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Compass Newsletter Masthead
   Volume II, Issue 2
November 2005   

"Director's Watch"

By Joe Lucia

The cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is surely a sound one, as reflected in the ability of graphs and charts to make some facts far more comprehensible than verbal presentations can. In earlier “Director’s Watch” columns I have written about the the digital revolution's impact on library services and resources. In this space I am going to present a few compelling pictures that demonstrate the reality of this change as we are experiencing it at Villanova University.

The two graphs below identify a major transition occurring in Falvey Memorial Library, namely the shift in balance between the purchasing of print materials and the licensing of digital resources (databases, journals, e-books, etc.). As we go forward, we expect to see a continuation of this trend that places the greater percentage of expenditures on the digital side. The major factor accounting for this change is the transition of scholarly journal publishing in many disciplines to primarily online formats. The bar chart on “Print vs. Digital Expenditures” shows proportions of expenditure. The line graph shows “Expenditure Trends” by type of expense. In fiscal year 2004-05 we saw for the first time rough parity between these two expenditure categories.

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

The shifting patterns of investment noted above represent the input side of a broader process of acquisition and use. The next three charts provide views of physical and electronic collection usage trends.

The following bar graph describing “Physical Collection Use” demonstrates that usage of print books has reached a moment of relative stability. If that chart were extended further back in time, a significant decline in print book usage would be evident through the second half of the 1990s into the first year of the new millennium. One possible interpretation of this change is that we have reached a point in the digital transition at which those information needs that can best be served online have migrated to that environment and those that require printed book collections in the new era can be seen as diminished in number relative to past numbers. Recently, however, library patrons' demand for printed book collections has remained constant.

(Click to enlarge.)

The next graph, “Journal Use by Format,” illustrates that the digital era brings with it an enormous growth in “information appetite” (perhaps fueled solely by ease of access). While this says nothing about the quality or depth of thought involved in that use, it does demonstrate that, in the abstract, use of the journal literature has grown by a factor of four through the transition from print to digital formats. In 1995, the last year for which we have print-only use data, we counted approximately 97,000 uses of journals in the Library; in contrast, during the 2004-05 academic year, our online usage tracking identified over 425,000 accesses to licensed journal articles by Villanova users.

Journal Usage by Format

(Click to enlarge.)

The final chart below reflects “Electronic Resource Usage Trends.” Again, the major point here is that information consumption through the Library has grown substantially and one can assume it will continue to grow. Of particular note on the final chart are database searches. Two things account for the peculiar shape of that line. With a transition to a new library web site in 2003, we lost some of our usage tracking data, so the numbers we have for that year are low. Also, at the beginning of academic year 2004-05, we implemented a new library research tool known as federated searching that enables users to query multiple databases simultaneously from a single search box . Federated searches initiated by users from library web pages where that tool is in place have been at least partially responsible for the most recent spike in database usage. 

Electronic Resource Usage Trends

One final point merits comment. The sheer accessibility of digital resources has driven the cost per use dramatically downward. In 2004-05, at the coarsest level of analysis, database searches and journal articles cost about $1.32 per use. In 1995, when the library periodicals budget covered only print items, the cost per use of a journal article was $10.30.

Joe Lucia is University librarian and director of Falvey Memorial Library.