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Understanding the Numbers: Successful Retrievals of Electronic Information on the Public Library Annual Report

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The 2016 Public Library Annual Report includes a new section for tracking usage of “electronic collections,” otherwise known as databases or electronic resources. See previous posts Looking Ahead: New Data in FY2016 Annual Reports and Annual Report / LibPAS Workshop Material for more information.

While many libraries purchase their own electronic collections, a bulk of this data will be coming from the state-provided resources in BadgerLink ( Over the last 6 months, I have been working with systems and/or libraries to make updates with our content providers to allow for these individual usage statistics to be captured. As the process is unexpectedly taking longer than anticipated, libraries will have the option of selecting “did not collect” for the 2016 calendar year.

However, for those libraries wishing to report usage for 2016, I provided in a separate email message, guidance on how to navigate the vast array of reports and metrics available through a few of our providers. This guidance stemmed from overall changes in attitude and thought on how to best capture the usage of online content, and are not only recommended for the Annual Reports, but also for the reporting BadgerLink shares at the state-level. This is a big change, but we are excited to move forward with some consistency and clarity so we can all best represent the actions of our users!

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Add value to your library's story with electronic collections data.
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What exactly is a successful retrieval of electronic information?

That’s a good question, and one that can be debated even with a stated definition. According to the Annual Report, this is the “number of full-content units or descriptive records examined, downloaded, or otherwise supplied to a user, from online library resources that require user authentication but do not have a circulation period. Examining documents is defined as having the full text of a digital document or electronic resource downloaded or fully displayed. Some electronic services do not require downloading, as simply viewing documents is normally sufficient for user needs.” That’s helpful, but what happens when you encounter multiple report options from a content provider, each supplying a different metric? Or when the report options vary from provider to provider? How can we compare apples to apples? One way to remedy this is with the COUNTER Code of Practice.

COUNTER Code of Practice

COUNTER is a non-profit organization supported by a global community of library, publisher, and vendor members who contribute to the standard that enables the knowledge community to count the use of electronic resources. Known as the Code of Practice, the standard ensures vendors and publishers can provide their library customers with consistent, credible and comparable usage data. ( Some, but not all, BadgerLink content providers are COUNTER-compliant, and 3 out of the 5 total providers supplying individual library usage are, so it is a step in the right direction.

Taking into consideration the successful retrieval definition above, the available COUNTER reports, and best practices and guidance from Usus (, the BadgerLink team moved forward with recommending the specific COUNTER Database Report 1 and Result Clicks metric as a “successful retrieval of electronic information.” Historically many libraries, including BadgerLink, reported out Searches and Sessions as a way to document usage. However, with the advent of federated search platforms, and increasingly with discovery services, those metrics are no longer accurate measurements of usage. Result Clicks provide a better snapshot of the action a user is taking to view a particular item, whether full-text or abstract. This measurement demonstrates the human interest in a database, not how well a system is able to ping multiple resources with one search.

Everyone else

For non-COUNTER compliant vendors, we have also recommended specific reports and metrics that best align to Result Clicks. The most important thing to remember is we are attempting to capture the user action that ultimately leads to viewing, using, and/or downloading a desired resource.

Moving forward

As Nancy Bennett of Carroll University stated in her opinion piece about usage statistics (available at, “Gathering usage statistics is very time-consuming and analyzing the numbers takes some effort, but I don’t think it is possible to fully utilize our resources and guide our students in their research without them.”

The BadgerLink team looks forward to providing additional instruction on how to gather, analyze, and enter this data on future Annual Reports. We welcome ideas on making this process more streamlined, or questions in general, so please contact us at!

Written by:
Elizabeth Neuman, Resources for Libraries & Lifelong Learning
Posted by Elizabeth Neuman


For questions about this information, contact Elizabeth Neuman (608) 224-5389

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