A Modern Electronic Resources Usage Statistics Dashboard

My role as serials and electronic resources librarian at the William H. Hannon Library extends beyond providing access to licensed content, to also sharing needed resources so that the team selecting that content can do so from a base of evidence. One of the resources I provide to them is data about the use of our licensed electronic collections. We want to make sure that high-use resources are prioritized during our annual subscription renewal process, so every year I collect usage statistics on our databases, e-book and e-journal collections, and streaming video collections, and present them to our librarians.

In 2013, our unit in the library built a publicly available, web-based dashboard to house the usage data, so that our team could access it whenever they needed it for a subscription renewal decision. I partnered with Marisa Ramirez (now the library’s processing archivist) to collaborate on its development. Dashboards with these kinds of data were a rarity then and we were invited to display our work at a national meeting of librarians in 2015 (“Visualizing Electronic Resources Data Using a Statistics Dashboard,” Virtual poster presented at the Association of College & Research Libraries Conference. Portland, OR).

Our goals for that dashboard were neatly met by using a Google Sites platform, to house brief narrative content for quick reference about things like the number of e-books in our collection, the most-used e-journals, etc., some graphical information (bar and line charts), lists like the top 10 most-used e-journals, and links to full sets of data about the LMU usage of licensed resources. The dashboard served us well for seven years, with updates added annually.

In March 2020, when the world stopped due to the pandemic and we switched to working from home, I tried to find an activity that would be positive and uplifting. In addition to getting really good at baking sourdough bread, like everyone else, I subscribed to a coding tutorial service in order to learn how to program in R to gain skills that I could use in my daily research tasks. With my background in fine art, I quickly became interested in the coding behind summary visualizations of data. I wanted to put into practice what I was learning so I decided to update the statistics dashboard to include interactive elements, and this time build it in R. I thought that the more engaging the dashboard could be, the more it would be used. During the transition it was clear that the purpose of the dashboard would remain the same but I would be focusing on interactivity with this development.

Here is the resulting dashboard. I have been encouraged by others that freely share their own code and advice. In turn, it was important to me that my own code be made freely available. On the top right-hand side of the dashboard, I provide a link that shows the source code so that others may view/copy/take inspiration from my dashboard. At the top of the code view, you may see all of the R packages I used to build the dashboard, along with my commentary to describe where on the dashboard I have employed those packages. The dashboard is offered with a Creative Commons license to allow for sharing and remixing.

graph showing e-journal usage over 13 year period

The dashboard has had a practical use for how I manage maintenance tasks related to e-resources. In Figure 1, you’ll see a line chart that shows the trends of use of our e-journals over the years, with November and April being the most active months (hello, course-assigned research projects!). Conversely, August, January, and May are the months with the least usage. Based on this information, our electronic resources unit plans its maintenance around those low-use times. We hold maintenance tasks in our library systems until the expected use is low, and then perform platform migrations, URL updates, and changes in the systems that interact with publisher content. In this way, the dashboard has had a practical use for determining when maintenance is least likely to impact our library patrons.

A limitation of the dashboard is me, the designer. My use of the programming language R is at the beginner level. It is certain that there are more sophisticated ways to program such a dashboard that I have not yet learned. I am a complete beginner at this so every time I add a bit of code, I break something somewhere. But I’m learning, and that’s fun! My plan is to keep learning while adding annual updates to the data shown on the dashboard, which should increase its usefulness by having multiple years of data for each title represented there.

I was pleased to have been invited in November to share the story about the development of the dashboard at a recent virtual international conference, the 14th International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries (2021).