and timetable
for gathering, analyzing, interpreting and applying the data. Jakob Nielsen's research has shown that four to six subjects
per demographic group is sufficient to capture most of the information that could be discovered by involving more subjects.
Beyond this number, the cost exceeds the benefits of conducting more protocols (Nielsen 2000). Sometimes protocols are conducted
with only two or three subjects per user group because of the difficulty of recruiting research subjects.
DLF libraries immediately follow user protocol sessions with a brief survey or interview to gather additional information
from each participant. This information helps clarify the user's behavior and provides some sense of the user's perception
of the severity of the problems encountered with the user interface. One or more people prepare the survey or interview questions.
In addition, some libraries prepare a recording sheet that observers use to structure their observations and simplify data
analysis. Some also prepare a written facilitator guide that outlines the entire session.
DLF libraries pilot test the research instruments with at least one user and revise them on the basis of the test results.
Pilot testing can help solve problems with the vocabulary, wording, or sequencing of protocol tasks or survey questions; it
also can target ways to refine the recording sheet to facilitate rapid recording of observations. Pilot testing also enables
the researcher to ensure that the protocol and follow-up research can be completed in the time allotted.
DLF libraries have used e-mail, posters, and flyers to recruit participants for user protocol studies. The recruitment information
briefly describes the goals and significance of the research, the participants' role, and what is expected of them, including
the time it will take to participate and any token of appreciation that will be given to the participants. Other than preparing
the instruments and recruiting participants, preparation for a user protocol study closely resembles preparation for a focus
group. It involves the following steps:
The facilitator or an observer arrives at the room early, adjusts the light and temperature in the room, arranges the chairs
so that the facilitator and observers can see the user's face and the computer screen, and tests and positions the recording
equipment. If audiotape is used, a towel or tablet is placed under the recording device to absorb any table vibrations. The
audiotape recorder is positioned close enough to the user to pick up his or her comments, but far enough away from the keyboard
to avoid capturing each key click. If computer or videotape equipment must be delivered to the room, someone must arrive at
the room extra early to confirm delivery, be prepared to call if it is not delivered, test the computer equipment, and allow
time for replacement or software reinstallation if something is not working.
- Recruiting, scheduling, and training a facilitator and one or more observers; in some cases, the facilitator is the sole observer
- Scheduling the participants and sending them a reminder a week or a few days before the protocol
- Scheduling a quiet room; protocol studies have been conducted in offices, laboratories, or library settings.
- If necessary, ordering computer or videotape equipment to be delivered a half hour before the protocol is to begin
- Photocopying the research instruments
- Testing the audio- or videotape equipment and purchasing tapes
Though HCI experts recommend videotape, all but one of the DLF libraries reported using audiotape to record user protocols.
The library that used videotape observed that the camera made users uncomfortable and the computer screen did not record well,
so the group used audiotape instead for the follow-up protocols. Few DLF libraries have the resources or facilities to videotape
their research, and the added expense of acquiring these might also be a deterrent to using videotape.
When participants arrive, the facilitator thanks then for participating, explains the roles of facilitator and observer(s),
reiterates the purpose and significance of the research, confirms that anonymity
will be preserved in any discussion or publication of the study, and describes the ground rules and how the protocol will
be conducted. The facilitator emphasizes that the goal of the study is to test the software, not the user. The facilitator
usually reminds participants multiple times to think aloud. For example, "What are you thinking now?" or "Please share your
thoughts." Observers have no speaking role.
DLF libraries immediately followed protocol sessions with brief interviews or a short survey to capture additional information
and give participants the opportunity to clarify what they did in the protocol, describe their experience, and articulate
expectations they had about the task or the user interface that were not met. Protocol research is sometimes followed up with
focus groups or surveys to confirm the findings with a larger sample of the target population.
When the protocol is over, the facilitator thanks the participant and usually gives him or her a token of appreciation. The
facilitator also answers any questions the participant has. Observer notes and tapes are labeled immediately.
DLF libraries might or might not transcribe protocol tapes for the same reasons they do or do not transcribe focus group tapes.
If the tapes are not transcribed, at least one person listens to them and annotates the observer notes. With two exceptions,
DLF respondents did not discuss the process of analyzing, interpreting, and figuring out how to apply the protocol results,
although several did mention using quantitative metrics. They simply talked about significant applications of the results.
The two cases that outlined procedures for analyzing, interpreting, and applying results merit examination:
The procedures in the two cases are similar, and although the other DLF respondents did not describe the process they followed,
it could be that their processes resemble these. At least one other respondent reported ranking the severity of problems identified
by protocol analysis to determine which problems to try to solve.
- Case one: The group responsible for conducting the protocol study created a table of observations (based on the protocol data),
interpretations, and accompanying recommendations for interface redesign. The recommendations were based on the protocol data
and the application of Jakob Nielsen's 10 heuristic principles of good user interface design (Nielsen, no date). The group
assessed how easy or difficult it would be to implement each recommendation and plotted a continuum of recommendations based
on the difficulty, cost, and benefit of implementing them. The cost-effective recommendations were implemented.
- Case two: When protocol data identified many problems and yielded a high failure rate for task completion, the group responsible
for the study did the following:
- Determined the severity of each problem on the basis of its frequency and distribution across users, whether it prevented
users from successfully completing a task, and the user's assessment of the severity of the problem, which was gathered in
a follow-up survey.
- Formulated alternative potential solutions to the most severe problems on the basis of the protocol or follow-up survey data
and heuristic principles of good design.
- Winnowed the list of possible solutions by consulting programmers and doing a quick-and-dirty cost-benefit analysis. Problems
that can be fixed at the interface level are often less expensive to fix than those that require changes in the infrastructure.
- Recommended implementing the solutions believed to have the greatest benefit to users for the least amount of effort and expense.
2.3.4. Who Uses Protocol Results? How Are They Used?
The results of the study suggest that who applies the results from user protocols and how the results are applied depend on
the purpose of the research, the significance of the findings, and the organization of the library. The larger the study and
the more striking its implications for financial and human resources, the more attention it draws in the library. Although
the results of protocol studies are not always presented to university administrators, faculty senates, deans' councils, and
similar groups; they might be presented at conferences and published in the library literature.
DLF libraries have used significant findings from protocol analysis to inform processes that resulted in the following:
The results of protocol studies have also been used to suggest revisions or enhancements to vendor products, to verify improvements
in interface design and functionality, and to counter anecdotal evidence or suggestions that an interface should be changed.
- Customizing the OPAC interface, or redesigning the library Web site or user interfaces to local digital collections. Examples
of steps taken based on protocol results include
- rearranging a hierarchy
- changing the order and presentation of search results
- changing the vocabulary, placement of links, or page layout
- providing more online help, on-screen instructions, or suggestions when searches fail
- changing the labeling of images
- changing how to select a database or start a new search
- improving navigation
- enhancing functionality
- Revising the metadata classification scheme for image or text collections
- Developing or revising instruction for how to find resources on the library Web site and how to use full-text e-resources
and archival finding aids
2.3.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges With User Protocols?
184.108.40.206. Librarian Assumptions and Preferences
Several DLF respondents commented that librarians can find it difficult to observe user protocols because they often have
assumptions about user behavior or preferences for interface design that are challenged by what they witness. Watching struggling
or frustrated participants and refraining from providing assistance run counter to the librarians' service orientation. Participants
often ask questions during the protocol about the software, the user interface, or how to use it. Facilitators and observers
must resist providing answers during the protocol. Librarians who are unable to do this circumvent the purpose of the research.
Librarians can also be a problem when it comes to interpreting and applying the results of user protocols. Those trained in
social science research methods often do not understand or appreciate the difference between HCI user protocols and more rigorous
statistical research. They may dismiss results that challenge their own way of thinking because they believe the research
method is not scientific enough or the pool of participants is too small.
220.127.116.11. Lack of Resources and Commitment
User protocols require skilled facilitators, observers, and analysts and the commitment of human and financial resources.
Requisite skills might be lacking to analyze, interpret, and persuasively present the findings. Even if the skills are available,
there could be a breakdown in the processes of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data, planning how to use the findings,
and implementing the plans, which could include conducting follow-up research to gather more information. Often the process
is followed to the last stage, implementation, where Web masters, programmers, systems specialists, or other personnel are
needed. These people can have other priorities. Human and financial resources or momentum can be depleted before all the serious
problems identified have been solved. Limited resources frequently restrict implementation to only the problems that are cheap
and easy to fix, which are typically those that appear on the surface of the user interface. Problems that must be addressed
in the underlying architecture often are not addressed.
18.104.22.168. Interpreting and Using the Data
Effective, efficient analysis of data gathered in user protocols depends on making key decisions ahead of time about what
behaviors to observe and how to record them. For example, if quantitative usability metrics are to be used, they must be carefully
defined. If the success rate is to be calculated, what constitutes success? Is it more than simply completing a task within
a set time limit? What constitutes partial success, and how is it to be calculated? Similar questions should be posed and
answers devised for qualitative data gathering during the protocols. Otherwise, observer notes are chaotic and data analysis
may be as difficult as is analyzing the responses to open-ended
questions in a survey. The situation worsens if different observers attend different protocols and record different kinds
of things. Such key decisions should be made prior to conducting the study. If made afterward, they can result in significant
lag time between data gathering and the presentation of plans to apply the results of the data analysis. The greater the lag
time, the greater the risk of loss of momentum, which can jeopardize the entire effort.
22.214.171.124. Recruiting Participants Who Can Think Aloud
General problems and strategies for recruiting research subjects are discussed in section 4.2.1. DLF respondents reported
difficulty in getting participants to think aloud. At least one librarian is considering conducting screening tests to ensure
that protocol participants can think aloud. Enhancing the skills of the facilitator (through training or experience) and including
a pretest task or two for the participants to get comfortable thinking aloud would be preferable to risking biasing the results
of the study by recruiting only participants who are naturally comfortable thinking aloud.
2.4. Other Effective Research Methods
2.4.1. Discount Usability Research Methods
Discount usability research can be conducted to supplement more expensive usability studies. This informal research can be
done at any point in the development cycle, but is most beneficial in the early stages of designing a user interface or Web
site. When done at this time, the results of discount usability research can solve many problems and increase the efficiency
of more formal testing by targeting specific issues and reducing the volume of data gathered. Discount usability research
methods are not replacements for formal testing with users, but they are fruitful, inexpensive ways to improve interface design.
In spite of these merits, few DLF libraries reported using discount methods. Are leading digital libraries not using these
research methods because they are unaware of them or because they do not have the skills to use them?
126.96.36.199. Heuristic Evaluations
Heuristic evaluation is a critical inspection of a user interface conducted by applying a set of design principles as part
of an iterative design process.  The principles are not a checklist, but conceptual categories or rules that describe common properties of a usable interface
and guide close scrutiny of an interface to identify where it does not comply with the rules. Several DLF respondents referred
to Nielsen's heuristic principles of good design, mentioning the following:
Heuristic evaluations can be conducted before or after formal usability studies involving users. They can be conducted with
functioning interfaces or with paper prototypes (see section 188.8.131.52.). Applying heuristic principles to a user interface
requires skilled evaluators. Nielsen recommends using three to five evaluators, including someone with design expertise and
someone with expertise in the domain of the system being evaluated. According to his research, a single evaluator can identify
35 percent of the design problems in the user interface. Five evaluators can find 75 percent of the problems. Using more than
five evaluators can find more problems, but at this point the cost exceeds the benefits (Nielsen 1994).
- Visibility of system status
- Match between system and real world
- User control and freedom
- Consistency and standards
- Recognition rather than recall
- Flexibility and efficiency of use
- Aesthetics and minimalist design
- Error prevention
- Assistance with recognizing, diagnosing, and recovering from errors
- Help and documentation 
Heuristic evaluations take one to two hours per evaluator. The evaluators should work independently but share their results.
An evaluator can record his or her own observations, or an observer may record the observations made by the evaluator. Evaluators
follow a list of tasks that, unlike the task script in a user protocol, may indicate how to perform the tasks. The outcome
from a heuristic evaluation is a compiled list of each evaluator's observations of instances where the user interface does
not comply with good design principles. To guide formulating solutions to the problems, each problem identified is accompanied
by a list of the design principles that are violated in this area of the user interface.
Heuristic evaluations have several advantages over other methods for studying user interfaces. No participants need to be
recruited. The method is inexpensive, and applying even a few principles can yield significant results. The results can be
used to expand or clarify the list of principles. Furthermore, heuristic evaluations are more comprehensive than think-aloud
protocols are, because they can examine the entire interface and because even the most talkative participant will not comment
on every facet of the interface. The disadvantages of heuristic evaluations are that they require familiarity with good design
principles and interpretation by an evaluator, do not provide solutions to the problems they identify, and do not identify
mismatches between the user interface and user expectations. Interface developers sometimes reject the results of heuristic
evaluations because no users were involved.
A few DLF libraries have conducted their own heuristic evaluations or have made arrangements with commercial firms or graduate
students to do them. The evaluations were conducted to assess the user-friendliness of commercially licensed products, the
library Web site, and a library OPAC. In the process, libraries have analyzed such details as the number of keystrokes and
mouse movements required to accomplish tasks and the size of buttons and links that users must click. The results of these
evaluations were referred to as a "wake-up call" to improve customer service. It is unclear from the survey whether multiple
evaluators were used in these studies or the study was conducted in-house, and whether the libraries have the interface design
expertise to apply heuristic principles or conduct a heuristic evaluation effectively. Nevertheless, several DLF libraries
reported using heuristic principles to guide redesign of a user interface.
