Paul Signorelli and Char Booth Discuss the Role of Web Analytics in the Library

By Daniel A. Freeman |

There's no question that Web Analytics are becoming a big deal for any organization or business that has a web presence and provides and level of service on the Web. In their upcoming ALA TechSource Workshop, Paul Signorelli and Char Booth will show you how to make web analytics work for the library. I had a chance to ask them some questions about web analytics generally, and what they'll be covering in their workshop.

Dan Freeman: So can you tell me in a few quick sentences why you think web analytics are important to librarians?

Paul Signorelli: Web analytics is one spectacular tool for helping us identify how effectively we're reaching our audience through our online presences. If we're at all intelligent about how we use this information--and there's no reason to think we aren't--we can provide better service and make all that we offer more accessible to those encountering us online.

Char Booth: What Paul said. I can tell you my own view in three words: free user insight. I'm a fan of leveraging the types of data produced by programs like Google Analytics to learn more about patron demographics and online activity in order to make actionable improvements to web services. Analytics help you understand what's really going on with the performance of a page, site, or service, beyond your tacit assumptions. Google Analytics in particular provides a powerful mechanism for tracking data almost effortlessly, then putting it to various productive uses after the fact. For example, it lets you see how many users are viewing your site through mobile devices, rather than just assuming the rate or type of device. Combining that degree of hard, back-end web use and demographic data with more qualitative and personal research methods provides excellent strategy for user-centered decision making.

DF: What type of librarian do you think would benefit most from a knowledge of analytics? In other words, “if you have the responsibility of _____ in your library, you need to know this information”.

PS:  I can't imagine any librarian who wouldn't benefit from a knowledge of analytics. For those involved in building, nurturing, and maintaining a library's online presence, this is the reality check, the point at which the rubber hits the road. Those not directly involved in that proces can equally gain from the critical thinking and analytic skills that web analytics supports and, again, makes them more aware of how they are or aren't reaching their--our--audience.

CB: Right again. Even a non-techie librarian interested in learning what insight analytics can provide into users of one simple page can benefit. Because analytics tools are available to essentially anyone with the ability to add a line of code to a page, not to mention the built-in analysis and visualization tools in many blog platforms and other types of social software, librarians from all corners can benefit.  To be more specific about who might be interested can include those curious about how patrons are accessing their site through mobile platforms, those actively engaged in or considering web redesigns, site editors and administrators, and anyone who wants to know more about their patrons' web use characteristics.

DF: So what, specifically are you going to cover? What tools will you be teaching people to work with?

PS: The two of us are going to take advantage of our differing experiences and backgrounds to help session participants walk away with a firm grasp of how web analytics works, what the topic means to library staff, and how the use of web analytics can make us better able to identify the strengths and shortcomings of our online presence. We'll use Google Analytics as an example of of low-cost, easy-to-install and easy-to-use tool while pointing out that much of what we cover carries over into other web analytics tools. 

CB: Our presentations will begin with fundamentals, such as demystifying the general concept of analytics and what it can accomplish, then move toward  Google Analytics implementation details and real-world examples of successful user data-supported projects. This is to orient participants with less knowledge and bring more experienced attendees up to speed as well. Then, we will cover specifics and provide case studies that help attendees imagine how to put analytics tools and data to use at their home institutions.

DF: What’s the goal of your workshop? What can librarians attend expect to learn and be able to accomplish after attending?

PS: The goal is to eliminate any residual concerns that web analytics is something beyond the average library staff member's ability to learn and utilize. We also hope that people will see it as part of our overall audience analysis toolkit rather than something that works completely in isolation from all other evaluation tools at our fingertips. Collecting the reviewing the information is the beginning; analyzing it and using it to everyone's advantage is the heart of the process--which, not too surprisingly, is what comes naturally to many who work in libraries.

CB: Paul said it beautifully. To enable any library-oriented individual to understand and apply analytics to actionable ends. (And, of course, to impress their bosses, coworkers, and nerdier friends as they do so).

DF: You guys both have a lot of experience teaching through the web. What do you think are the advantages of using an online class to teach people about these types of tools?

PS: While I think that online and face-to-face learning opportunities each have tremendous strengths and weaknesses in the way they are perceived and used today, I do see a lot of value in working in an online forum to become comfortable with online tools--it's as important as remembering to open your mouth if your goal is to sing. The somewhat illusory crutch of thinking that we can specialize in face-to-face learning to the exclusion of online learning or vice versa leaves us at a terrible disadvantage since library users come to us both onsite and online at this point. Anything we can do to become more comfortable moving seamlessly from one setting to the other provides a winning situation for everyone involved. As I've said in other venues, we're past the time when we can engage in either-or choices in learning; we're most valuable if we choose to combine face-to-face and online learning opportunities whenever they're available to us.

CB: Access and diversity of attendees are the most important points for me - to invite people from different areas and organizations into the same forum for peer-supported learning and dialogue. Online venues for teaching and learning are becoming more sophisticated and participatory all the time, and librarians in professional development contexts have come to expect the opportunity to learn in a web-supported environment.

Library Analytics: Inspiring Positive Action through Web User Data will take place in two 90-minute sessions on Thursdays January 20th and 27th at 2:30pm Eastern/1:30 Central/12:30 Mountain/11:30am Pacific. You can register at the ALA Store.