Book Review: Library Analytics and Metrics: Using Data to Drive to Drive Decisions and Services

Library Analytics and Metrics: Using Data to Drive to Drive Decisions and Services. Ed. Ben Showers. London: Facet, 2015. 176 p. $95.00 softcover (ISBN: 978-1-85604-965-8).

Libraries have long been consumers of data, relying on it to inform services and collection management decisions, a fact acknowledged by the authors. The shift has come, Editor Ben Showers says in his introduction, with an “analytics turn,” or a renewed interest in the questions we ask and the data they yield. This new focus on collecting data and analyzing it with purpose is where the authors see the future of library analytics. With libraries and cultural institutions increasingly being asked to prove their value in the digital information environment or being asked to do more with the same or less, analytics and metrics can play a role both in showing value and in helping libraries make data-driven decisions with precious time and resources while meeting users’ needs and expectations.

A compilation of chapters written by twenty-six contributors, Library Analytics and Metrics covers a lot of ground. Chapter topics include: library data; data-driven collections management; using data to demonstrate library impact and value; qualitative research; web and social media metrics; the risks of analytics; and a data-driven future. The intellectual layout of the book is pleasant. It reads naturally with chapters in digestible chunks that are semi-independent of each other, which lends itself well to the disjointed reading that sometimes happens in a busy work-life. While each chapter covers a different aspect of analytics, all follow a similar format. First, background on the topic is provided with context and definition of terms or theory. This is followed by one or more case studies employing the method just described, along with any descriptions of tools or systems they are developing. Many of the projects have online blogs or websites allowing interested readers to investigate further. The chapters unfold not unlike a story, and this format simultaneously informs users and aids in understanding.

Library Analytics and Metrics is an excellent introduction to library analytics. It provides scope and context for emerging trends in the field and backs this up with case studies contributed by information professionals currently undertaking projects in libraries or cultural institutions in the US and UK. It does not assume a deep prior knowledge of the field, nor would it be too elementary for an individual with more exposure to research and practice in the area. Most of the contributors are at academic libraries or institutions affiliated with such libraries (i.e. OCLC or JISC), so the focus skews toward academic institutions. It is not necessarily a technical services book either, although the case studies do have elements of technical services work, such as e-resource and content management, collection management, and user interaction with interfaces. But, the underpinning theories, projects, and tools that are covered would be helpful to anyone hoping to take on analytic or metric projects with a more in-depth focus on technical services projects. Additionally, having a working knowledge of analytics as covered by this book would allow technical service librarians to lend their expertise, and thus show the value of technical services, should a similar project develop locally.

Attention is also paid to concerns that readers may have regarding a long held tenant of librarianship: that of user privacy and protection of their information seeking behavior. Indeed, several contributors point to this as a unique niche of expertise for library professionals to take up in the field of analytics. For example, in “Using data to demonstrate library impact and value” one contributor says, “As analytics becomes an important strategic driver for institutions, so the library finds itself ideally placed to lead and contribute in this area. And nowhere is this expertise and knowledge more important than in the legal and ethical implications of collecting and exploiting impact data” (50).

Overall, contributors do a good job of explaining terms and concepts (i.e. big data versus small data and analytics versus metrics), which makes the narrative accessible to the novice. However, one drawback is that not every acronym is explained upon its introduction (i.e., OCLC, Copac CCM, JISC) by contributors. Given that about half of the contributors are based in the UK and the other half in the US, this will be confusing for readers less familiar with corporations and library acronyms in the contributors’ location and may send them scurrying for the nearest smart device. There are also a few word uses, such as student attainment (UK) verses student retention (US) that may cause a slight pause for readers, which could perhaps have been attended to in editing.

Library Analytics and Metrics is not a step-by-step guide to undertaking a complex analytics project. But it is a good read for those wanting to increase their knowledge of the current trends and methods in the analysis of data, systems and services. Also important is its call for libraries to dedicate increasing amounts of resources and time in developing skills in the area of analytics and metrics as it becomes an increasingly important part of the digital information landscape.—Emily Sanford (esanford@msu.edu), Michigan State University Libraries, East Lansing, Michigan

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