Results of Digital Collections 2017 Summer Survey

Posted On: October 4, 2017

The Digital Library Development Program, working with the Library’s Digital User Services, conducted a 3-question quick poll on the Digital Collections site, July 7-17, 2017 in order to gain insight into who was using our digital collections and for what purpose.  Getting data on digital content has never been easier with Google Analytics (GA) – We can quickly gather statistics on page hits or duration of a visit, and even how users found our content.  However, we have found that GA only provides one side of the story and we were hoping to find out more about our users.  Who are the users of Digital Collections and how are they using our content?  Is it an undergraduate student looking for primary source materials for a paper?  A post-doc doing research in a lab?  Is it a genealogist in Pennsylvania looking to find out more about her family?  Knowing who is using the collections and how will help the Digital Library Development Program in making decisions regarding the design, what type of information to display, and even what type of content to pursue for our collections.

So what story do the results of this survey tell us?  We received 130 responses during the 11 days the survey was up.  Although just a snapshot of our users (about 0.5%), the data confirms some of our assumptions about use for the collections as well as highlights usage and interest in some of our collections. We are also able to draw a connection between current publicity and events and how those affect the use of our collections.


Our first question was “What best describes your purpose for visiting this page?”  We provided 4 options for users to select from:

  1. Academic/Work Research
  2. Personal Research
  3. Browsing
  4. Other (with an option to provide more information)

The big question – so how are our users using the collections? Survey responses were pretty evenly distributed across our provided categories, with Academic/Work Research leading the pack.  But over 65% of respondents were doing some form of research.


Our second questions was “What best describes you?”  Again, we provided a list of options to select from:

  1. Undergraduate Student
  2. Graduate Student or Post Doc
  3. Faculty
  4. Staff
  5. Historian or Independent Researcher
  6. Librarian or Archivist
  7. Other (with an option to provide more information)

This question was especially important to us, as it will help us know who to gear our promotional activities towards as well as who uses the digital collections website and their varying needs.  Nearly 30% of respondents were students, either undergraduate or graduate level.  Almost 25% of respondents identify as historians or independent researchers.  Even during summer, a period when we would expect scholarly use of our collections to decrease, we continued to see students using the collections.


Our last question asked the respondent to “share anything further about your purpose for visiting this site:”  48 of the respondents shared more about their purpose, providing even more insights about the value and use of our content.

Thank you for making this collection available to researchers. It is greatly appreciated. I'm doing doctoral reserach froma remote part of the US and have limited access to collections otherwise, or have to travel quire a bit to find what I may need. Graduate Student

To see what kidn of boars were in Monte Carlo Marina in 1947, having just visited in 2017. Historian or Independent Researcher

I'm a Papua New Guinean (PNG) national studying at an Australian institution. This site is wonderful in that it offers a great collection of studies conducted within the country prior to PNG's independence and shortly after. This service in valuable. - Graduate or Post-Doctoral Student


We were also able to get a lot of data outside of the poll questions, including what collections were being accessed at the time the poll was completed and what country respondents were accessing materials from.  Although not the purpose of this survey, it provided an interesting set of data related to our primary goals. Below are just a couple of visualizations of that information.

20% from Australia, 16% from Canada, 11% from the United Kingdom, 11% from Mexico

Roughly 1/3 of respondents were from OUTSIDE the United States

The image below illustrates the most common topics or collections respondents were accessing at the time of the survey – larger words indicating greater frequency in the results.  By looking at this list and our current promotional activities we can draw conclusions about the effectiveness of those efforts.  During the survey period, the Dr. Seuss Advertising Artwork was featured in an article online and a physical exhibit in the library called Dr. Seuss’s “Boids & Beasties”.  Images from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Photographs and Ed Fletcher Collection were also being promoted on the Audrey’s Cafe digital display during the week of the survey. Though we were unable to find any publicity for the Slab City Collection during the time of the survey, a number of respondents mentioned having the collection shared with them from a friend and through Facebook.


We are so grateful for all the responses we received and hope to get more information about our users this fall.  We plan to run the same survey again October 16-22, 2017 so that we can compare our summer responses with responses during an academic term.  Meanwhile, we would love to hear how you use UC San Diego Library Digital Collections — whether for work or for fun; for academic or creative projects. Your stories help us improve the site and demonstrate its value. Let us know!  You can leave a comment below or email us at dlp@ucsd.edu.

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