184.108.40.206. Paper Prototypes and Scenarios
Paper prototype and scenario research resembles think-aloud protocols, but instead of having users perform tasks with a functioning
system, this method employs sketches, screen prints, or plain text and asks users how they would use a prototype interface
to perform different tasks or how they would interpret the vocabulary. For example, where would they click to find a feature
or information? What does a link label mean? Where should links be placed? Paper prototypes and scenarios can also be a basis
for heuristic evaluations.
Paper prototype and scenario research is portable, inexpensive, and easy to assemble, provided that the interface is not too
complicated. Paper prototypes do not intimidate users. If it is used early in the development cycle, the problems identified
can be rectified easily because the system has not been fully implemented. Paper prototypes are more effective than surveys
to identify usability, navigation, functionality, and vocabulary problems. The disadvantage is that participants interact
with paper interfaces differently than they do with on-screen interfaces; that is, paper gets closer scrutiny.
A few DLF respondents reported using paper prototype research. They have used it successfully to evaluate link and button
labels and to inform the design of Web sites, digital collection interfaces, and classification (metadata) schemes. One library
used scenarios of horizontal paper prototypes, which provide a conceptual map of the entire surface layer of a user interface, and scenarios of vertical paper prototypes, which cover the full scope of a feature, such as searching or browsing. This site experimented with using
Post-itTM notes to display menu selections in a paper prototype study, and accordion-folded papers to imitate pages that would require
scrolling. The notes were effective, but the accordion folds were awkward.
2.4.2. Card-Sorting Tests
Vocabulary problems can arise in any user study, and they are often rampant in library Web sites. A few respondents reported
conducting research specifically designed to target or solve vocabulary problems,
including card-sorting studies to determine link labels and appropriate groupings of links on their Web sites. Card-sorting
studies entail asking individual users to
Reverse card-sorting exercises have been used to test the labels. These exercises ask users what category (label) they would
use to find which service or collection. Alternatively, the researcher can simply ask users what they would expect to find
in each category, then show them what is in each category and ask them what they would call the category.
- Organize note cards containing service or collection descriptions into stacks of related information
- Label the stacks of related information
- Label the service and collection descriptions in each stack
The primary problem encountered in conducting card-sorting tests is describing the collections and services to be labeled
and grouped. Describing "full-text" e-resources appears to be particularly difficult in card-sorting exercises, and the results
of surveys, focus groups, and user protocols indicate that users often do not understand what "full-text" means. Unfortunately,
this is the term found on many library Web sites.
3. USAGE STUDIES OF ELECTRONIC RESOURCES
3.1. What Is Transaction Log Analysis?
Transaction log analysis (TLA) was developed about 25 years ago to evaluate system performance. Over the course of a decade,
it evolved as a method to study unobtrusively interactions between online information systems and the people who use them.
Today, it is also used to study use of Web sites. Researchers who conduct TLA rely on transaction monitoring software, whereby
the system or Web server automatically records designated interactions for later analysis. Transaction monitoring records
the type, if not the content, of selected user actions and system responses. For example, a user submits a query in the OPAC.
Both the fact that a query was submitted and the content of that query could be recorded. In response, the system conducts
a search and returns a list of results. Both the fact that results were returned and the number of results could be recorded.
Transaction monitoring software often captures the date and time of these transactions, and the Internet Protocol (IP) address
of the user. The information recorded is stored in an electronic file called a "transaction log." The contents of transaction
logs are usually formatted in fields to facilitate quantitative analysis. Researchers analyze transaction logs to understand
how people use online information systems or Web sites with the intention of improving their design and functionality to meet
user needs and expectations. The analysis can be conducted manually or automatically, using software or a script to mine data
in the logs and generate a report.
TLA is an effective method to study such activities as the frequency and sequence of feature use; system response times; hit
rates; error rates; user actions to recover from errors; the number of simultaneous users; and session lengths. In the library
world, if queries are logged, it can reveal why searches fail to retrieve results and suggest areas for collection development.
If the IP addresses of users are logged, it can reveal whether the user is inside or outside of the library. The information
extracted from transaction logs can be used to assess patterns of use and trends over time, predict and prepare for times
of peak demand, project future system needs and capacities, and develop services or interfaces that support user actions.
For TLA to be effective, transaction monitoring software must record meaningful transactions, and data mining must be driven
by carefully articulated definitions and purposes.
TLA is an unobtrusive way to study user behavior, an efficient way to gather longitudinal usage data, and an effective way
to detect discrepancies between what users say they do (for example in a focus group study) and what they actually do when
they use an online system or Web site. Transaction log analysis is also a good way to test hypotheses; for example, to determine
whether the placement or configuration of public computers (for example, at stand-up or sit-down stations) in the library
affects user behavior.
The primary disadvantages of TLA are that extracting data can be time-consuming and the data can be difficult to interpret.
Though systems and servers have been logging transactions for decades, they still do not incorporate software to analyze the
logs. If analysis is to be conducted routinely over time, programmers must develop software or scripts to mine the data in
transaction logs. If additional information is to be mined, someone must do it manually or the programmer must add this capability
to the routine. Often, extracting the data requires discussion and definitions. For example, in stateless, unauthenticated
systems such as the Web environment, what constitutes a user session with a Web-based collection or a virtual visit to the
library Web site?
Even after the data have been mined, interpreting the patterns or trends discovered in the logs can be problematic. For example,
are a large number of queries necessarily better than a small number of queries? What if users are getting better at searching
and able to retrieve in a single query what it might have taken them several queries to find a few years ago? Are all searches
that retrieve zero results failed searches? What if it was a known-item search and the user just wanted to know whether the
library has the book? What constitutes a failed search? Zero results? Too many results? How many is too many? Meaning is contextual,
but with TLA, there is no way to connect data in transaction logs with the users' needs, thoughts, goals, or emotions at the
time of the transaction. Interpreting the data requires not only careful definitions of what is being measured but additional
research to provide contextual information about the users.
A further disadvantage is that transaction logs can quickly grow to an enormous size. The data must be routinely moved from
server where they are captured to the server where they are analyzed. Keeping log files over time, in case a decision is made
to mine additional data from the files, results in massive storage requirements or offline storage that can impede data mining.
3.2. Why Do Libraries Conduct Transaction Log Analysis?
Most of the DLF respondents reported conducting TLA or using TLA data provided by vendors to study use of the library Web
site, the OPAC and integrated library system (ILS), licensed electronic resources, and, in some cases, local digital collections
and the proxy server. They have used TLA data from local servers to
Vendor-supplied TLA data from licensed electronic resources have been used to
- Identify user communities
- Identify patterns of use
- Project future needs for services and collections
- Assess user satisfaction
- Inform digital collection development decisions
- Inform the redesign and development of the library Web site
- Assess whether redesign of the library Web site or digital collection has had any impact on use
- Assess whether providing additional content on the library Web site or digital collection has any impact on use
- Target marketing or instruction efforts
- Assess whether marketing or instruction has any impact on use
- Drive examinations of Web page maintenance requirements
- Inform capacity planning and decisions about platform
- Plan system maintenance
- Allocate human and financial resources
- Help secure funding for additional e-resources from university administrators
- Inform decisions about what subscriptions or licenses to renew or cancel
- Inform decisions about which interface(s) to keep
- Determine how many ports or simultaneous users to license
- Assess whether instruction has any impact on use of an e-resource
- Determine cost per-use of licensed e-resources
3.3. How Do Libraries Conduct Transaction Log Analysis?
3.3.1. Web Sites and Local Digital Collections
Practices vary significantly across institutionsfrom no analysis to extensive analysis. DLF libraries track use of their Web
sites and Web-accessible digital collections using a variety of homegrown, shareware, or commercial software. The server software
determines what information is logged and therefore what data are available for
mining. The logging occurs automatically, but decisions concerning what data are extracted appear to be guided by library
managers, administrators, or committees. As different questions are asked, different data are extracted to answer them. For
example, as libraries adopt new measures for digital library use, Web server logs are being mined for data on virtual visits
to the library. In some libraries a great deal of discussion is involved in defining such things as a "virtual visit." In
other libraries, programmers are instructed to make their best guesstimate, explain what it is and why they chose it, and
use it consistently in mining the logs. As with user studies, the more people involved in making these decisions, the longer
it can take. The longer it takes, the longer the library operates without answers to its questions.
Many libraries do not use Web usage data because they do not know how to apply them or do not have the resources to apply
them. Some libraries, however, are making creative use of transaction logs from the library Web site and local digital collections
to identify user communities, determine patterns of use, inform decisions, assess user satisfaction, and measure the impact
of marketing, instruction, interface redesign, and collection development. They do this by mining, interpreting, and applying
the following data over time:
In addition, several libraries have begun to count "click throughs" from the library Web site to remote e-resources using
a "count use mechanism." This mechanism captures and records user clicks on links to remote online resources by retrieving
and logging retrieval of an intermediate Web page. The intermediate page is retrieved and replaced with the remote resource
page so quickly that users do not notice the intermediate page. Writing a script to capture click throughs from the library
Web site to remote resources is apparently simple, but the mechanism requires that the links (URLs) to all remote resources
on the library Web site be changed to the URL of the intermediate page, which contains the actual URL of the remote resource.
Libraries considering implementing a count use mechanism must weigh the cost of these massive revisions against the benefits.
- Number of page hits
- Number and type of files downloaded
- Referral URLs (that is, how users get to a Web page)
- Web browser used
- Query logs from "Search this site" features
- Query logs from digital collection (image) databases
- Date and time of the transactions
- IP address or Internet domain of the user
- User IDs (in cases where authentication is required)
The count use mechanism provides a consistent, comparable count of access to remote e-resources from the library Web site,
and it is the only way to track use of licensed resources for which the vendor provides no usage statistics. The data, however,
provide an incomplete and inaccurate picture of use of remote resources because users can bookmark resources rather than click
through the library
Web site to get to them, and because the mechanism counts all attempts to get to remote resources, some of which fail because
the server is down or the user does not have access privileges to the resource.
3.3.2. OPAC and Integrated Library Systems
Both OPAC and ILS log transactions, but different systems log different information; therefore, each enables analysis of different
user activities. For example, some systems simply count different types of transactions. Others log additional information,
such as the text of queries, the date and time of the transaction, the IP address and interface of the client machine, and
a session ID, which can be used to reconstruct entire user sessions. Systems can provide an on-off feature to allow periodic
monitoring and reduce the size of log files, which can grow at a staggering rate if many transactions and details are captured.
Integrated library systems provide a straightforward way for libraries to generate summary reports of such things as the number
of catalog searches, the number of items circulated, the number of items used in-house, and the number of new catalog records
added within a given period. Use of different interfaces, request features (for example, renewals, holds, recalls, or requests
for purchases) and the ability to view borrowing records might also be tracked. This information is extracted from system
transaction logs using routine reporting mechanisms provided by the vendor, or special custom report scripts developed either
in-house or prepared as work for hire by the vendor for a fee. Customized reports are produced for funding agencies or in
response to requests for data relevant to specific problems or pages (for example, subject pages or pathfinders). Often Web
and ILS usage data are exported to other tools for further analysis, manipulation, or use; for example, circulation data and
the number of queries are exported to spreadsheet software to generate trend lines. In rare cases, Web forms and functionality
are provided for staff to generate ad hoc reports.
3.4. Who Uses the Results of Transaction Log Analysis? How Are They Used?
3.4.1. Web Sites and Local Digital Collections
Staff members generate monthly usage reports and distribute or make them available to all staff or to the custodians of the
Web pages or digital collection. Overall Web site usage (page hits) or the 10 most heavily used pages might be included in
a library's annual report. However, though usage reports are routinely generated, often the data languish without being used.
At institutions where the data are used, many different people use the data for many different purposes. Interface designers,
system managers, collection developers, subject specialists, library administrators, and department heads all reap meaning
and devise next steps from examining and interpreting the data. Page hits and referral
URLs are used to construct usage patterns over time, understand user needs, and inform interface redesign. For example, frequently
used Web pages are placed one to two clicks from the home page; infrequently used links on the home page are moved one to
two clicks down in the Web site. Data on heavily used Web pages prompt consideration of whether to expand the information
on these pages. Similarly, data on heavily used digital collections prompt consideration of expanding the collection. Subject
specialists use the data to understand how people use their subject pages and pathfinders and revise their pages based on
this understanding. Page hit counts also drive examination of page maintenance requirements with the understanding that low-use
pages and collections should be low maintenance; high-use pages should be well maintained, complete, and up to date. Such
assessments facilitate appropriate allocation of resources. Data on low-use or no-use pages can be used to target publicity
campaigns. Cross-correlations of marketing efforts and usage statistics are performed to determine whether marketing had any
measurable effects on use. Similarly, correlating interface redesign or expansion of content with usage statistics can determine
whether redesign or additional content had any effect on use. Data on use of "new" items on the Web site are used to determine
whether designating a resource as "new" had any measurable effects on use. Tracking usage patterns over time enables high-level
assessments of user satisfaction. For example, are targeted user communities increasingly using the library Web site or digital
collection? Do referral URLs indicate that more Web sites are linking to the library Web site or collection?
Query logs are also mined, interpreted, and applied. Frequent queries in "Search this site" logs identify resources to be
moved higher in the Web site. Unsuccessful queries target needed changes in Web site vocabulary or content. Query logs from
image databases are used to adjust the metadata and vocabulary of digital collections to match the vocabulary and level of
specificity of users and to help decide whether the content and organization of digital collections are appropriate to user
TLA also informs system maintenance and strategic planning. Time and date stamps enable the monitoring of usage patterns in
the context of the academic year. Libraries have analyzed low-use times of day and day of week to determine good times to
take Web servers down for maintenance. Page hits and data on the number and type of files downloaded month-to-month are used
to plan load and capacity, to characterize consumption of system resources, to prepare for peak periods of demand, and to
make decisions about platform and the appropriate allocation of resources.
