Evidence for Big Deal Decisions: The Importance of Consultation

by Kathleen Reed
Assessment and Data Librarian, Vancouver Island University

As the loonie tanks against the USD, my place of work finds itself in the same situation of many libraries – needing to make cuts to make up for the shortfall and/or beg admin for more money. Inevitably, this means talking about Big Deals, “an online aggregation of journals that publishers offer as a one-price, one size fits all package” (Frazier, 2001). Are they worth the cost? And if they’re worth it on a cost-per-title basis, are they still worth it when you factor in how much of our budget gets eaten up by them? Are they worth it when this is an unsustainable business model controlled by a handful of major publishers? These questions have been on the forefront of my mind as I run the numbers on Big Deal packages.

If you’re looking for a good introductory article to assessing Big Deals, I recommend “Deal or No Deal? Evaluating Big Deals and Their Journals” by Blecic et al. (or you can read the EBLIP Evidence Summary of the article). However, like much of the literature on the subject of evaluating Big Deals, it’s written from a quantitative perspective, and places great emphasis on cost-per-use data. Relying so heavily on one metric has always made me uncomfortable. How fortuitous, then, that a recent trip to the 2015 Canadian Library Assessment Workshop (CLAW) included a very interesting presentation on Big Deal – “Unbundling the Big Deal” by Dr. Vincent Larivière and Stéphanie Gagnon at the Université de Montréal, and Arnald Desrochers at Université du Québec à Montréal. Both institutions had recently undertaken large-scale analyses of their periodicals collections, led by Dr. Larivière.

In addition to quantitative analysis of COUNTER JR1 (Number of Successful Full-Text Article Requests) data and citations, there was a survey sent to faculty, post-docs, and grad students. This survey asked for a list of the 10 most important journal titles for the respondent’s research and teaching, and 5 most important to the field of study. At U. de M., 2,213 people responded to the survey, and what they said was the stunning part of this presentation: 50% of the journal titles listed by respondents as critical to their research and teaching, and their disciplines, didn’t show up as essential titles in the COUNTER reports and citation analyses. If librarians had simply relied on quantitative data to break up a Big Deal, they would have missed out on a significant number of titles the faculty, post-docs, and grad students deemed essential!

While there’s lots to unpack on the subject of why such a high number of journals are deemed essential but aren’t showing up above the “cut” threshold line in JR1 (i.e. they’re not being heavily used), this one finding should give librarians pause. A good deal of the research that’s been done on describing ways to best make evidence-based choices related to Big Deals off-handedly mention that faculty should be consulted, but Dr. Larivière’s research has me convinced that this consultation needs to be rigourous and not an after-thought.

The presentation also had me once again appreciating the value qualitative research brings to library assessment. The literature on Big Deals is mainly based on quantitative analysis of usage reports, and Dr. Larivière’s research makes it clear that librarians cannot rely solely on this type of data (especially simplistic cost-per-article data) for a thorough analysis of Big Deals. If we do, we risk misunderstanding the needs of faculty, post-docs, and grad students.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

I am a Qualitative Researcher

by Maha Kumaran
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library, University of Saskatchewan

Had I known that in my role as an academic librarian I would be required to research and publish I would have taken in-depth research methods classes in library school – famous last words?

Although I wanted to be in an academic library setting, I wasn’t sure I would end up in one given that most of my experience was in public libraries. I didn’t think of conducting research and I certainly did not consider publishing when I finished library school. But I managed to co-author and publish two peer reviewed papers – one with my best friend in library school and another with a library colleague at the public library where I started my first librarian position. The latter research project was on exploring diverse populations in Saskatchewan and whether public libraries in the province are prepared/equipped to cater to these groups. Before this went into publication I moved to the University of Saskatchewan, where for tenure-track positions publishing was a requirement. Using my first two publishing experiences, I embarked on other research projects sometimes with colleagues and other times alone. Through this learning process I realized I was very much a qualitative researcher.

The fact that I am a qualitative researcher was once again confirmed after I enrolled in a qualitative research methods class at the College of Education, University of Saskatchewan. I don’t like numbers, I like stories. I like that I can talk to participants, interview them, survey them, observe them at work, gather information most relevant and important to them, and interpret all this for rest of the world.

There are various approaches to qualitative research such as narrative, phenomenology, case study, grounded theory, biographical, historical, ethnography, and numerous variations within them; the prospect of including poetry, pictures, photos, drawings, metaphors; the ability to be flexible with interview questions; the possibility of profound investigations into a situation based on conversations with participants especially when it is an interview are all exciting and seemingly endless. And then there is data analysis. Data can be in many forms and formats. It can be categorized, divided into themes, coded, concepts identified, refined, re-categorized, and authenticated conclusions arrived at. Personally, such data analysis is much more appealing than just quantifying information.

The whole process of qualitative research is as much an art as it is science, and contrary to assumptions that it allows for subjective interpretations, it is about consistencies and deeper meanings while allowing room for authors and/or participants to state their personal biases.

I am sure that I will explore quantitative research later in the future, but for now I have confirmed that my interests are slanted towards being a qualitative researcher. I have found my niche in evidence based practice.

If you are a qualitative researcher, I would love to hear what about it excites you.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.