Monday, July 18, 2005

Who's counting? Who Cares? Revisiting the ABA Statistics Issue

Photograph: Panelists and audience at statistics program.
Our program began with Paula Tejeda (Charleston School of Law, So Carolina) going over the history of the TS-SIS Serials Committee's long standing interest in question no. 6 of the annual ABA questionnaire - "Number of active serial subscriptions". The Committee was asked to work on a revision of the definition for serial titles and serial subscriptions. They did come up with a revised definition but soon came to realize that a simple definition was not the only thing needed. What was needed were better instructions and guidelines for understanding what was to be counted and where it would fit in the questionnaire.

Other members for the panel were Joe Hinger (St. John's), Jim Mumm (Marquette) and Pauline Aranas (U of So Calif). All were given 5 minutes to discuss their problems and concerns with the ABA questionnaire and their particular difficulties in counting. All agreed that the burning issue these days is what to do with electronic resources and where do they fit in the ABA questionnaire and the main discussion revolved around this issue. Once we got to the question and answer part of the meeting we were informed by Judith Wright, a member of the ABA Advisory Committee on the questionnaire, that electronic resources are not to be counted anywhere - they are not to be counted in the title count and they are not to be counted in the active subscription count. This was news to over 1/2 of the attendees - myself included. When old question 3 was taken out of the ABA questionnaire several years ago (How many electronic titles do you own?) the counting and reporting of electronic titles was to have stopped. Many of our attendees said this was definately not clearly stated anywhere in the ABA instructions. The discussion then turned to whether we want to count them and have them put back in the ABA questionnaire especially in our title counts. The only statistic that the ABA asks about electronic resources currently is how much money we spend on them. Many people mentioned the great expense of time and money spent on getting bibliographic records for their electronic collections and that their directors and deans were going to be very unhappy to hear that they can't be counted as either titles or subscriptions.

The purpose of today's discussion was to come to some consensus of the problems we face in counting and the need for specific guidelines to help us count more uniformly. We agreed upon asking for a revised definition of non-book format which should include electronic resources. We also agreed upon asking for a definition of electronic resources -- would that cover titles that are on our web pages and/or titles with bib records in our catalog and/or titles that we pay for and/or avail thru law and non-law consortiums, etc, etc. We also asked for clear guidelines on how to count active subscriptions for titles that we hold in multiple formats. For example, if Harvard Law Review is held in paper, held in fiche and held in 3 different electronic collections - do we count 3 subscriptions (for paper, fiche, e-version [assuming e-version gets put back in the count]) or 5 subscriptions (counting all e-versions) or 1 subscription only.

The discussion was lively and the problems are real. We all agreed that doing away with "counting" is out of our hands and we just have to figure out how and what to count but we need help. The Serials Committee hopes to draft a recommendation that will be sent to the ABA Committees that can make the changes to the questionnaire that we need.