Lies, Damned Lies, and Database Usage Statistics

Chart illustrating how Zinio magazine circulation has increased from July through December of 2013

The State Library has recently started compiling and publishing database usage statistics for libraries throughout the state. We put out new reports at the beginning of each month, wherever possible we provide data at the library level, and we provide details for every database we can run reports on directly. 

I’d like to take you on a guided tour of what you’ll find in these reports, how to isolate information related to your library, and how to dig deeper if the spirit so moves you.

First, you’ll need to head over to our Database Usage Statistics page, where you’ll see a list of links. Presently, these consist of Ancestry Library Edition, EBSCO, LearningExpress, Literati, ODIN’s Database Statistic Reports, ProQuest Newspapers, TutorND, and Zinio. With two exceptions, these will direct you to data on the use of a specific online library resource: EBSCO, which has data on a whole suite of databases from one vendor, and ODIN’s Reports, which takes you off-site to the reports compiled and maintained by the ODIN Office in Grand Forks.

While the reports for all of these are a little different, all but one of them have library-specific data ( only provides statewide data, unfortunately; Literati only has library-specific data for those large public libraries which have their own instance: Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, Grand Forks, Minot, and West Fargo). Those that do, however, make it very easy to isolate your library’s information. Let’s click on EBSCO for an example of what we’ll see:


On this page, you’ll find links to monthly reports run from January, 2013, onwards and as well as a Calendar Year usage report, in hopes that would make it easier for your tabulations at year’s end (I will also be providing Fiscal Year reports for all databases once July rolls around). There’s also an overview chart indicating how usage has changed over time statewide. For all databases, you’ll see lulls over summer (and in December), as this is when young people who are obligated to research get some time off, those lucky devils. Usage doesn’t flatline, however, as others of us still need to know things…

It’s worth noting that the reports linked to are Excel documents, so the data is easy to work with once you access it. Let’s take a closer look at the EBSCO data from October, 2013:


There are two things I want to point out before we look at any numbers. The first is the little grey box with the downward pointing triangle on the far right of the blue A4 cell. If you click on that, you’ll be able to choose which libraries’ data you’re looking at. Uncheck “Select All” to clear everything, then check the box next to your library’s name and the names of any other libraries whose data you’d like to compare it to, if any. Once you’ve got your data isolated, the display will be much less overwhelming. Here’s an example:


Now you can see which of the EBSCO databases were used by your library during this month, how often each one was used, and what your total usage stats are in a glance. Nice!

That’s great, but what if you want more data? Many of the reports contain an extra sheet of the raw unformatted data, often with information exceeding what’s included in the orderly table. You can change which sheet you’re viewing by clicking on another tab at the bottom of your screen:


I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not been consistent in naming the sheets when creating them to this point, but I do intend to going forwards (I feel that “table” and “data” are solid, descriptive names; here you see the less informative sheet names “Sheet1” and “13-10_raw”; what was I thinking?)

When paging to the raw data sheet you’re likely to be faced with a vast sea of, well, unformatted raw data. It’s ugly. That’s why I made the tables. On the other hand, you can work from it to make your own tables and charts. Dig in and get your hands dirty! Or simply ignore it. It’s okay if you ignore it.

Reports vary from vendor to vendor; for some, you’ll just see reports for the calendar and fiscal years, which I update monthly as new data is available. Some reports have very high levels of detail, like the ones from Zinio. In these, you’ll find information on which magazine titles have been most popular with your patrons, which you can use to inform collection development decisions.

What else are these numbers good for? Plenty! Frankly, I’m happy whenever I have ready access to concrete evidence of services libraries provide their communities with. You already have hard data on circulation, visitation, programming attendance, and programs held. Providing numbers on database usage and illustrating the types of research your patrons are able to conduct using your online resources are another means of proving your value to your stakeholders. Data–it’s good for you!


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