The Backfiles Value Study uses a calculated non-traditional Return on Investment (ROI) metric to demonstrate the impact of online journal archives purchased by NCSU Libraries. It evaluates the impact not only in terms of usage, but also in terms of fiscal effectiveness.


  • Annette Day, Collection Management
  • Hilary Davis, Collection Management
  • Katie Wheeler, Former member of Collection Management

Study Details

The study measured the cumulative cost of each journal backfile over time, compared to the cumulative use of each journal backfile over the same time period (i.e., cost/use). Because the journal backfiles were acquired as one-time expenditures (sometimes with annual maintenance fees) the resulting metric should get smaller over time as the cost of the backfile investment gets closer to paying for itself. The more quickly the metric approaches zero, the more effective and impactful the purchase.


Usage statistics (fulltext article downloads from COUNTER 1 Reports) were collected from all backfile publishers and providers where available. Collated cost data (from our ILS) was also collected for each of the backfile collections. The cost data included both one-time payments and annual maintenance fees.

The cumulative cost/cumulative use for each year where the data was available was calculated. In many instances usage data back to the year of initial purchase was not available. In those cases the one-time payment was applied to the first year of reported use. See example below for how the cumulative cost/use was calculated for a sample journal archive.

Source Data for Sample Journal Archive:

sample cost and usage data

ROI Calculations for Journal Archive:

Journal Archive ROI Plotted over time:

Reports and Presentations