Although the use of dynamic IP addresses makes identification of user communities impossible, libraries use static IP addresses
and Internet domain information (for example, .edu, .com, .org, .net) in transaction logs to identify broad user communities.
Libraries are defining and observing the behavior of different communities. Some libraries track communities of users inside
or outside the library.
Some track on-campus, off-campus, or international user communities; others track communities in campus dormitories, libraries,
offices, computer clusters, or outside the university. In rare cases, static IP addresses and locations are used to affiliate
users with a particular school, department, or research centerrecognizing that certain IP address locations, such as libraries,
dormitories, and public computing clusters, reveal no academic affiliation of the users. Where users are required to authenticate
(for example, at the proxy server), the authentication data are mapped to the library patron database to identify communities
by school and user status (such as humanities undergraduate). If school and user status are known, some libraries conduct
factor analysis to identify clusters of use by user communities.
Having identified user communities in the transaction logs, libraries then track patterns of use by different communities
and the distribution of use across communities. For example, IP addresses and time and date stamps of click-through transactions
are used to identify user communities and their patterns of using the library Web site to access remote e-resources. IP addresses
and time and date stamps of Web site usage are used to track patterns of use inside and outside the libraries. The patterns
are then used to project future needs for services and collections. For example, what percentage of use is outside the library?
Is remote use increasing over time or across user groups? What percentage of remote use occurs in dormitories (undergraduate
students)? What services and collections are necessary to meet the needs of remote users? Patterns of use per user community
and resource are used to target publicity about digital collections or Web pages.
3.4.2. OPAC and Integrated Library Systems
OPAC and ILS usage data are used primarily to track trends and provide data for national surveys, for example, circulation
per year or items cataloged per year. At some institutions, these data are used to inform decisions. OPAC usage statistics
are used to determine usage patterns, customize the OPAC interface, and allocate resources. Seldom-used indexes are removed
from the simple search screen and buried lower in the OPAC interface hierarchy. More resources are put into developing the
Web interface than the character-based (telnet) interface because usage data show that the former is more heavily used. Libraries
shopping for a new ILS frequently use the data to determine the relative importance of different features and required functionality
for the new system.
In addition to mining data in transaction logs, some libraries extract other information from the ILS and export it to other
tools. For example, e-journal data are exported from the ILS to a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) to generate Web page
listings of e-journals. The journal call numbers are used to map the e-journals to subject areas, and the Web pages are generated
using Perl scripts and persistent URLs that resolve to the URLs of the remote e-journal sites. One site participating in the
DLF survey routinely exports information
from the ILS to a homegrown desktop reporting tool that enables staff to generate ad hoc reports.
3.4.3. Remote Electronic Resources
Library administrators use vendor-provided data on searches, sessions, or full-text use of remote e-resources to lobby for
additional funding from university administrators. Data on selected, high-use e-resources might be included in annual reports.
Collection developers use the data to determine cost per use of various products and to inform decisions about what subscriptions,
licenses, or interfaces to keep or drop. Turn-away data are used to determine how many ports or simultaneous users to license,
which could account for why so few vendors provide this information. Reference librarians use the data to determine whether
product instruction has any impact on product use. Plans to promote particular products or to conduct research are developed
on the basis of data identifying low-use products. Usage data indicate whether promoting a product has any impact on product
use. Libraries that require authentication to use licensed resources, capture the authentication data, and map it to the patron
database have conducted factor analysis to cluster the use of different products by different user communities. Libraries
that compile all of their e-resource usage statistics have correlated digital input and output data to determine, for example,
that 22 percent of the total number of licensed e-resources accounts for 70 percent of the total e-resource use.
3.5. What Are the Issues, Problems, and Challenges with Transaction Log Analysis?
3.5.1. Getting the Right (Comparable) Data and Definitions
220.127.116.11. Web Sites and Local Digital Collections
DLF respondents expressed concern that the most readily available usage statistics might not be the most valuable ones. Page
hit rates, for example, might be relevant on the open Web, where sites want to document traffic for their advertisers, but
on the library Web site, what do high or low hit rates really mean? Because Web site usage changes so much over time, comparing
current and past usage statistics presents another challenge.
Despite the level of creative analysis and application of Web usage data at some institutions, even these libraries are not
happy with the software they use to analyze Web logs. The logs are and analysis is cumbersome, sometimes exceeding the capacity
of the software. Libraries are simultaneously looking for alternative software and trying to figure out what data are useful
to track, how to gather and analyze the data efficiently, and how to present the data appropriately to inform decisions. Ideally,
to facilitate comparisons, libraries want the same data on Web page use, the use of local databases or digital collections,
and the use of commercially licensed databases and collections.
Libraries also want digital library usage statistics to be comparable with traditional usage statistics. For example, they
want to count virtual visits to the library and combine this information with gate counts to get a complete picture of library
use. Tracking virtual visits is difficult because in most cases, library Web site and local digital collection use are not
authenticated. Authentication automatically associates transactions with a user session, clearly defining a "visit." In an
unauthenticated environment where transactions are associated with IP addresses and public computers are used by many different
people, perhaps in rapid succession, defining a visit is not easy.
While the bulk of the discussion centers on what constitutes a visit and how to count the number of visits, one library participating
in the DLF survey wants to gather the following data, though it is unclear why this level of specificity was desirable or
how the data would be used:
However a visit is defined, in an unauthenticated environment the data will be dirty. Libraries are probably prepared to settle
for "good-enough" data, but a standard definition would facilitate comparisons across institutions.
- Number and percentage of Web site visits at time of day and day of week
- Number and percentage of visits that look at one Web page, 2-4 Web pages, 5-10 Web pages, or more than 10 pages
- Number and percentage of visits that last less than 1 minute, 2-4 minutes, 5-10 minutes, or more than 10 minutes per page,
service, or collection
Similarly, libraries would like to be able to count e-reserves, e-book, and e-journal use and combine this information with
traditional reserves, book, and journal usage statistics to get a complete picture of library use. Again, tracking use of
e-resources in a way that is comparable to traditional measures is problematic. Even when e-resources are managed locally,
the counts are not comparable, because page hits, not title hits, are logged. Additional work is required to generate hits
In the absence of standards or guidelines, libraries are charting their own course. For example, one site participating in
the DLF survey is devising statistics to track use of Web-accessible, low-resolution images, and requests for high-resolution
images that are not available on the Web. They are grappling with how to incorporate into their purview metadata from other
digital collections available on campus so that they can quantify use of their own content and other campus content. No explanation
was offered for how these data would be used.
18.104.22.168. OPAC and Integrated Library Systems
ILS vendors often provide minimal transaction logging because of the high use of the system by staff and end users and the
rapid rate with which log files grow to enormous size. When the server is filled with log files, the system ceases to function
properly. Many libraries
are not satisfied with the data available for mining in their ILS or the routine reporting mechanisms provided by the vendor.
Some libraries have developed custom reports in response to requests from library administrators or department heads. These
reports are difficult to produce, often requiring expensive Application Program Interface (API) training from the vendor.
Many sites want reports that they cannot produce because they do not have the resources or because the system does not log
the information they need. For example, if a library wants to assess market penetration of library books, its ILS might not
be able to generate a report of the number of unique users who have checked out books within a specified period of time. If
administrators want to determine which books to move to off-site storage, their ILS might not be able to generate a report
of which books circulated fewer than five times within a specified period of time.
22.214.171.124. Remote Electronic Resources
Getting the right data from commercial vendors is a well-known problem. Data about use of commercial resources are important
to libraries, because use is a measure of service provided and because the high cost of e-resources warrants scrutiny. The
data might also be needed to justify subscription expenditures to university administrators. DLF respondents had the usual
complaints about vendor-supplied usage statistics:
While acknowledging that some vendors are collaborating with libraries and making progress in providing useful statistics,
libraries continue to struggle to understand what vendors are actually counting and the time periods covered in their reports.
Many libraries distrust vendor-supplied data and rue the inability to corroborate these data. One DLF respondent told a story
of a vendor calling to report a large number of turn-aways. The vendor encouraged the library to increase the number of licensed
simultaneous users. Instead, the library examined the data, noticed the small number of sessions during that two-day period,
concluded that the problem was technical, and did not change its licensewhich was the right course of action. The number
of turn-aways was insignificant thereafter. Another story concerned vendor-supplied data about average session lengths. The
vendor reported average session lengths of 25 to 26 minutes, but the vendor does not distinguish time-outs from log-outs.
Libraries know that many users neglect to log out and that session length is
- The incomparability of the data
- The multiple formats, delivery methods, and schedules for providing the data (for example, e-mail; paper; remote access at
the vendor's Web site; monthly, quarterly, annual, or irregular reporting)
- The lack of useful data (for example, no data on use of specific e-resource titles)
- The lack of intelligible or comprehensible data
- The level of specificity of usage data by IP address
- The failure of some vendors to provide usage data at all
skewed by users who walk away and the system times out minutes later.
In the absence of standard definitions and standardized procedures for capturing data about human-computer interactions, libraries
cannot compare the results of transaction log analyses across institutions or even across databases and collections within
their institutions. Efforts continue to persuade vendors to log standard transactions, extract the data using standard definitions,
and provide that information to libraries in standard formats. Meanwhile, libraries remain at the mercy of vendors. Getting
meaningful, manageable vendor statistics remains a high priority. Many librarians responsible for licensing e-resources are
instructed to discuss usage statistics  with vendors before licensing their products. Some librarians are lobbying not to sign contracts if the vendor does not provide
good statistics. Nevertheless, vendors know that useful statistics are not yet required to make the sale.
3.5.2. Analyzing and Interpreting the Data
DLF respondents understand that usage statistics are an important measure of library service and, to some degree, an indication
of user satisfaction. Usage data must be interpreted cautiously, however, for two reasons. First, usability and user awareness
affect the use of library collections and services. Low use can occur because the product's user interface is difficult to
use, because users are unaware that the product is available, or because the product does not meet the users' information
needs. Second, usage statistics do not reveal the users' experience or perception of the utility or value of a collection
or service. For example, though a database or Web page is seldom used, it could be very valuable to those who use it. The
bottom line is that usage statistics provide necessary but insufficient data to make strategic decisions. Additional information,
gathered from user studies, is required to provide a context in which to interpret usage data.
Many DLF respondents observed that reports generated by TLA are not analyzed and applied. Perhaps this is because the library
lacks the resources or skills to do the work. It may also be because the data lack context and interpretation is difficult.
Several respondents requested guidance in how to analyze and interpret usage data and diagnose problems, particularly with
use of the library Web site.
3.5.3. Managing, Presenting, and Using the Data
DLF libraries reported needing assistance with how to train their staff to use the results of the data analysis. The problem
appears to be exacerbated in decentralized library systems and related to the difficulty of compiling and manipulating the
sheer bulk of data generated by TLA. Monthly reports of Web site use, digital collection use, and remote e-resource use provide
an overwhelming volume of
information. Libraries expressed concern that they were not taking full advantage of the information they collect because
they do not have the resources to compile it. Vendor statistics are a well-known case in point.
Because of the problems with vendor statistics, management and analysis of the data are cumbersome, tedious, and time-consuming.
If the data are compiled in any way, typically only searches, sessions, and full-text use are included for analysis. Some
DLF libraries gather and compile statistics from all vendors. Some compile usage statistics only on full-text journals and
selected large databases. Some compare data only within products provided by a single vendor, not across products provided
by different vendors. Others use data from different vendors to make comparisons that they know are less than perfect, or
they try to normalize the data from different vendors to enable cross-product comparisons. For example, one site uses the
number of sessions reported by a vendor to predict the number of searches of that vendor's product based on the ratio of searches
to sessions from comparable e-resources. Libraries that compile vendor statistics for staff or consortium perusal provide
access to the data using either a spreadsheet or an IP-address-restricted Web page. One site described the painstaking process
of producing this Web page: entering data from different vendor reportsfrom e-mail messages, printed reports, downloaded
statisticsinto a spreadsheet, then using the spreadsheet to generate graphs and an HTML table for the Web. The time and cost
of this activity must be weighed against the benefits of such compilations.
Even if e-resource usage data are compiled, libraries struggle with how to organize and present the information to an audience
for consideration in decision making and strategic planning. For example, how should monthly usage reports of 800 e-journals
be organized? The quality of the presentation can affect the decisions made based on the data. Training is required to make
meaningful, persuasive graphical presentations. Libraries need guidance in how to manage, present, and apply usage data effectively.
4. GENERAL ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
4.1. Issues in Planning a Research Project
When a decision to conduct research has been made, a multifaceted process begins. Each step of that process requires different
knowledge and skills. Whatever the research method, all research has certain similarities. These relate to focusing the research
purpose, marshalling the needed resources, and scheduling and assigning responsibilities. Conducting user studies also requires
selecting a sampling method, recruiting subjects, and getting approval from the IRB to conduct research with human subjects.
The experiences reported by DLF respondents underscore the importance of careful planning and a comprehensive understanding
of the full scope of the research process. Textbooks outline the planning
process. It begins with articulating the research purpose. The second step is conducting an assessment of human and financial
resources available to conduct the research and clearly assigning who is responsible for each stage of the processdesigning
the research instruments; preparing the schedule; gathering, analyzing, and interpreting the data; presenting the findings;
and developing and implementing plans to use them. The third step is selecting the research method (Chadwick, Bahr, and Albrecht
1984). The frequent breakdowns that DLF libraries experience in the research process suggest problems in planning, particularly
in marshalling the resources needed to complete the project. Perhaps those responsible for planning a study do not have enough
power or authority to assemble the requisite human and financial resources. Perhaps they do not have the time, resources,
or understanding of the research process to develop a comprehensive plan. Whatever the case, resources assigned to complete
research projects are often insufficient. The breakdown often occurs at the point of developing and implementing plans to
use the research results. The process of developing a plan can get bogged down when the results are difficult to interpret.
