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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Can Conventional Statistics Describe Electronic Media and Services?

Aase Lindahl
Odense University Library,
Odense, Denmark


The electronic library is a growth area for most libraries. Conventional statistics based on International Standard ISO 2789:1991 'information and documentation - International library statistics' do not explicitly cover library activities relating to electronic media. This paper offer proposals to express electronic activities within the conceptual framework of conventional statistics.



The International Standard ISO 2789:1991 'Information and documentation - International library statistics' is the basis for Danish library statistics. Consequently data collection is in conformity with the guidance of the standard and only extended in a very few fields.

The dynamics in the library and information world - new media and services, alternative ways of organizing the library community and a much more diversified group of actors - have caused a pressure for a revision of the library statistics. Currently ISO 2789:1991 is under revision, but international standardization work takes time, and the Danish libraries felt the need to update their library statistics so strongly that a working group presided by the Danish National Library Authority in 1996 made a proposal to enlarge the national library statistics in the interim until a new ISO standard can be agreed. The libraries wanted means to report new activities not mentioned in the ISO 2789:1991. On the other hand it was important to ensure that Denmark still could meet the obligations of international agreements.

The electronic library was one of the main areas of interest for the working group. The suggestions from the working group referring to electronic media and services will be presented in this paper.

Scope of the work

The theoretical framework for the work was given: No new data collection should interfere with the reporting of national statistical figures in accordance with international agreements. This implied it should be possible to identify any new or new-made explicitly expressed media or service either as

or as

By working in this way - by adding or by subtracting - it has been possible to maintain continuity with previous statistical figures. As in bookkeeping you must operate with an audit trail for transactions and control.

During the work the importance was stressed always to use the same language as ISO 2789:1991. This implies

The area of primary interest concerned statistics of use and services in the electronic library. The relevant topics for this purpose are

Electronic media

From a statistical point of view one can be interested in electronic documents in many ways. This paper concentrates on document use; for this reason we do not discuss the problematic question of collection 'size' of electronic documents.

As library statistics show statistical data of library use based on the single library, the interesting question is how to draw a borderline between a library's own collection of electronic media and electronic documents not included in the library collection. In the traditional library it is normally not difficult to draw these borderlines: but, when you are dealing with electronic media, the concept of 'ownership' needs some new delineation as you can not depend upon 'physical presence'

If you have bought a CD-ROM without any license restrictions, there are no problems in relation to ownership - you can easily compare this to paper editions. But if you have bought temporary licensed access to an electronic journal, you are only one of many customers having some rights of disposal over the 'physical' unit. However, even here you can draw parallels to the traditional library scene - as there are examples of partnership in collection building.

It is suggested the collection of electronic media in a library should include

The purpose of the definition is to identify those documents of which the library has some authority regarding the regulation of access. The suggestion contains an intended strong parallel to the concept of traditional library collections.

Types of electronic documents

Electronic documents are of very different sorts and types (static, dynamic, etc.). In relation to statistical statements concerning the use of the documents only one distinction is of interest: The catalogue, OPAC, of the library should be separated from the other electronic documents to which the library provides access. Also included in this category are union catalogues containing catalogue data.

This suggestion can be seen as a short cut; the result is a concept that where statistical statements regarding use are in focus, the relevant definition of an electronic document is "some data to which a library gives access": how these data are arranged or stored is of no interest for this way of presenting the problem. What is essential is to count only what should be counted according to the intentions of ISO 2789:1991.

Use of electronic documents

The use of electronic documents is in some situations parallel to the use of traditional media. For example, the loan of a CD-ROM to take home or a print from an electronic document can, for statistical purposes, be compared to the loan of a book and or to the photocopy from a journal - though the situations are not similar when viewed from a copyright angle!

ISO 2789:1991 includes only a few categories of library use:

The use of electronic documents in a single library can be illustrated in the following way, keeping in mind the preceding boundaries regarding library collection and types of electronic media

	       End-user     (direct loan)	     External information suppliers	
            Inside the library    Remote use	     Libraries      Other suppliers
Print 		 direct loan		xx           interlibrary       direct loan
Download                                               lending 

Reading, only   in-house use		xx		    xx		     xx		

In theory it is possible to count direct loans and interlending. If staff carry out the printing/download/file transmission, the collection of data is very parallel to counting photocopying services in the traditional library; the question of identifying 'an item' in the electronic world may be different, but not necessarily more difficult than photocopying situations. If the users serve themselves you also are in situations comparable to self-service copying - only there may be software facilities to show use of electronic documents.

Reading electronic documents inside the library is comparable to reading books and journals in areas with open stacks. The remote reading of documents from a collection of electronic documents has no direct parallel; but these might be comparable to, and counted as loans or interlending, if the library has software to supply data on use.

ISO 2789:1991 also includes statistics of services by interlibrary loan. Where electronic media are involved the situation can be described as follows, keeping in mind the preceding boundaries regarding library collection and types of electronic media:

		Libraries		  Other information suppliers
Print		Interlibrary loan	  Other just-in-time
Download                                  document supply

Reading,only	Not counted		   Not counted

Again there are strong parallels to the conventional statistics covering traditional media. What becomes more evident, where electronic media are concerned, are the situations where a library does not supply wanted documents from the collections of other libraries but fulfils its mission through other information suppliers. You cannot describe these activities within the language of ISO 2789:1991 - either for traditional media or for electronic media.

The reading of electronic documents forming parts of external collections' is considered as being an act carried out within the physical environment of the library concerned. The situation can be compared with the situation where a customer goes to the library and reads a book that he has obtained elsewhere: this situation is not covered by conventional statistics. But this does not mean that future statistics might not provide figures to describe this activity.


The goal of the Danish working group was to investigate whether it might be possible to describe statistical services and media by means of conventional statistics. The basis was ISO 2789:1991 and the results can be summarized briefly. Library services within the conventional statistics can with very few problems be extended to an explicit coverage of services where electronic media are involved. There are, however, problems regarding the ability of libraries to give relevant and valid documentation of these activities. These problems mostly derive from the narrow selection of services covered by conventional statistics and the limited methods available to collect the statistical data required.