Consistent User Statistics – Not Always Easy to Obtain

A question that comes up for libraries when evaluating whether to renew a digital resource is usage statistics. Libraries want to know if the resource is being used often enough to merit the amount of money that the resource costs. Budgets are not, no surprise, limitless. Libraries must make informed digital collection development decisions. Part of that decision-making process is governed by how much a resource is used by library patrons.

Vendor-supplied data can assist libraries in making informed decisions. However, libraries generally have found it difficult to obtain this electronic data from vendors. If data is provided, it may not be easy to interpret, it may not cover relevant time periods, or it may require special programmed software to retrieve.

In efforts to address this issue, one organization, COUNTER, has created a Code of Practice that vendors and publishers can use to report usage statistics in a consistent way. COUNTER is the acronym for Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources. It is a non-profit organization sustained by fees from its member organizations.

The organization’s vision is simple: “Consistent, credible, and comparable usage data.” Their mission is “to develop and maintain the standard for counting and reporting use of electronic resources. It will ensure that content providers can implement the code of practice efficiently and their library customers and users will receive relevant usage reports in the format they need.”

COUNTER promotes collaboration and dialogue, as well as openness. The COUNTER Code of Practice is an open standard. Membership in COUNTER is open to all libraries, institutional repositories, publishers, and vendors globally.

COUNTER for Libraries includes resources, including Foundation Classes, Friendly Guides, and a Manual for Librarians. The COUNTER Code of Practice for libraries “ensures that librarians are able to compare usage statistics from different vendors, calculate cost-per-use, and make better informed purchasing decisions.”

For publishers and vendors, COUNTER provides a guide to becoming a COUNTER compliant content provider. Paul Meehan, part of the Journal Usage Statistics Portal, offers top tips for COUNTER compliance for vendors, including comments on challenges with compliance. Some notable publishers and vendors who support COUNTER include Springer Nature, Sage Publishing, Atmire, HighWire, Wolters Kluwer, Scholarly IQ, IOP Publishing, ABC, JISC, and BPA Worldwide.

While some vendors may resist providing information, whether they lack the sophisticated technology to pull data or fear that low usage statistics may result in losing an account, ultimately an awareness of how often a resource is used can only serve to improve the information being provided and thus the greater likelihood of libraries purchasing the resource because of its enhanced value. COUNTER may be the solution that works for everyone.