Implementing plans can get bogged down when plans arrive on the doorstep of programmers or Web masters who had no idea the
research would create work for them. Data can go unused if commitment has not been secured from every unit and person necessary
to complete a project. Even if commitment is secured during the planning stage, if a project falls significantly behind schedule,
other projects and priorities can intervene, and the human resources needed to implement research results will not be available
when they are needed.
Scheduling also influences the success or failure of research efforts. Many DLF respondents reported underestimating the time
it takes to accomplish different steps in the research process. Getting IRB approval to conduct human subjects research can
take months. Recruiting research subjects can be time-consuming. Analyzing and interpreting the data and documenting the research
findings can take as much time as planning the project, designing the research instruments and procedures, and gathering the
data. The time it takes to implement a plan depends on the plan itself and competing priorities of the implementers. An unrealistic
schedule can threaten the success of the project. A carefully constructed schedule can facilitate effective allocation of
resources and increase the likelihood that research results will be applied. Comments from DLF respondents suggest that the
larger the number of persons involved in any step of this process, the longer the process takes. Cumbersome governance of
user studies can be counter-productive.
The limitations of research results and the iterative nature of the research process also challenge DLF libraries. Additional
research is often necessary to interpret survey data or to identify solutions to problems that surface in user protocols.
Realizing that multiple studies might be necessary before concrete plans can be formulated and implemented can be discouraging.
Conducting research can seem like an endless loop of methods and studies designed to identify
problems, determine how to solve them, and verify that they have been solved. When a library's resources are limited, it is
tempting to go with intuition or preferences. Nevertheless, DLF respondents agreed that libraries must stay focused on users.
Assessment must be an ongoing priority. Research must be iterative, because user needs and priorities change with time and
technology. To provide quality service, the digital library must keep pace with users.
Multiple research methods and a sequence of studies are required for the digital library to evolve in a way that serves users
well. DLF respondents reported the following cases, which illustrate the rich, although imperfect, benefits that derive from
triangulated or iterative efforts.
Although these activities took a substantial amount of time, they were easy and inexpensive to do and were very revealing.
The new Web sites were a significant improvement over the old sites. User studies will be conducted periodically to refine
the design and functionality of the sites.
- Protocol, Transaction Log, and Systems Analysis Research. Think-aloud user protocols were conducted in a laboratory to assess the usability of the library Web site. The study focused
on the home page and e-resources and databases pages. A task script was prepared in consultation with a commercial firm. Its
purpose was to identify the 10 tasks most frequently performed by students, faculty, and staff on the library's Web site.
Another firm was hired to analyze the Web site architecture, transaction logs, and usability (protocol) data and to conduct
additional research to capture user perceptions of the Web site. On the basis of these analyses, the firm provided an interface
design specification, architectural framework, and short- and long-term goals for the Web site. The firm also recommended
the staffing needed to maintain the proposed architecture. The library used the design specification to revise its Web site,
but the recommendations about staffing to maintain the Web site did not fit the political environment of the library. For
example, the recommendation included creating an advisory board to make decisions about the Web site, hiring a Web master,
and forming a Web working group to plan Web site development. The library has a Web working group and has created a new Web
coordinator position, but is having trouble filling it. Librarians believe the issue is lack of ownership of Web project management.
No advisory board was created.
- Heuristic Evaluation, Card Sorting, Protocol, and Survey Research. A library created a task force to redesign the library Web site on the basis of anecdotal evidence of significant problems
and the desire for a "fresh" interface. The task force
- Conducted a heuristic evaluation of the existing library Web site
- Looked at other Web sites to find sites its members liked
- Created a profile of different user types (for example, new or novice users, disabled users)
- Created a list of what the redesigned Web site had to do, organized by priority
- Created a content list of the current Web site that revealed content of interest only to librarians (for example, a list of
- Created a content list for the redesigned Web site that eliminated any content in the existing site that did not fit the user
- Conducted a card-sorting study to help group items on the content list
- Conducted a Web-based survey to help determine the vocabulary for group and item (link) labels. (The survey did not work very
well because the groups and items the participants were to label were difficult to describe.)
- Implemented a prototype of the new library Web site home page and secondary pages
- Conducted think-aloud protocols with the prototype Web pages. (The library recruited and screened participants to get eight
subjects. The subjects signed consent forms, then did the protocol tasks. Different task scripts were provided for undergraduate
students, graduate students, and faculty. The protocols were audiotaped and capture software was used to log participant keystrokes.
The facilitator also took notes during the protocols. The results of the protocol study revealed that many of the problems
users encountered were not user interface problems, but bibliographic instruction problems.)
- Conducted a survey questionnaire to capture additional information about the participants' experience and perception of the
new Web site
The purpose of the usability studies and many of the other user studies described in this report is to improve interface design
and functionality. One experienced DLF respondent outlined the following as the ideal, iterative process to implement a user-friendly,
fully functional interface:
Libraries would benefit greatly from sharing their experiences and developing guidelines for planning and scheduling different
kinds of studies and iterations. An outline of the key decision points and pitfalls would be an ideal way to share lessons
learned. Similarly, libraries would benefit from discussing and formulating a way to integrate assessment into the daily fabric
of library operations, to make it routine rather than remarkable, and thereby possibly avoid generating unnecessary and unhelpful
comments and participation.
- Develop a paper prototype in consultation with an interface design expert applying heuristic principles of good design.
- Conduct paper prototype and scenario research.
- Revise the paper prototype on the basis of user feedback and heuristic principles of good design.
- Conduct paper prototype and scenario research.
- Revise the design on the basis of user feedback and implement a functioning prototype.
- Conduct think-aloud protocols to test the functionality and navigation of the prototype.
- Revise the prototype on the basis of user feedback and heuristic principles of good design.
- Conduct think-aloud protocols to test the new design.
- Revise the design on the basis of user feedback.
- Release the product.
- Revise the design on the basis of user feedback and analysis of transaction logs.
4.2. Issues in Implementing a Research Project
Several issues in implementing a research project have already been described. For example
DLF respondents discussed two additional issues that affect user studies: sampling and getting IRB approval to conduct human
subjects research. Sampling is related to the problem of recruiting representative research subjects. IRB approval relates
to planning and scheduling research and preserving the anonymity of research subjects.
- Selecting the appropriate research method for the research purpose
- Developing effective and appropriate research instruments
- Developing the requisite skills to conduct research using different methods, including how to gather, analyze, interpret,
and present the data effectively, and how to develop plans
- Developing a system or method to manage data over time
- Organizing assessment as a core activity
- Allocating sufficient human and financial resources to conduct and apply the results of different research methods
- Developing comprehensive plans and realistic schedules to conduct and apply the results of different research methods (the
academic calendar affects the number of participants who can be recruited and when the results can be applied)
- Maintaining focus on users when research results challenge the operating assumptions and personal preferences of librarians
- Recruiting representative research subjects who meet the criteria for the study (for example, subjects who can think aloud,
subjects experienced or not experienced with the product or service being studied)
4.2.1. Issues in Sampling and Recruiting Research Subjects
Sampling is the targeting and selection of research subjects within a larger population. Samples are selected on the basis
of the research purpose, the degree of generalization desired, and available resources. The sample ideally represents the
entire target population. To be representative, the sample must have the characteristics of the target population, preferably
in the proportion they are found in the larger
population. To facilitate selecting representative samples, sampling units or groups are defined within a population. For
example, in a university, the sampling units are often undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty. Depending on
the purpose of the study, the sampling units for a study of undergraduate students could be based on the school or college
attended (for example, fine arts, engineering) or the class year (for example, freshmen/sophomore, junior/senior). Though
research typically preserves the anonymity of research subjects, demographic data are captured to indicate the sampling unit
and other nonidentifying characteristics of the participants considered relevant to the study (for example, faculty, School
Textbooks outline several different methods for selecting subjects from each sampling unit designated in a study:
Two additional sampling methods might produce a representative sample, but there is no way to verify that the sample actually
represents the characteristics of the target population without conducting a study of a representative (random) sample of
the population and comparing its characteristics with those of the sample used in the initial study. These methods are as
- Random sampling. To represent the target population accurately, a sample must be selected following a set of scientific rules. The process
of selecting research subjects at random, where everyone in the target population has the same probability of being selected,
is called random sampling. There are many methods for random sampling units within a larger population. Readers are advised
to consult an expert or a textbook for instruction.
- Quota sampling. Quota sampling is the process of using information about selected characteristics of the target population to select a sample.
At its best, quota sampling selects a sample with the same proportion of individuals with these characteristics as exists
in the population being studied. How well quota samples represent the target population and the accuracy of generalizations
from quota sample studies depends on the accuracy of the information about the population used to establish the quota.
- Convenience sampling. The process of selecting research subjects and sampling units that are conveniently available to the researcher is called
convenience sampling. The results of studies conducted with convenience samples cannot be generalized to a larger population
because the sample does not represent any defined population.
- Purposive sampling. This activity entails selecting research subjects and sampling units on the basis of the expertise of the researcher to select
representatives of the target populations.
- Snowball sampling. This process entails identifying a few research subjects who have the characteristics of the target population and asking
them to name others with the relevant characteristics.
DLF libraries have used all of these sampling methods to select human subjects for user studies. For example, a library conducted
a survey to assess journal collection use and need by mailing a survey to a statistically valid, random sample of faculty
and graduate students. It used the characteristics of reference service users to target and select the sample for a survey
about reference service. In rare cases, all the users of a service have been invited to participate in a study (for example,
all the graduate students and faculty with assigned study carrels). In many cases, however, libraries conduct user studies
with convenience samples that fall short of accurately representing the sampling units within the target population. Sometimes
librarians provide the names of potential research subjects, which can skew the data toward experienced users.
Recruiting research subjects is so time consuming that the emerging practice is to provide financial or other incentives to
recruit enough volunteers to "take the temperature" of what is going on with users of particular library services, collections,
or interfaces. Though providing incentives can bias the research results, many DLF respondents commented that some user feedback
is better than none. Libraries are experimenting with providing different incentives. With surveys, the names of participants
are gathered (apart from the survey data, to ensure anonymity), and one or more names are drawn to win cash or some other
prize. Every student in a focus group or think-aloud protocol study might be given $10 or $20 or a gift certificate to the
bookstore, library coffee shop, or local movie theatre. Often lunch is provided to recruit students or faculty to participate
in focus groups. Some libraries are considering providing more substantial rewards, such as free photocopying. Recruiting
faculty can be particularly difficult because the incentives that libraries can afford to offer are inadequate to get their
interest. Holding a reception during which the research results are presented and discussed is one way to capture faculty
DLF libraries prefer to have hundreds of people complete formal survey questionnaires, with respondents ideally distributed
in close proportion to the representation of sampling units on campus. They conduct focus groups with as few as six subjects
per sampling unit, but prefer eight to ten participants per group. Many DLF respondents were comfortable with Nielsen's guideline
of using four to six participants per sampling unit in think-aloud protocol studies. A few questioned the validity of Nielsen's
claims, referencing the "substantial debate" at the Computer-Human Interaction 2000 Conference about whether some information
was better than none. Others questioned whether six to eight subjects are enough in a usability study in the library environment,
where users come from diverse cultural backgrounds. Given the work being done on such things as how cultural attitudes toward
technology and cultural perceptions of interpersonal space affect interface design and computer-mediated communication,  how does or should diversity affect the design of digital library collections and services?
Lack of a representative sample raises questions about the reliability and validity of data, particularly when studies are
conducted with small samples and few sampling units. Using finer-grain sampling units and recruiting more subjects can increase
the degree to which the sample is representative and address concerns about diversity. For example, instead of conducting
one focus group with undergraduate students, a library could conduct a focus group with undergraduate students in each school
or college in the university or a focus group with undergraduates from different cultural backgroundsAsian, African-American,
and Hispanic. The disadvantage of this approach is that it will increase the cost of the research.
DLF respondents indicated that they were willing to settle for a "good-enough" distribution of user groups, but were wrestling
with how to determine and recruit a "good-enough" sample. There is inevitably a trade-off between the cost of recruiting additional
research subjects and its benefits. Finding the appropriate balance seems to hinge on the goal of the assessment. Accuracy
and the costs associated with it are essential in a rigorous experiment designed to garner precise data and predicative results,
but are probably not essential when the goal is to garner data indicative and suggestive of trends. Focusing on the goal of
identifying trends to help shape or improve user service could assuage much of the angst that librarians feel about the validity
of their samples and the results of their research.
4.2.2. Issues in Getting Approval and Preserving Anonymity
Research must respect the dignity, privacy, rights, and welfare of human beings. Universities and other institutions that
receive funding from federal agencies have IRBs that are responsible for ensuring that research will not harm human subjects,
that the subjects have given informed consent, and that they know they may ask questions about the research or discontinue
participating in it at any time. In providing informed consent, research subjects indicate that they understand the nature
of the research and any risks to which they will be exposed by participating, and that they have decided to participate without
force, fraud, deceit, or any other form of constraint or coercion.
DLF respondents were aware of IRB requirements. Some expressed frustration with their IRB's turn-around time and rules. Others
had negotiated blanket approval for the library to conduct surveys, focus groups, and protocols and therefore did not need
to allow time to get IRB approval for each study.
