Finding the right data set

This morning as I was drinking my tea (pumpkin spice, yum) I was having the eternal “what can I do today at the Reference Desk that will contribute to my daily work?” conversation with myself, and I started mentally planning to do some analysis on a new circulation-by-item report that the SUNY OLIS staff whipped up for us. My goal: Determine what is circulating heavily in the Education collection to guide my purchasing in support of School of Education curriculum. I’m hoping to be able to see three things:

  1. What’s popular and heavily used and so might need augmenting
  2. What’s heavily used but very old and so might need updating
  3. Where the gaps in circulation are, to see if those collections need building so that they might circulate. (Some gaps in circulation across a collection are there, of course, because there’s no curricular need. Some are there because our collection is horrid in that area, and I hope to figure out which are which.)

So I was thinking about how I needed to bring my laptop to the desk, because I ran the Circ-by-item report a few weeks ago on my laptop and I just need to use that file to isolate the L section and work with it at the desk. And then I paused. The report I ran was the default — Loans, plus Renewals, plus In-House Use. Is that really what I want?

In my experience providing collections use data for library directors and surveys and reports, I’ve always been asked to provide loans and renewals combined. From the perspective that a renewal is just someone saying “I want to take this out again for another X days”, that makes sense — it’s a second use of the item as considered within the framework of circulation policies. And that use is what we report on. Without thinking much about what I was doing, I just ran the report as I always do — loans plus renewals plus in-house-use.

What I realized over my tea, though, is that I don’t want renewals for collections decisions. For collections decisions, I want to know what the discrete users were for each item — which is only loans and in-house-uses. A renewal, from this perspective, is just a time-period extension, not a new use or new user. There are reasons to be interested in how many of our users are diving deeply into the material by renewing it multiple times (though how to separate that out from the user who’s too distracted to bring books back when they’re due is a mystery to me), but for my purpose I only need to know how many users chose the book, not how many times they chose to keep it. I’m waiting for a new report to run as I type this.

I need to spend my energy on analyzing the data for my collection development need, but I’m really curious, now to look at how different the two data sets are… and I’m wondering what that would tell us, either way.

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