How much is much?: a conceptual study of web traffic.


Publication date


Series/Report no

Liber quarterly: the journal of European research libraries;21(2)


K.G. Saur

Document type


Valid and relevant statistics are required for library planning and advocacy. As libraries and their users turn to the web, library statistics must follow. In this paper we explore the use of three common traffic indicators to measure the impact of web resources from national libraries. We present and discuss the use of data on on page views, virtual visits and unique users, with examples from national, academic and public libraries. These indicators are in an early stage of development and need some conceptual and much empirical work to become good tools for strategic planning. But we note four findings: (1) the ratios between the three indicators are very unstable, so we must measure and interpret all three; (2) we find substantial differences between countries, with Denmark in a leading position; (3) in academic and national libraries the number of virtual visits is likely to overshadow the number of physical visits; (4) analysis of web traffic must be based on an understanding of J-shaped distributions (‘power laws’) rather than concepts drawn from ordinary well-behaved bell curves (‘normal distributions’).


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