To apply for IRB approval, libraries must provide the IRB with a copy of the consent form that participants will be required
to read and sign, and a brief description of the following:
On grant-funded projects, the signatures of the principal investigators are required on the application for IRB approval,
regardless of whether they themselves will be conducting the human subjects research. A recent development requires completion
of an online tutorial on human subjects research that culminates in certification. The certificate must be printed and submitted
to the IRB.
- Research method
- Purpose of the research
- Potential risks and benefits to the research subjects
- How the privacy and anonymity of research subjects will be preserved
- How the data will be analyzed and applied
- How, where, and for how long the data will be stored
- Who will conduct the research
- Who will have access to the data
Typically, IRB approval to conduct a particular study is granted for one year. If the year ends before the research with human
subjects is completed, the researcher must follow the same procedures to apply for renewal. If the IRB does not grant blanket
approval to conduct particular kinds of research, whether DLF libraries seek IRB approval for all user studies or just those
funded by the federal government is a matter of local policy.
IRB guidelines, regulations, and other documents are available at the Web site of the Office for Human Research Protections,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at http://ohrp.osophs.dhhs.gov/.
No DLF respondent addressed whether IRB approval was secured for routine transaction logging of use of its Web site, OPAC,
ILS, proxy server, or local digital collections. Several respondents did indicate, however, that they are uncertain whether
users know that they are tracking these transactions. The issue is of some concern with authenticated access because it identifies
individual users. If authentication data are logged, they can be used to reconstruct an individual's use of the digital library.
Even if the data are encrypted, the encryption algorithm can be compromised. Few libraries require users to authenticate before
they can use public computers in the library, and access to remote electronic resources is typically restricted by IP address.
However, authentication is required for all proxy server users and users with personalized library Web pages. Many, or most,
libraries run a proxy server, and personalized Web pages are growing in popularity. Personalized Web pages enable libraries
to track who has what e-resources on their Web pages and when they use these resources. Authentication data in proxy server
logs can be used to reconstruct individual user behavior. Card-swipe exit data also identify individuals and can be used to
reconstruct the date, time, and library they visited. The adoption of digital certificates will enable the identification
and tracking of an individual's use of any resource that employs the technology.
While library circulation systems have always tracked the identity of patrons who borrow traditional library materials, the
association between the individual and the items is deleted when the materials are returned. Government subpoenas could force
libraries to reveal the items that a patron currently has checked out, but the library does not retain the data that would
be required to reveal a patron's complete borrowing history. In the case of transaction logs,
however, the association remains as long as the library maintains the log files, unless the library manipulates the files
in some way (for example, by replacing individual user IDs with the school and status of the users). Without such manipulation,
it is possible for libraries, hackers, or government agencies to track an individual's use of digital library collections
and services over whatever period of time the log files are maintained. While there could be good reason to track the usage
patterns of randomly selected individuals throughout their years at the university, the possibility raises questions about
informed consent and perhaps challenges the core value of privacy in librarianship. The effects of the recently passed Anti-Terrorism
Act on the privacy of library use are not yet known.
5. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
Libraries face five key challenges related to assessment:
Libraries urgently need statistics and performance measures appropriate to assessing traditional and digital collections and
services. They need a way to identify unauthenticated visits to Web sites and digital collections, as well as clear definitions
and instructions for compiling composite input and output measures for the hybrid library. They need guidelines for conducting
cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analyses and benchmarks for making decisions. They need instruments to assess whether
students are really learning by using the resources libraries provide. They need reliable, comparative, quantitative baseline
data across disciplines and institutions as a context for interpreting qualitative and quantitative data indicative of what
is happening locally. They need assessments of significant environmental factors that may be influencing library use in order
to interpret trend data. To facilitate comparative assessments of resources provided by the library, by commercial vendors,
and by other information service providers, DLF respondents commented that they need a central reporting mechanism, standard
definitions, and national guidelines that have been developed and tested by librarians, not by university administrators or
representatives of accreditation or other outside agencies.
- Gathering meaningful, purposeful, comparable data
- Acquiring methodological guidance and the requisite skills to plan and conduct assessments
- Managing assessment data
- Organizing assessment as a core activity
- Interpreting library trend data in the larger environmental context of user behaviors and constraints
Aggressive efforts are under way to satisfy all of these needs. For example, the International Coalition of Library Consortia's
(ICOLC) work to standardize vendor-supplied data is making headway. The Association of Research Libraries' (ARL) E-metrics
and LIBQUAL+ efforts are standardizing new statistics, performance measures, and
research instruments. Collaboration with other national organizations, including the National Center for Education Statistics
(NCES) and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), shows promise for coordinating standardized measures across
all types of libraries. ARL's foray into assessing costs and learning and research outcomes could provide standards, tools,
and guidelines for these much-needed activities as well. Their plans to expand LIBQUAL+ to assess digital library service
quality and to link digital library measures to institutional goals and objectives are likely to further enhance standardization,
instrumentation, and understanding of library performance in relation to institutional outcomes. ARL serves as the central
reporting mechanism and generator of publicly available trend data for large research libraries. A similar mechanism is needed
to compile new measures and disseminate trend data for other library cohort groups.
Meanwhile, libraries have diverse assessment practices and sometimes experience failure or only partial success in their assessment
efforts. Some DLF respondents expressed dismay at the pace of progress in the development of new measures. The pace is slower
than libraries might like, in the context of the urgency of their need, because developing and standardizing assessment of
current library resources, resource use, and performance is very difficult. Libraries are in transition. It is hard to define,
let alone standardize, what libraries do, or to measure how much they do or how well they do it, because what they do is constantly
changing. Deciding what data to collect and how to collect them are difficult because library collections and services are
evolving rapidly. New media and methods of delivery evolve at the pace of technological change, which, according to Raymond
Kurzweil (2000), doubles every decade.  The methods for assessing new resource delivery evolve at a slower rate than do the resources themselves. This is the essential
challenge and rationale for the efforts of ARL, ICOLC, and other organizations to design and standardize appropriate new measures
for digital libraries. It also explains the difficulties involved in developing good trend data and comparative measures.
Even if all libraries adopted new measures as soon as they became available, comparing the data would be difficult because
libraries evolve on different paths and at different rates, and offer different services or venues for service. Given the
context of rapid, constant change and diversity, the new measures initiatives are essential and commendable. Without efforts
on a national scale to develop and field test new measures and build a consensus, libraries would hesitate to invest in new
measures. Just as absence of community agreement about digitization and metadata standards is an impediment to libraries that
would otherwise digitize some of their collections, lack of community agreement about appropriate new measures is an impediment
to investing in assessment.
Despite the difficulties, substantial progress is being made. Consensus is being achieved. Libraries are slowly adopting composite
measures, such as those developed by John Carlo Bertot, Charles McClure, and Joe Ryan, to capture traditional and digital
library inputs, outputs, and performance. For example 
Analysis of composite measures over time will provide a more comprehensive picture of what is happening in libraries and will
enable libraries to present more persuasive cases to university administrators and other funders to support libraries and
their digital initiatives. Perhaps a lesson learned in system development applies here. Interoperability is possible when
a limited subset of metadata tags and service offerings are supported. In the context of assessment, a limited subset of statistics
and performance measures could facilitate comparison yet also allow for local variations and investments. ARL is taking this
approach in its effort to develop a small set of core statistics for vendor products.
- Total library visits = total gate counts + total virtual visits
- Percentage of total library visits that are virtual
- Total library materials use = total circulation + total in-house use of materials + total full-text electronic resources viewed
- Percentage of total library materials used in electronic format
- Total reference activity = total in-person transactions + total telephone transactions + total virtual (for example, e-mail,
- Percentage of total reference activity conducted in virtual format
- Total serials collection = total print journal titles + total e-journal titles
- Percentage of total serials collection available in electronic format
Reaching a consensus on even a minimum common denominator set of new statistics and performance measures would be a big step
forward, but libraries also need methodological guidance and training in the requisite skills. Practical manuals and workshops,
developed by libraries for libraries, that describe how to gather, analyze, interpret, present, and apply data to decision
making and strategic planning would facilitate assessment and increase return on the investment in assessment. ARL is producing
such a manual for E-metrics. The manual will provide the definition of each measure, its rationale, and instructions for how
to collect the data. ARL also offers workshops, Systems and Procedures Exchange Center (SPEC) kits, and publications that
facilitate skill development and provide models for gathering, analyzing, and interpreting data. However, even if libraries
take advantage of ARL's current and forthcoming offerings, comments from DLF respondents indicate that gaps remain in several
"How-to" manuals and workshops are greatly needed in the area of user studies. Although DLF libraries are conducting a number
of user studies, many respondents asked for assistance. Manuals and workshops developed by libraries for libraries that cover
the popular assessment methods (surveys, focus groups, and user protocols) and the less well-known but powerful and cost-effective
discount usability testing methods (heuristic evaluations and paper prototypes and scenarios) would go a long way toward providing
such guidance. A helpful manual or workshop would
Standard, field-tested research instruments for such things as OPAC user protocols or focus groups to determine priority features
and functionality for digital image collections would enable comparisons across libraries and avoid the cost of duplicated
efforts in developing and testing the instruments. Similarly, budgets, time lines, and workflows derived from real experience
would reduce the cost of trial-and-error efforts replicated at each institution.
- Define the method
- Describe its advantages and disadvantages
- Provide instruction in how to develop the research instruments and gather and analyze the data
- Include sample research instruments proven successful in field testing
- Include sample quantitative and qualitative results, along with how they were interpreted, presented, and applied to realistic
- Include sample budgets, time lines, and workflows
The results of the DLF study also indicate that libraries would benefit from manuals and workshops that provide instruction
in the entire research processfrom conception through implementation of the resultsparticularly if attention were drawn
to key decision points, potential pitfalls, and the skills needed at each step of the process. Recommended procedures and
tools for analyzing, interpreting, and presenting quantitative and qualitative data would be helpful, as would guidance in
how to turn research findings into action plans. Many libraries have already learned a great deal through trial and error
and through investments in training and professional development. Synthesizing and packaging their knowledge and expertise
in the form of guidelines or best practices and disseminating it to the broader library community could go a long way toward
removing impediments to conducting user studies and would increase the yield of studies conducted.
TLA presents a slightly different set of issues because the data are not all under the control of the library. Through the
efforts of ICOLC and ARL, progress is being made on standardizing the data points to be delivered by vendors of database resources.
ARL's forthcoming instruction manual on E-metrics will address procedures for handling these vendor statistics. Similar work
remains to be done with OPAC and ILS vendors and vendors of full-text digital collections. Library-managed usage statistics
for their Web sites and local
databases and digital collections present a third source of TLA data. Use of different TLA software, uncertainty or discrepancy
in how the data points are defined and counted, and needed analyses not supported by some of the software complicate data
gathering and comparative analysis of use of these different resources. Work must be done to coordinate efforts on all these
fronts to facilitate comparative assessments of resources provided by the library, commercial vendors, and other information
In the meantime, libraries could benefit from guidance on how to compile, interpret, present, and use the TLA data they do
have. For example, DLF libraries have taken different approaches to compiling and presenting vendor data. A study of these
approaches and the costs and benefits of each approach would be instructive. Case studies of additional research conducted
to provide a context for interpreting and using TLA data would likewise be informative. For example, what does the increasing
or decreasing number of queries of licensed databases mean? Is an increase necessarily a good thing and a decrease necessarily
a bad thing? Does a decrease indicate a poor financial investment? Could a decrease in the number of queries simply mean that
users have become better searchers? What do low-use or no-use Web pages mean? Poor Web site design? Or wasted resources producing
pages of information that no one needs? Libraries would benefit if those who have gathered data to help answer these questions
would share what they have learned.
The issue of compiling assessment data is related to managing the data and generating trend lines over time. Libraries need
a simplified way to record and analyze input and output data on traditional and digital collections and services, as well
as an easy way to generate statistical reports and trend lines. Several DLF libraries reported conducting needs assessments
for library statistics in their institutions, eliminating data-gathering practices that did not address strategic concerns
or were not required for internal or external audiences. They also mentioned plans to develop a homegrown MIS that supports
the data manipulations they want to perform and provides the tools to generate the graphics they want to present. Designing
and developing an MIS could take years, not counting the effort required to train staff how to use the system and secure their
commitment to use it. Only time will tell whether the benefits to individual libraries will exceed the cost of creating these
The fact that multiple libraries are engaged in this activity suggests a serious common need. One wonders why a commercial
library automation vendor has not yet marketed a product that manages, analyzes, and graphically presents library data. The
local costs of gathering, compiling, analyzing, managing, and presenting quantitative data in effective ways, not to mention
the cost of training and professional development required to accomplish these tasks, could exceed the cost of purchasing
a commercial library data management system, were such a system available. The market for such a system would probably be
large enough that a vendor savvy enough to make it affordable could also make it profitable. Such a system
would reduce the need for librarians to interpret and apply data effectively. The cost savings would be spent on purchasing
the system. The specifications and experiences of libraries engaged in creating their own MIS could be used to develop specifications
for the design of a commercial MIS. Building a consensus within the profession for the specification and marketing it to library
automation vendors could yield collaborative development of a useful, affordable system. Admittedly, the success of such a
system depends in part on the entry and verification of correct data, but this issue could begin to resolve itself, given
standard data points and a system, designed by libraries for libraries, that saves resources and contributes to strategic
The results of the DLF study suggest that individually, libraries in many cases are collecting data without really having
the will, organizational capacity, or interest to interpret and use the data effectively in library planning. Libraries have
been slow to standardize definitions and assessment methods, develop guidelines and best practices, and provide the benchmarks
necessary to compare the results of assessments across institutions. These problems are no doubt related to the fact that
library use and library roles are in continuous transition. The development of skills and methods cannot keep pace with the
changing environment. The problems may also be related to the internal organization of libraries. Comments from DLF respondents
indicate that the internal organization of many libraries does not facilitate the gathering, analysis, management, and strategic
use of assessment data. The result is a kind of purposeless data collection that has little hope of serving as a foundation
for the development of guidelines, best practices, or benchmarks. The profession could benefit from case studies of those
libraries that have conducted research efficiently and applied the results effectively. Understanding how these institutions
created a program of assessmenthow they integrated assessment into daily library operations, how they organized the effort,
how they secured commitment of human and financial resources, and what human and financial resources they committedwould
be helpful to the many libraries currently taking an ad hoc approach to assessment and struggling to organize their effort.
