On a regular basis, we look at the download data of the OAPEN Library and where it comes from. While examining the data from January to August 2021, we focused on the usage originating from libraries and academic institutions. Happily, we found that more than 1,100 academic institutions and libraries have used the OAPEN Library.
Of course, we do not actively track individual users. Instead we use a more general approach: we look at the website from which the download from the OAPEN Library originated. How does that work? For instance, when someone in the library of the University of Leipzig clicks on the download link of a book in the OAPEN library, two things happen: first, the book is directly available on the computer that person is working on, and second, the OAPEN server notes the ‘return address’: https://katalog.ub.uni-leipzig.de/. We have no way of knowing who the person is that started the download, we just know the request originated from the Leipzig University Library. Furthermore, some organisations choose to suppress sending their ‘return address’, making them anonymous.
What is helpful to us, is the fact that aggregators such as ExLibris, EBSCO or SerialSolutions use a specific return address. Examples are “west-sydney-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com” – pointing to the library of the Western Sydney University – or “sfx.unibo.it”– coming from the library of the Università di Bologna. And in this way, many academic libraries can also be identified from their web address. Some academic institutions only display their ‘general’ address.
As mentioned before, our analysis delivered over 1,100 – 1,121 to be exact – different addresses. The chart displays those addresses divided by type, and we see that many academic libraries not just rely on aggregators such as ExLibris, but also directly give access to the OAPEN Library through their catalogs. The metadata of the OAPEN Library is freely available under a CC0 license, and can be downloaded as a MARCXML file to ensure easy library integration.
You would expect it to be simple: when somebody downloads a book from the OAPEN Library, the system adds one to the total number of downloads. After a while you put the numbers in a report, and share it with the world. Sadly, the reality is more complex. All the books and chapters can be downloaded by everybody, including automated processes (bots). Also, if you think as downloads as a measure of impact, it becomes tempting to inflate it by downloading a certain book again and again.
So, the raw download numbers need to be filtered, in order to give a more realistic indication of the true impact. Many libraries use the COUNTER Code of Practice as standard, which enables them to compare the data from different sources. However, many online platforms measure their visitors using Google Analytics. The OAPEN Library uses both (but we only report the COUNTER data). Together with the migration to a new platform, a new version of the COUNTER reporting (Release 5) was introduced. A good moment to compare Google Analytics (GA) with COUNTER Release 5 (R5).
Comparing the amounts of monthly downloads is simple: where GA reports over 1 million downloads per month, R5 stricter filter lets it report around 400,000 downloads. Again, when we look at the details, the reality is more complex. For instance, comparing the number of downloads per country shows large differences for the USA, France, China and Russia. In contrast, the numbers for Australia, Canada and Austria are virtually the same. When we compare the usage data of each title, the differences are even less simple to explain. You would expect that both GA an R5 more or less agree about the order of books: which book was downloaded the most, which one comes after that etc. But that is very much not the case.
GA and R5 have made their own choices on what is reported and what not. One metric is not better than the other, but we should be open about the choices made. After all, open access book metrics are complicated and we can only benefit from clarity.
More details about usage data and the two systems can be found in:
Ronald Snijder, “Open access book usage data – how close is COUNTER to the other kind?,” Insights 34 (1): 9. (2021), https://doi.org/10.1629/uksg.539. Submitted on 11 November 2020 and published by UKSG in association with Ubiquity Press on 28 April 2021
You might also be interested in the OAeBU DataTrust Pilot or this OBP blog. Things get even more complex when you try to compare different platforms…