Benefits of Surfacing of the Long Academic Tale (SALT)

The SALT project offers users the potential to find interesting and useful sources that they would be unlikely to come across otherwise through the use of recommendations which focus on rarely borrowed items. This can help users to broaden the scope of the items that they discover and also means that resources may be better used than they otherwise would.
The SALT project also ran some focus groups that looked at the potential benefits that users thought that could accrue if data from additional libraries was also aggregated. These include:
  • Recommendations could surface, and hopefully increase the usage of, hidden collections. Obviously circulation data is only going to offer a partial solution to this problem of discoverability (i.e. many ‘hidden gems’ are of course non-circulating) but nonetheless, we believe that the long tail argument borne out by Chris Anderson can also hold true for libraries - that the collective ‘share’ or recommendation of items can turn the Pareto Principle on its head. For libraries this means being able to demonstrate the value of the collections by pointing to increased usage. It might also give libraries a better sense of what is of value to users, and what perhaps is not.
  • For users, particularly those in the humanities, a recommender function can help providing new routes to discovery based on use and disciplinary contexts (not traditional classification). In other words, what you are viewing through ‘recommenders’ are patterns of real usage, how other users with similar academic interests are aggregating texts. This is particularly useful for finding conceptually related groupings of texts that cut across different disciplines, and which will not ordinarily sit together in a standard results set.
  • It also means we can support humanities users in their preferred mode of discovery, powering ‘centrifugal searching’ and discovery through serendipity. The downstream benefits of this concern the emergence of new, original research, new knowledge and ideas.
A further workshop with staff from the libraries at Manchester and Leeds Universities identified the following potential benefits of using activity data aggregated across a number of different libraries. These include:
  • Aggregated activity data could support activities such as stock weeding by revealing collection strengths and allowing librarians to cross check against other collections.
  • By combining aggregated collection data and aggregated activity data, librarians will see a fuller picture. This means they can identify collection strengths and recognise items that should be retained because of association with valued collections. We thought about this as a form of “stock management by association.” Librarians might treat some long- tail items (eg items with limited borrowing) with caution if they were aware of links/associations to other collections (although there is also the caveat that this would not be possible with local activity data reports in isolation)
  • Aggregated activity data could have benefits for collection development. Seeing the national picture might allow librarians to identify related items - “if your collection has this, it should also have…”
  • This could also inform the number of copies a library should buy, and which books from reading lists are required in multiple copies.
  • Thinking more outside the box, we thought it might also inform digitisation decision- making - i.e. if you digitised this, you might also consider digitising…
  • Aggregated activity data could inform stock purchase - allow librarians to see what’s new, what’s being used elsewhere and therefore what’s worth buying.
  • This could also have benefits when discussing reading lists and stock purchases with academic staff, and thus enhance academic engagement.