Including budgets and workflows for the assessment program would enhance the utility of such case studies.
Efforts to enhance research skills, to conduct and use the results of assessments, to compile and manage assessment data,
and to organize assessment as a core library activity all shed light on how libraries and library use are changing. What remains to be known is why libraries and library use are changing. To date, speculation and intuition have been employed to interpret known trends;
however careful interpretation of the data requires knowledge of the larger context within which libraries operate. Many DLF
respondents expressed a need to know what information students and faculty use, why they use this information, and what they
do or want to do when they need information or when they find information. Respondents acknowledged that these behaviors,
including use of the library,
are constrained by changes on and beyond the campus, including the following:
In response to this widespread need to know, the Digital Library Federation, selected library directors, and Outsell, Inc.,
have designed a study to examine the information-seeking and usage behaviors of academic users. The study will survey several
thousand students and faculty in different disciplines and different types of institutions to begin to understand how they
perceive and use the broader information landscape. The study will provide a framework for understanding how academics find
and use information (regardless of whether the information is provided by libraries), examine changing patterns of use in
relation to changing environmental factors, identify gaps where user needs are not being met, and develop baseline and trend
data to help libraries with strategic planning and resource allocation. The findings will help libraries focus their efforts
on current and emerging needs and expectations of academic users, evaluate their current position in the information landscape,
and plan their future collections, services, and roles on campus on the basis of an informed, rather than speculative, understanding
of academic users and uses of information. 
- Changes in the habits, needs, and preferences of users; for example, undergraduate students now turn to a Web search engine
instead of the library when they need information
- Changes in the curriculum; for example, elimination of research papers or other assignments that require library use, distance
education courses, or the use of course packs and course management software that bundle materials that might otherwise have
been found in the library
- Changes in the technological infrastructure; for example, penetration and ownership of personal networked computers, network
bandwidth, or wireless capabilities on university and college campuses that enable users to enter the networked world of information
without going through pathways established by the library.
- Use of competing information service providers; for example, Ask-A services, Questia, Web sites such as LibrarySpot, or the
Web in general
The next steps recommended based on the results of the DLF study are the collaborative production and dissemination of the
Libraries today are clearly needy. Facing rampant need and rapid change, their ingenuity and diligence are remarkable. Where
no path has been charted, they carve a course. Where no light shines, they strike a match. They articulate what they need
to serve users and their institutional mission, and if no one provides what they need, they provide it themselves, ad hoc
perhaps, but for the most part functional. In search of high quality, they know when to settle for good enoughgood-enough
data, good-enough research and sampling methods, good enough to be cost-effective, good enough to be beneficial to users.
In the absence of standards, guidelines, benchmarks, and adequate budgets, libraries work to uphold the core values of personal
service and equitable access in the digital environment. Collaboration and dissemination may be the keys to current and future
- E-metrics lite: a limited subset of digital library statistics and performance measures to facilitate gathering baseline data
and enable comparisons
- How-to manuals and workshops for
- conducting research in general, with special emphasis on planning and commitment of resources
- conducting and using the results of surveys, focus groups, user protocols, and discount usability studies, with special emphasis
on field-tested instruments, time lines, budgets, workflows, and requisite skills
- Case studies of
- the costs and benefits of different approaches to compiling, presenting, interpreting, and using vendor TLA data in strategic
- how institutions successfully organized assessment as a core library activity
- a specification for the design and functionality of an MIS to capture traditional and digital library data and generate composite
measures, trend data, and effective graphical presentations
1 To give the reader a better understanding of the care with which user studies must be designed and conducted, sample research
instruments may be viewed at www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub105/instr.pdf.
2 Much of the information in this section is taken from Chadwick, Bahr, and Albrecht 1984.
3 Much of the information in this section is taken from Chadwick, Bahr, and Albrecht 1984.
4 See, for example, Nielsen 1994. Other chapters in the book describe other usability inspection methods, including cognitive
5 A brief description of these principles is available in Nielsen, no date.
6 To guide these discussions, libraries are using the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) Guidelines for
Statistical Measures of Usage of Web-Based Indexed, Abstracted, and Full-Text Resources. Available at: http://www.library.yale.edu/consortia/Webstats.html.
7 See, for example, Ess 2001.
8 Kurzweil is founder and chief technology officer, Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, and founder and chief executive officer,
Kurzweil Educational Systems.
9 The measures were developed for public library network services, but are equally suited to academic libraries. See Statistics and Performance Measures for Public Library Network Services. 2000. Chicago: American Library Association.
10 The research proposal and plans are available at http://www.diglib.org/use/grantpub.pdf.
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Louisiana Libraries 63(2):17-22.
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Use and Satisfaction. Journal of Academic Librarianship 25(5):354.
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Library Hi Tech 15(1-2):123-132.
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Non-ARL Libraries. Library Hi Tech 17(1):26-45.
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Transaction Log Analysis
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to Judge Their Effectiveness at Six Libraries of the University of Louisville. Reference and User Services Quarterly 37(1):63-69.
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Results. College and Research Libraries 59:39-50.
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Log Analysis Verification. The Journal of Academic Librarianship 24(4):282-289.
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Characteristics and Transaction Log Analysis. Library Resources and Technical Services 39:142-152.
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Information Technology and Libraries 15:81-98.
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Analysis. Library Hi Tech 11(2):38-40.
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Library Hi Tech 11(2):105-106.
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for Bibliographic Instruction and System Design. RQ 33:239-252.
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Users. Library Resources and Technical Services 40:211-236.
Including Protocol Analysis and Heuristic Evaluation
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The Journal of Academic Librarianship 27(3):188-198.
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Think Afters. Library and Information Science Research 22(4):371-392.
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Deployment. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 39(2):90-99.
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- California Digital Library
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Emory University
- Harvard University
- Indiana University
- Johns Hopkins University
- Library of Congress
- New York Public Library
- North Carolina State University
- Pennsylvania State University
- Stanford University
- University of Chicago
- University of Illinois
- University of Michigan
- University of Minnesota
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Southern California
- University of Texas
- University of Tennessee
- University of Virginia
- University of Washington
- Yale University
- What data do you gather to assess user needs and the use and usability of your library?
- How do you gather the data?
- How do you analyze the data?
- Why are you gathering and analyzing the data?
- How do you use the results of the data analysis?
- How does the process seem to work? What works well? What doesn't work so well?
- How would you change the process?
Traditional Input, Output, and Outcome Measures
The body of this report focuses on studies of users and electronic resource usage because these were the areas that the Digital
Library Federation (DLF) survey respondents spent most of their time discussing during the interviews. Putting these issues
in the foreground, however, is somewhat misleading, because libraries have traditionally gathered and continue to gather statistics
related to the size, use, and impact of all of their collections and services. These traditional measures are being expanded
to embrace digital library activities in order to capture the full scope of library performance. This expansion is problematic
for reasons already acknowledged; for example, because libraries are in transition and standard definitions and reporting
mechanisms are not yet fully established. Nevertheless, substantial progress is being made through the efforts of groups such
as the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), which are undertaking large projects to field-test and refine new measures.
This appendix describes what DLF respondents reported about their input, output, and outcome measures to indicate the full
scope of their assessment practices and to provide a context in which to interpret both the design and the results of the
user and usage studies presented in the body of this report. The treatment is uneven in detail because the responses were
uneven. Many respondents talked at great length about some topics, such as the use of reference services. In other cases,
respondents mentioned a measure and brushed over it in a sentence. The unevenness of the discussion suggests where major difficulties
or significant activity exists. As much as possible, the approach follows that used in the body of this report: What is the
measure? Why is it gathered? How are the data used? What challenges do libraries face with it?
1. Input and Output Measures
Traditional measures quantify a library's raw materials or potential to meet user needs (inputs) and the actual use of library collections and services (outputs). Input and output statistics reveal changes in what libraries do over time. For example, they provide a longitudinal look
at the number of books purchased and circulated per year. Traditional approaches to measuring inputs and outputs focus on
physical library resources. Libraries are slowly building a consensus on what to measure and how to measure inputs and outputs
in the digital environment. The goal is standard definitions that facilitate gathering digital library data that can be compared
with traditional library data from their own institution and from others. Developing such standards is difficult for many
reasons, not the least of which is the basic fact of digital library life addressed in the transaction log analysis section
of this report: much of the data are provided by vendor systems or software packages that capture and count transactions differently
and do not always provide the statistics that libraries prefer. Though the form of the problem is new in the sense that the
data are provided by units not controlled by the library, the problem itself is not. Even in the traditional library environment,
definitions were not uniform. Comparison and interpretation were complicated by contextual factors such as the length of circulation
loan periods and institutional missions that shaped library statistics and performance.
1.1. Input Measures: Collection, Staff, and Budget Sizes
Libraries have traditionally gathered statistics and monitored trends in the size of their collections, staff, and budgets.
Collection data are gathered in an excruciating level of detail; for example, the number of monographs, current serials, videos
and films, microforms, CDs, software, maps, musical scores, and even the number of linear feet of archival materials. The
data are used to track the total size of collections and collection growth per year. Typically, the integrated library management
system (ILS) generates reports that provide collection data. Staff sizes are traditionally tracked in two categories: professionals
(librarians) and support staff. The library's business manager or human resources officer provides these data. The business
manager tracks budgets for salaries, materials, and general operation of the library. DLF respondents indicated that collection,
staff, and budget data are used primarily to meet reporting obligations to national organizations such as ARL and ACRL, which
monitor library trends. Ratios are compiled to assess such things as the number of new volumes added per student or full-time
faculty member, which reveals the impact of the economic crisis in scholarly communication on library collections.
New measures are being developed to capture the size of the digital library as an indication of the library's potential to
needs for electronic resources. DLF respondents reported using the following digital library input measures:
Whether libraries also count the number of e-journals, e-books, or digital collections that they link to for free is unclear.
Some of these measures can be combined with traditional collection statistics to reveal the libraries' total collection size
(for example, the number of physical monographs plus the number of e-books) and trends in electronic collection growth. DLF
respondents indicated that they were beginning to capture the following composite performance measures:
- Number of links on the library Web site
- Number of pages in the library Web site
- Number of licensed and locally maintained databases
- Number of licensed and locally maintained e-journals
- Number of licensed and locally maintained e-books
- Number of locally maintained digital collections
- Number of images in locally maintained digital collections
- Total file size of locally maintained databases and digital collections
In many cases, baseline data are being gathered. Little historical data are available to assess trends within an institution.
Even if multiyear data are available, libraries have had no way to compare their efforts with those of their peer institutions,
because there is no central reporting mechanism for digital library input measures. ARL will soon begin gathering such e-metrics,
but other reporting organizations appear to be further behind in this regard.
- Percentage of book collection available electronically
- Percentage of journal collection available electronically
- Percentage of reserves collection available electronically
- Percentage of the materials budget spent on e-resources
DLF respondents talked about the difficulty of compiling these data. The data reside in different units within the library,
and the systems that these units use do not support this kind of data gathering and reporting. The upshot is a labor-intensive
effort to collect, consolidate, and manage the statistics. ARL's E-Metrics Phase II Report, Measures and Statistics for Research Library Networked Services, describes the related issue of "the organizational structure needed to manage electronic resources and services, particularly
the configuration of personnel and workflow to support the collection of statistics and measures.  Interpreting these data is also an issue. For example, what does it mean if the number of pages on the library Web site shrinks
following a major redesign of the site? Just as traditional input measures seemed to assume that more books were better than
fewer books, should libraries assume that more Web pages are necessarily better than fewer Web pages? DLF respondents didn't
User studies and an interpretive framework based on a study of key factors in the larger environment are needed to interpret
Some DLF respondents commented on trends in staff and budget sizes. They talked about hiring more technical staff (technicians,
system managers, programmers) and other personnel (interface designers, human factors researchers) needed to support digital
library initiatives. These positions are funded primarily by eliminating open positions because personnel budgets do not accommodate
adding positions. At the time the DLF interviews were conducted, there was a crisis in hiring information technology (IT)
personnel in higher education because salaries were not competitive with those in the corporate sector.  The situation was even more urgent for academic libraries, which often could not compete with IT salaries even within their
institution. The recent folding of many dot-coms might make higher education salaries more competitive and facilitate filling
these positions, but unless the inequity in IT salaries within an institution is addressed, libraries could continue to have
problems in this area. DLF respondents commented that materials budgets did not keep pace with the rising cost of scholarly
communications, and that operating or capital budgets were often inadequate to fund systematic replacement cycles for equipment,
not to mention the purchase of new technologies.
1.2. Output Measures
Libraries have traditionally gathered statistics and monitored trends in the use of their collections and services. They often
compare traditional usage measurements across institutions, although these comparisons are problematic because libraries,
like vendors, count different things and count the same things in different ways. Though settling for "good-enough" data seems
to be the mantra of new measures initiatives and conferences on creating a "culture of assessment," libraries have apparently
been settling for good-enough data since the inception of their data gathering. Reference service data are a case in point,
described in section 1.2.4. of this appendix. The following discussion of output measures reflects the expansion of traditional
measures to capture the impact of digital initiatives on library use and the issues and concerns entailed in this expansion.
