#CityLIS Guest Views: Derek MacKenzie Number crunching in the summer time

This guest post was written by Derek MacKenzie, Head of User Services at CityLibrary and #CityLIS Guest Lecturer.  Here, Derek looks at the collection, uses and reasons for statistics in university libraries.


Derek MacKenzie, Head of User Services at City, University of London Library

Derek MacKenzie, Head of User Services at City, University of London Library

The end of July always marks an important staging post in the University calendar with the end of the financial and statistical year.  August-July is the established period for us to collect data on library usage, spending, occupancy and all the other measures which enable us to assess our activity levels and contribute towards our future planning.   It is also around this time of year when we garner some qualitative and quantitative data in the form of survey results from the Your Voice and National Student Surveys.

Recent highlights

So what are some of the statistical highlights from CityLibrary in 2016-17?

Well, we saw a notable increase in the number of students visiting the library during the Christmas vacation period.   A total of 824 individual students visited the library over the three day Christmas holiday opening period, a 25% increase on the comparable period in December 2015.

We also saw the number of online chat enquiries increase by almost 20% to 1498 – or if you prefer that measured in time….library staff spent 8 days, 9 hours and 5 minutes of their collective time engaged with our users through this medium in the last year!

The number of items borrowed from the libraries declined by 4.7% – this is a continuation of a trend we’ve noted over several years now, a period which, as you might guess, has seen an ongoing increase in the take up of electronic books.

Why collect statistics?

It’s important that we are able to keep up to date with our library statistics as they’re required frequently to report to University Committees (such as the Library Committee and the University Executive Committee).  They also help us report back to Student Experience Committees on our activity and help with business cases to support bids for additional resources to help develop our services or improve the range of resources we can offer to support learning and research at the University.

While year on year measures are useful in giving us some immediately comparable data and looking at trends over a period of time, it’s worth noting that the range and nature of statistics that we gather has evolved over the years in response to changes in the academic landscape and in how library services are delivered.  Online chat enquiries weren’t on our radar 4 years ago as that service was still at the planning stage – but we can now use this as a key measure of library user engagement.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Changes to statistics

However, the scope and reach of the data we gather extends beyond City into the wider academic community on several levels – and changes in this sphere are happening at quite a pace.

City’s membership of the University of London, effective from September 2016, gave an additional focus for us as we began to review registrations and visits from the City community to Senate House Library across the year.   Other factors which have impacted on the ways we measure and record data over the years have been shaped by SCONUL.

A key activity for SCONUL, the national organisation for academic libraries, is the collection and publication of statistics.   And SCONUL has responded to the evolving academic climate by making changes to the types of data submitted by University libraries.  They also provide a framework for libraries to benchmark data against other comparable institutions – this can be a very useful tool for us to assess where we stand and what we’re doing in the wider academic environment.  More information on this can be found on the SCONUL website.

How we collect statistics

Our capacity to gather data is growing all the time with Springshare’s LibInsight software  giving us a particularly agile and dynamic tool to record and analyse a range of library statistics.  The challenge is to be sure that what we are recording is not only accurate but relevant and fit for purpose – and to be able to show that this adds value to the University experience for students.

Another key piece of work in the last year came towards the end of 2016 when Library Services contributed towards the University’s submission for the Teaching Excellence Framework.  The guidance notes from HEFCE (Higher Education and Funding Council for Education) were liberally sprinkled with the words “impact” and “effectiveness”.   More than anything, perhaps, this has highlighted how much the focus of data gathering in H.E now centres around demonstrating the value and impact of activity, not simply recording what is being done.  We’re not going to stop recording how many books are borrowed, how many study places are occupied, how many logins are recorded …but the challenge now is to be able to demonstrate how this activity relates to outcomes.

Universities are increasingly turning to analytics to help with student engagement, retention and recruitment and City is just one of many institutions involved in JISC’s learning analytics project.

I was given a great opportunity to learn more about how other libraries are gathering, analysing and responding to data by attending the Performance Measurement in Libraries Conference at the start of this month.   I’ll focus on some of the highlights from that in a future blog post.  In the meantime, I’d be really interested to hear your questions, comments and thoughts on library data and how we can bring a more analytical dimension to this.


Derek MacKenzie is Head of User Services, Library Services, at City, University of London and can be contacted by email.

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About James

Information Assistant (Academic Services) in the Library at City, University of London.
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