Monday, July 23, 2007

What to Count, What to Report: The Revised ABA Annual Questionnaire

Handout materials at:

Choose F7 and click “select a program.”

This program on July 16, 2007 was well-attended in a very large room. Paula Tejada was coordinator and moderator. The first speaker was Carol Avery Nicholson, a member of the ABA Law Libraries Committee. She provided the background on the process of revising the ABA annual questionnaire and included the actual language of pertinent standards on her slides. Carol mentioned that the print volume count will be dropped from the ABA statistics after two years. That is causing some controversy, but the real confusion centers around the counting of e-resources. The slide listing the changes in the counting of e-resources beginning with CD-ROMs back in 1991 helped to pin down when our confusion started, though it has escalated recently. The goal of the ABA is to hone in on whether our library has control over its e-resources. Thus only owned e-resources (perpetual access) can be counted, while licensed e-resources may not, including those e-resources shared with our main libraries.

Joseph Hinger was up next and he was careful to define his purpose at the outset. He was there to help us answer the questions on our ABA annual survey, not to debate the pros and cons of the revisions to those questions. Joe explained that the changes are brand new and the interpretations are still evolving, but the revisions take effect immediately. The existence of MARC bibliographic records in our local catalogs is no longer relevant since access to these e-resources can be provided through federated search tools. What does matter is whether we “own” or simply “access” an e-resource. The litmus test that Joe suggested is to ask this question: If the company pulled the plug tomorrow, could we still access the e-resource? If the answer is yes, count it. If the answer is no, do not count it. The question was later raised that even if we are in possession of the data, can we truly access it if our ability to use the company’s search engine has gone away? Joe conceded this is a gray area, for which he has no answer. On the plus side, some vendors who did not previously do so are beginning to provide perpetual access (ownership) in response to these ABA revisions. Joe also had some suggestions about using our local systems to help us gather these ABA statistics, by applying mutually exclusive coding to our records. A temporary solution he put forward was to use the 856 subfield z to record the values of “owned” or “accessed.”

Gordon Russell was the final speaker and his presentation title was “Building digital access points—the new standards—why ownership is irrelevant?” He focused on the terms “consistent” and “reliable” access in the ABA standards, but then pointed out that this does not allow us to count many of the large packages, such as HeinOnline, that our libraries use to provide consistent and reliable access. Gordon noted that some companies are now providing data ownership, but that necessitates spending extra money in order to be able to count those e-resources on our ABA statistics. He pointed out an example on the ABA questionnaire that says we may count a government document e-resource that has been downloaded onto our library’s local server. But he questioned why that access is any more reliable or consistent than getting to that e-resource through a PURL (permanent URL). Gordon took a few informal polls using clickers that had been handed out, which seemed to quantify the level of unhappiness with the revisions.

During the Q&A at the end of the program, one attendee commented that we have been struggling with these same issues for forty years and these revisions still do not measure how we serve our patrons (which received a big round of applause). Carol responded that the next step is to focus on output measures, in order to get at how we serve our patrons. Rita Reusch (Chair, ABA Law Libraries Committee) also responded by saying that some had suggested that the focus be on money spent by the library, but that did not seem appropriate to the Committee. At present, the Committee is working toward getting a FAQ up on the web very soon. The goal of that will be to ensure that we are all at least counting what we are counting in the same way (comparing apples to apples). It was clear that there is a high level of frustration experienced by those of us completing the ABA survey each year. But this program showed that those of our colleagues actively involved in trying to reduce our frustration are faced with a very difficult task. I commend them on their willingness to put in the time and effort to improve the ABA survey and to come before us and deal with criticism and heated emotions.

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