1.2.1. Gate Counts
Gate counts indicate the number of people who visit the physical library. Students often use an academic library as a place
for quiet study, group study, or even social gatherings. Capturing gate counts is a way to quantify use of the library building
apart from use of library collections and services. Libraries employ a variety of technological devices to gather gate counts.
The data are often gathered at the point of exit from the library and compiled at different time periods
throughout the day. Depending on the device capabilities, staff might manually record gate count data on a paper form at specified
times of the day and later enter it into a spreadsheet to track trends.
Libraries include gate count data in annual reports. They use gate counts to adjust staffing and operating hours, particularly
around holidays and during semester breaks. Sites capturing the data with card-swipe devices can use the data to track usage
patterns of different user communities.  One DLF respondent reported that regression analysis of exit data can explain fluctuations in reference activity and in-house
use of library materials. If one of these variables is known, the other two can be statistically estimated. However, no library
participating in the DLF survey reported using gate counts to predict reference service or in-house use of library materials.
Adjustments to staffing and operating hours appear to be made based on gross gate counts at different time periods of the
day and on the academic and holiday calendar. Gate count data, like data from many user studies, appear to be gathered in
some cases even though libraries do not have the will, organizational capacity, skill, or interest to mine, interpret, and
use them effectively in strategic planning.
Digital library initiatives introduce a new dimension to visiting the library. The notion of a "virtual" visit raises issues
of definition, guidelines for how to gather the data, and how or whether to compile traditional gate counts and virtual visits
as a composite measure of library use. Is a virtual visit a measure of use of the library Web site, the OPAC, or an electronic
resource or service? All of the above? Surely it is not a matter of counting every transaction or page fetched, in which case
a definition is needed for what constitutes a "session" in a stateless, sessionless environment such as unauthenticated use
of Web resources. The recommendation in the ARL E-Metrics Phase II Report and the default in some Web transaction analysis
software define a session based on a 30-minute gap of inactivity between transactions from a particular IP address.  Compiling a composite measure of traditional gate counts and virtual visits introduces a further complication, because virtual
visits from IP addresses within the library must be removed from the total count of virtual visits to avoid double counting
patrons who enter the physical library and use library computers to access digital resources.
Libraries are struggling with how to adjudicate these issues and determine what their practice will be. Their decisions are
constrained by what data it is possible and cost-effective to gather. One DLF site has decided to define virtual visits based
strictly on use of the library Web site, a 30-minute gap of inactivity from an IP address, and aggregate
data on virtual visits inside and outside of the libraries. Given their equipment replacement cycle and the number of new
machines and hence new IP addresses deployed each year in the library, this library decided that the benefits of calculating
the number of virtual visits from machines inside the library did not warrant the costs.
1.2.2. Circulation and In-House Use
Circulation statistics traditionally indicate how many items were checked out to users or used within the library. Circulation
data reports are generated routinely from the Integrated Library System (ILS). Initial checkouts and renewals are tracked
separately because national surveys require it. Reshelving data, gathered manually or through the ILS, are used to assess
in-house use of library materials. Items that circulate through other venues, for example, analog or digital slides, might
not be included in circulation statistics.
Libraries include circulation data in annual reports and national library surveys. The data are used to:
In addition, one DLF respondent mentioned conducting a demographic analysis of circulation data to determine circulation per
school, user status, library, and subject classification. The results were used to inform collection development decisions.
Other DLF respondents simply commented that they know that humanists use books and scientists use journals.
- Identify items that have never circulated and inform retention and cancellation decisions
- Assess or predict book use to help decide what to move to off-site storage 
- Decide whether the appropriate materials are in off-site storage
- Determine staffing at the circulation desk by examining patterns of circulation activity per hour, day, and academic quarter
Libraries also generate financial reports of fines and replacement costs for overdue and lost books. The data are tracked
as a source of important revenue and are frequently used to help fund underbudgeted student employee wages. Collection developers
determine whether lost books will be replaced, presumably based on a cost-benefit analysis of the book's circulation and replacement
cost. Some DLF respondents also reported tracking recalls and holds, but did not explain how these data are used. If the data
are used to track user demand for particular items and inform decisions about whether to purchase additional copies, they
serve a purpose. If the data are not used, data collection is purposeless.
The digital environment also introduces a new dimension to circulation data gathering, analysis, and use. For example, a comprehensive
picture of library resource use requires compiling data on use of traditional (physical) and digital monographs and journals.
Usage data on electronic books and journals are not easily gathered and compiled because they are not checked out or re-shelved
in the traditional sense and because the data are for the most part provided by vendorsin different formats and time periods,
and based on different definitions. Ideally, use of all physical and digital resources would be compiled, including use of
physical and digital archival materials, maps, and audio and video resources. The discussions of transaction log analysis
and virtual visits earlier in this report describe many of the difficulties inherent in tracking "circulation" or "in-house
use" of electronic resources. A few DLF respondents mentioned efforts to compile book and journal data as their foray into
this area, but a comprehensive picture of use of library collections appears to be a long way off.
Faculty put items that they want students to use, but do not distribute in class or require them to purchase, on reserve in
the library. Libraries track reserve materials in great detail. Reserves are tracked as both input and output measures. Both
dimensions are treated here to facilitate an understanding of the complexity of the issues. Libraries place items on course
reserves in traditional paper and electronic formats. Some DLF sites operate dual systems, offering both print and e-reserves
for the same items. DLF respondents reported tracking the following:
The number of traditional and digital reserve items in some cases is tracked manually because the ILS cannot generate the
data. Depending on how reserves are implemented, use of traditional reserves (for example, books and photocopies) might be
tracked by the circulation system. Tracking use of e-reserves requires analysis of Web server logs (for example, the number
of PDF files downloaded or pages viewed). The data are used to track trends over time, including changes in the percentage
of total reserve items available electronically and the percentage of total reserve use that is electronic. Data on reserve
use may be included in annual reports.
- The number of items on reserve in traditional and digital format
- The use of traditional and e-reserve items
- The percentage of reserve items available electronically
- The percentage of reserve use that is electronic
One DLF site reported analyzing Web logs to prepare daily and hourly summaries of e-reserves use, including what documents
users viewed, the number of visits to the e-reserves Web site, how users navigated to the e-reserves Web site (from what referring
page), and what Web browser they used. This library did not explain how these data are used. Another site reported tracking
the number of reserve items per format using the following format categories: book, photocopy, personal copy, and e-reserves.
Their e-reserve collection does not include books, so to avoid comparing apples with oranges, they calculate their composite
performance measures without including books in the count of traditional reserve items or use. Several sites
provide or plan to provide audio or video e-reserves. Only time will tell if they begin to track formats within e-reserves
and how this will affect data gathering and analysis.
DLF respondents also mentioned tracking the following information manually:
Data about the number of requests per day, the number of items per request, and the amount of time that passes between when
a request is placed and when the item becomes available on reserve are used to estimate workload, plan staffing, and assess
service quality. The number of pages in e-reserve items is a measure of scanning activity or digital collection development.
It is also used as the basis for calculating e-resource use in systems where e-reserves are delivered page by page. (The total
number of e-reserve page hits is divided by the average number of pages per e-reserve item to arrive at a measure comparable
to checkout of a traditional reserve item.) No indication was given for how the data on reserve items per department, faculty,
and course were used. If converted to percentages, for example, the percentage of faculty or departments requesting reserves,
the data would provide an indication of market penetration. If, however, the data are not used, data collection is purposeless.
- The number of reserve items per academic department, faculty member, and course number
- The number of requests received per day to put items on reserve
- The number of items per request
- The number of items made available on reserves per day
- The number of work days between when the request was submitted and when the items are made available on reserves
- The number of pages in e-reserve items
Reference data are difficult to collect because reference service is difficult to define, evolving rapidly, and being offered
in new and different ways. The problem is compounded because naturally the methods for assessing new service delivery evolve
at a slower rate than the service forms themselves do. DLF respondents reported offering reference service in the following
ways, many of which are online attempts to reach remote users:
- Face-to-face at the reference desk
- Telephone at the reference desk
- Telephone to librarian offices
- E-mail, using a service e-mail address or Web-based form on the library's Web site
- E-mail directly to librarians
- U.S. Postal Service
- Chat software
- Virtual Reference Desk software
- Teleconferencing software
Libraries are also collaborating to provide online or digital reference service. For example, some DLF sites are participating
in the Collaborative Digital Reference Service,  which is a library-to-library service to researchers available any time, anywhere, through a Web-based, international network
of libraries and other institutions organized by the Library of Congress. Other collaborative digital reference services include
the 24/7 Reference Project and the Virtual Reference Desk Network.  The DLF, OCLC, and other organizations are supporting a study of online reference services being conducted by Charles McClure
and David Lankes. Findings from the study so far reveal a wide range of concerns and need for new measures. For example, there
are concerns about competitive reference services in the commercial sector, concerns about decreasing traditional reference
statistics and the potential volume of digital reference questions, and a need for instruments to measure the effectiveness,
efficiency, costs, and outcomes of digital reference. 
Most DLF libraries track reference data, but they define different categories of questions to count, and they count at different
frequencies. At bare minimum, libraries count questions asked at the reference desk and distinguish "reference" questions
from "directional" questions. Some libraries distinguish "quick reference" questions from "real reference" questions. Some
libraries explicitly count and categorize "technical" questions about computers, printers, or the network. Some include technical
questions under the rubric of "reference" questions. Some do not count technical questions at all. Some have a category for
"referrals" to other subject specialists. Some have an "Other" category that is undefined. Some libraries track the time of
day and day of week questions are asked at the reference desk. Some track the school and status of the user and the reference
desk location. Some libraries gather reference desk data routinely. Others sample, for example, two randomly selected days
per month, two weeks per year, or two weeks per quarter. Some libraries include in their reference statistics questions that
go directly to the librarian's desk via telephone or personal e-mail. Others make no effort to gather such data. Two apparently
new initiatives are to track the length of reference transactions and the number of reference questions that are answered
using electronic resources.
Compiling data from different venues of reference service is time-consuming because the data gathering is dispersed. Reference
desk questions are tracked manually at each desk. Librarians manually track telephone and e-mail questions that come directly
to them. Such manual tracking is prone to human error. E-mail questions to a reference service e-mail address are tracked
on an electronic bulletin board or mailbox. Chat reference questions are counted through
transaction log analysis. Often efforts to assemble these data are not well organized.
Despite these difficulties and anomalies, reference data are included in annual reports and national library surveys. The
data are used to determine
In addition, some librarians track their reference data separately and include it in their self-evaluation during annual performance
reviews as a measure of their contribution and productivity.
- Performance trends over time, including the percentage of reference questions submitted electronically and the percentage
of reference questions answered using electronic resources
- Appropriate hours of reference service
- Appropriate staffing at the reference desk during specific hours of the day
- Instruction to be provided for different constituencies (for example, database training for a particular college or user group)
Though reference data are tracked and in many cases examined, comments from DLF respondents suggest that strategic planning
is based on experience, anecdotes, and beliefs about future trends rather than on data. Several factors could account for
this phenomenon. First, the data collected or compiled about reference service are, and will continue to be, incomplete. As
one respondent observed, "Users ask anyone they see, so reference statistics will always be incomplete." Second, even if libraries
have multiyear trend data on reference service, the data are difficult to interpret. Changes in institutional mission, the
consolidation of reference points, the opening or renovation of library facilities, or the availability of competing "Ask-a"
services could change either the use of reference service or its definition, service hours, or staffing. Decisions about what
to count or not to count (for example, to begin including questions that go directly to librarians) make it difficult to compare
statistics and interpret reference trends within an institution, let alone across institutions. Third, the technological environment
blurs the distinction between reference, instruction, and outreach, which raises questions of what to count in which category
and how to compile and interpret the data. Furthermore, libraries are creating frequently asked questions (FAQ) databases
on the basis of their history of reference questions. What kind of service is this? Should usage statistics be categorized
as reference or database use? Given the strenuous effort required to gather and compile reference data and the minimal use
made of it, one wonders why so many libraries invest in the activity. One DLF site reported discontinuing gathering reference
data based on a cost-benefit analysis.
Librarians have traditionally offered instruction in how to use library resources. The instruction was provided in persona
librarian either visited a classroom or offered classes in the library. Often the instruction was discipline specific, for
example, teaching students in a history
class how to use the relevant collections in the library. Digital library initiatives and the appearance of the Web have expanded
both the content and format of library instruction. In addition to teaching users how to use traditional library resources,
librarians now teach patrons how to use many different bibliographic and full-text electronic resources. Given concerns about
undergraduate student use of the surface Web and the quality of materials they find there, library instruction has expanded
to include teaching critical thinking and evaluation ("information literacy") skills. Remote access to the library has precipitated
efforts to provide library instruction online as well as in person. The competencies required to provide instruction in the
digital environment are significantly different from those required to teach users how to use traditional resources that have
already been critically evaluated and selected by peer reviewers and librarians.
Libraries manually track their instruction efforts as a measure of another valuable service they provide to their constituencies.
DLF respondents reported tracking the number of instruction sessions and the number of participants in these sessions. Sites
with online courses or quizzes track the number of students who complete them. Libraries include instruction data in annual
reports and national surveys. The data are used to monitor trends and to plan future library instruction. Some librarians
track their instruction data separately and include this information in their self-evaluation during annual performance reviews
as a measure of their contribution and productivity.
Though a substantial amount of work and national discussion is under way in the area of Web tutorials, national reporting
mechanisms do not yet have a separate category for online instruction and no effort appears to have surfaced to measure the
percentage of instruction offered online. Perhaps this is because the percentage is still too small to warrant measuring.
Perhaps it is because online and in-person instruction are difficult to compare, since the online environment collapses session
and participant data into one number.
1.2.6. Interlibrary Loan
Interlibrary loan (ILL) service provides access to resources not owned by the library. Libraries borrow materials from other
libraries and loan materials to other libraries. The importance of ILL service to users and the expense of this service for
libraries, many if not most of which absorb the costs rather than passing them on to users, lead to a great deal of data gathering
and analysis about ILL. Changes precipitated by technologyfor example, the ability to submit, track, and fill ILL requests
electronicallyexpand data gathering and analysis.
Libraries routinely track the number of items loaned and borrowed, and the institutions to and from which they loan and borrow
materials. They annually calculate the fill rate for ILL requests and the average turn-around time between when requests are
submitted and the items are delivered. If items are received or sent electronically,
the number of electronically filled requests (loaned or borrowed) and turn-around times are tracked separately. Some libraries
also track the format of the items, distinguishing returnable items like books from non-returnable photocopies. Libraries
that subscribe to OCLC Management Statistics receive detailed monthly reports of ILL transactions conducted through OCLC,
including citations, whether requests were re-submitted, and turn-around times. They might have similar detail on ILL transactions
conducted through other venues. Libraries with consortium resource-sharing arrangements track these transactions separately.
Some libraries track ILL requests for items in their own collections. Resource-sharing units that photocopy materials in their
own collection and deliver them to campus users also track these transactions and, if a fee is charged, the revenue from these
transactions. Libraries in multi-library systems track ILL activity at each library separately. If they operate a courier
service among the libraries, they might also track these transactions.
Traditionally, much of this information has been tracked manually and later recorded in spreadsheets. The dual data entry
is time-consuming and prone to human error. Implementing the ILLiad software enables automatic, detailed tracking of ILL transactions,
saving staff time and providing a more complete and accurate picture of ILL activity.
ILL data are included in annual reports and national surveys. The data are used to
One DLF respondent is considering analyzing data on ILL requests to assess whether requests in some academic disciplines are
more difficult to fill than others are, though she did not explain how this data would be used. This respondent also wants
to cross-correlate ILL data with acquisitions and circulation data to determine the number of items purchased on the basis
of repeated ILL requests and whether these items circulated. Presumably this would enable a cost analysis of whether purchasing
and circulating the items was less expensive than continuing to borrow them via ILL.
- Track usage and performance trends over time, including the percentage of ILL requests filled electronically
- Assess service quality on the basis of the success (fill) rate and average turn-around times
- Determine staffing on the basis of the volume of ILL or courier transactions throughout the year
- Distribute the ILL workload among libraries in a multilibrary system
- Inform requests for purchasing additional equipment to support electronic receipt and transmission of ILL items
- Target publicity to campus constituencies by informing liaison librarians about ILL requests for items in the local collection
Cost data on ILL are important for copyright and budget reasons, but gathering the data to construct a complete picture of
the cost of ILL transactions is complex and labor-intensive. Apparently many libraries have only a partial picture of the
cost of ILL. Libraries
have to pay a fee if they borrow more than five articles from the same journal in a single year. Collecting the data to monitor
this is difficult and time-consuming, and the data are often incomplete. Libraries that subscribe to OCLC Fee Management can
download a monthly report of the cost of their ILL transactions through OCLC. Cost data for ILL transactions through other
venues are tracked separately, and often not by the resource-sharing unit. For example, invoices for ILL transactions might
be handled through the library's acquisitions unit; accounting for ILL transactions with institutions with which the libraries
have deposit accounts might be handled through the administrative office. Often the cost data from these different sources
are not compiled.
1.2.7. Printing and Photocopying
Printing and photocopying are important services provided by the library. Some libraries outsource these services, in which
case they might not get statistics. If these services are under the library's control, they are closely monitoredparticularly
if the library does not recover costs. Printers and photocopies have counters that provide the number of pages printed or
copied. The data are typically entered into a spreadsheet monthly. Some libraries also track the cost of paper and toner for
printers and photocopiers. At least one DLF site even monitors the labor costs to put paper and toner in the machines. In
some cases, use of these services by library staff and library users are tracked separately. The data are used to track usage
trends and make projections about future use, equipment needs, expenditures, and revenue (cost recovery).
2. OUTCOME MEASURES
In the parlance of traditional library performance measures, the purpose of all inputs and outputs is to achieve outcomes.
Outcomes are measures of the impact or effect that using library collections and services has on users. Good outcome measures
are tied to specific library objectives and indicate whether these objectives have been achieved.  Outcomes assessments can indicate how well user needs are being met, the quality of library collections and services, the
benefits or effectiveness of library expenditures, or whether the library is accomplishing its mission. Such assessments can
be difficult and expensive to conduct. For example, how do you articulate, develop, and standardize performance measures to
assess the library's impact on student learning and faculty research? Substantial work is underway in the area of outcomes
assessment, but with the exception of ARL's LIBQUAL+, libraries currently have no standard definitions or instruments with
which to make such assessments; likewise, they
have no source of aggregate or contextual data to facilitate comparing and interpreting their performance. Given the difficulty
and expense of measuring outcomes, if university administrators do not require outcomes assessments, many libraries do not
2.1. Learning and Research Outcomes
No DLF respondent reported gathering, analyzing, or using learning and research outcomes data. Instead, they talked about
the difficulty and politics of measuring such outcomes. Assessing learning and research outcomes is very difficult because
libraries have no graduates to track (for example, no employment rate or income levels to monitor), no clear definitions of
what to assess, and no methods to perform the assessments. The consensus among DLF respondents was that desirable outcomes
or proficiencies aligned with the institutional mission and instruments to measure success should be developed through the
collaboration of librarians and faculty, but the level of collaboration and commitment required to accomplish these two tasks
does not exist.
In the absence of definitions and instruments for measuring learning and research outcomes, libraries are using assessments
of user satisfaction and service quality as outcomes measurements. In the worst-case scenario, outputs appear to substitute
for outcomes, but as one DLF respondent commented, "It's not enough to be able to demonstrate that students can find appropriate resources and are satisfied with library collections. Libraries need to pursue whether students are really learning using these resources." The only practical solution seems to be to target desired proficiencies for a particular purpose,
identify a set of variables within that sphere that define impact or effectiveness, and develop a method to examine these
variables. For example, conduct citation analysis of faculty publications to identify effective use of library resources.
2.2. Service Quality and User Satisfaction
Years ago, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Task Force on Academic Library Outcomes Assessment called
user satisfaction a "facile outcome" because it provides little if any insight into what contributes to user dissatisfaction.  Nevertheless, assessing user satisfaction remains the most popular library outcomes measurement because assessing satisfaction
is easier than assessing quality. Assessments of user satisfaction capture the individual user's perception of library resources,
the competence and demeanor of library staff, and the physical appearance and ambience of library facilities. In contrast,
assessments of service quality measure the collective experience of many users and the gaps between their expectations
of excellent service and their perceptions of the service delivered. By identifying where gaps existin effect, quantifying
qualityservice quality studies provide sufficient insight into what users consider quality service for libraries to take
steps to reduce the gaps and improve service. Repeating service quality assessments periodically over time can reveal trends
and indicate whether steps taken to improve service have been successful. If the gaps between user perceptions of excellence
and library service delivery are small, the results of service quality assessments could serve as best practices for libraries.
Though service quality instruments have been developed and published for several library services, the measure has had limited
penetration. Few DLF sites reported conducting service quality assessments of particular services, though many are participating
in ARL's LIBQUAL+ assessment of librarywide service provision. DLF libraries reported conducting service quality studies of
reference, interlibrary loan, course reserves, and document delivery services to assess user perceptions of their speed, accuracy,
usefulness, reliability, and courteousness. The results were used to plan service improvements based on identified gaps. In
some cases, the results were not systematically analyzedadditional examples of a breakdown in the research process that leads
to purposeless data collection. One DLF respondent suggested that the best approach to measuring service quality using the
gap model is to select which service to evaluate on the basis of a genuine commitment to improve service in that area, and
then define quality in that area in a way that can be measured (for example, a two-day turn-around time). The keys are commitment
and a clearly articulated measurable outcome.
DLF respondents raised thought-provoking philosophical questions about assessments of service quality:
- Should service quality assessments strictly be used as diagnostic tools to identify gaps, or should they also be used as tools
for normative comparison across institutions?
- Do service quality assessments, designed to evaluate human-to-human transactions, apply to human-computer interactions in
the digital environment? If so, how?
- Are human expectations or perceptions of quality based on facts, marketing, or problems encountered? How do libraries discover
the answer to this question, and what are the implications of the answer?
- If quality is a measure of exceeding user expectations, is it ethical to manage user expectations to be low, then exceed them?
2.3. Cost-Effectiveness and Cost Benefits
Libraries have traditionally tracked costs in broad categories, for example, salaries, materials, or operating costs. ARL's
E-metrics initiative creates new categories for costs of e-journals, e-reference works, e-books, bibliographic utilities,
and networks and consortia, and even of the costs of constructing and managing local digital collections.
Measuring the effectiveness and benefits of these costs or expenditures, however, is somewhat elusive.
"Cost-effectiveness" is a quantitative measure of the library's ability to deliver user-centered outputs and outcomes efficiently.
Comments from DLF respondents suggest that the only motivation for analyzing the cost-effectiveness of library operations
comes from university administrators, which is striking, given the budgetary concerns expressed by many of the respondents.
Some libraries reported no impetus from university administrators to demonstrate their cost-effectiveness. Others are charged
with demonstrating that they operate cost-effectively. The scope of library operations to be assessed and the range of data
to be gathered to assess any single operation are daunting. Defining the boundaries of what costs to include and determining
how to calculate them are difficult. Published studies that try to calculate the total cost of a library operation reveal
the complexity of the task and substantial investment of time and talent required to assemble and analyze a dizzying array
of costs for materials, staffing, staff training, hardware, software, networking, and system maintenance.  Libraries charged with demonstrating their cost-effectiveness are struggling to figure out what to measure (where to begin),
and how to conduct these assessments in a cost-effective manner.
Even if all of the costs of different library operations can be assembled, how are libraries to know whether the total cost
indicates efficient delivery of user-centered outputs and outcomes? In the absence of standards, guidelines, or benchmarks
for assessing cost-effectiveness, and in many cases a lack of motivation from university administrators, an ad hoc approach
to assessing costsrather than cost-effectivenessis under way. DLF respondents reported practices such as the following:
The goals of these attempts to assess costs appear to be to establish baseline data and define what it means to be cost-effective.
For example, comparing the cost per session of different e-resources can facilitate an understanding of what a cost-effective
e-resource is and perhaps enable libraries to judge vendor-pricing levels.
- Analyzing the cost per session of e-resource use
- Determining cost per use of traditional materials (based on circulation and in-house usage statistics)
- Examining what it costs to staff library services areas
- Examining what it costs to collect and analyze data
- Examining the cost of productivity (for example, what it costs to put a book on the shelf or some information on the Web)
- Examining the total cost of selected library operations
Cost-benefit analysis is a different task entirely because it takes into account the qualitative value of library collections
to users. Even if libraries had a clear definition of what it means to be cost-effective or a benchmark against which to measure
their cost-effectiveness, additional work is required to determine whether the benefits of an activity warrant the costs.
If the cost of an activity is high and the payback is low, the activity may be revised or abandoned. For example, one DLF
respondent explained that his library stopped collecting reference statistics in 1993, when it determined that the data seldom
changed and it cost 40 hours of staff time per month to collect. Quantifying the payback is not always so straightforward,
however. User studies are required to assess the value to users of seldom-used services and collections. Knowing the value
may only raise the question of how high the value must be, and to how many users, to offset what level of costs.
The terrain for conducting cost-benefit analyses is just as broad and daunting as is the terrain for assessing cost-effectiveness
of library operations. One DLF institution is analyzing the costs and benefits of staff turnover, examining the trade-offs
between loss of productivity and the gains in salary savings to fund special projects or pursue the opportunity to create
new positions. As with analyses of cost-effectiveness, libraries need guidelines for conducting cost-benefit analyses and
benchmarks for making decisions. The effort requires some campuswide consensus about what it values about library services
and what is worth paying for.
1 http://www.arl.org/stats/newmeas/emetrics/phasetwo.pdf. October 2001, p. 41.
2 Recruiting and Retaining Information Technology Staff in Higher Education. Available at: http://www.educause.edu/pub/eb/eb1.html. August 2000.
3 Card-swipe exit data capture user IDs, which library the user is in, and the date and time. IDs can be mapped to demographic
data in the library patron database to determine the users' status and school (e.g., graduate student, business school).
4 http://www.arl.org/stats/newmeas/emetrics/phasetwo.pdf. October 2001, pp. 66-67.
5 For example, see Craig Silverstein and Stuart M. Shieber. 1996. Predicting Individual Book Use for Off-Site Storage Using
Decision Trees, Library Quarterly 66(3):266-293.
6 See http://www.loc.gov/rr/digiref.
7 See http://www.vrd.org/network.shtml.
8 Project updates are available at http://quartz.syr.edu/quality.
9 Bertot, J.C., C.R. McClure, and J. Ryan. 2000. Statistics and Performance Measures for Public Library Network Services. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association; 66.
10 Task Force on Academic Library Outcomes Assessment Report. June 1998. Association of College and Research Libraries, p.
3. Available at: http://www.ala.org/acrl/outcome.html.
11 See, for example, C.H. Montgomery and J. Sparks. Framework for Assessing the Impact of an Electronic Journal Collection
on Library Costs and Staffing Patterns. Available at: http://www.si.umich.edu/PEAK-2000/montgomery.pdf.
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