Results of the RISM User Study, Part I: The Survey

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We are currently going through the results of the first-ever RISM user study about the online catalog. An online survey with 62 questions was available from 30 October 2014 until 28 February 2015. Our goal is to get to know our users better (such as where they are from, what kind of experience they have with RISM, and how they use RISM) and find out how they use the online catalog (both available for free from and

We are very pleased to report that 551 people filled out the survey (342 in English and 209 in German). We’d like to thank every participant for sharing their opinions and comments with us!

You are probably all wondering about the results. Here are the responses to some selected questions:

Question 1

1. How many years have you been using RISM?

We received 538 responses to this question. 13 were blank.

Almost half (48%, n = 258) of the people who answered our survey have been using RISM (whether in books, CD-ROM, EBSCO database, or our online database) for over 10 years. The majority of our respondents (66%, n = 356) have been using RISM for 6 or more years. Most of our respondents, therefore, are experienced RISM users but there is a significant number of people who are relatively new.

Question 3

Click for a larger image.

3. How often do you use the online catalog?

We received 538 valid responses to this question (12 responses were blank and 1 was irrelevant).

A majority of respondents (68%, n = 367) visit the RISM online catalog at least once a month. 20 people were kind enough to take the survey despite having never used the online catalog. 16 responses were “other” but we were able to place 14 of them in our given categories; 2 indicated that their usage varies and are “other” in the above chart.

Of the 258 people who have been using RISM for more than 10 years, 125 (48%) use it several times a month.

Question 43

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43. In your opinion, which 3 words describe RISM the best?

36 responses were blank.

In this question, we were curious to learn what words people associate with RISM. Those of us who use RISM on a daily basis certainly have our own impression of RISM, and this is sure to differ from users who are less experienced with RISM or who have different backgrounds and interests. This helps us get to know our users better. Some respondents were (somewhat surprisingly, but perhaps understandably) disconcerted to varying degrees by the fact that we had asked this question at all (“Who thought of this nonsense?” being a representative objection).

Nevertheless, we find it constructive to learn that the top three responses to this question are “scholarly,” “important,” and “interesting,” which is a good place to hold within the RISM community; in fact, 140 people selected exactly these three words. The word combinations that were selected by more than 10 people are as follows:

  • interesting, scholarly, important: 140 respondents
  • straightforward, scholarly, important: 62
  • straightforward, scholarly, interesting: 29
  • scholarly, important, awesome: 16
  • scholarly, important, complicated: 16
  • interesting, important, attractive: 11

As we continue to evaluate the responses to this question, we will especially keep in mind the negative perceptions of RISM that were expressed in the possible responses (such as complicated, old-fashioned, cluttered) as well as the written-in comments (counter-intuitive, inconsistent, unclear).

Question 55

55. What country do you live in? 56. If your country does not appear above, please enter it here.

23 responses in question 55 were either blank or marked “other.” 4 people filled in question 56. In total, 532 people indicated a country.

We were pleased to have this response from people all around the globe, even from countries that have no sources represented in the RISM database (such as Armenia, Iceland, Malta, the Philippines, and South Africa: perhaps we can work with you in the future!).

Though the survey was available in English and German, responses came from 123 peoplewho do not live in a country where either of these languages is an official language. We can infer that many people use and interact with RISM in a foreign language. This helps us as we consider ways to make RISM understandable to people from a variety of cultural and language backgrounds.

Question 59

59. Which of the following groups would you put yourself in?

More than one answer was possible. 16 responses were blank.

RISM has traditionally considered its main users to be (in no particular order) musicologists, musicians, librarians, students, and music antiquarians. We try to plan our projects and services based on these potential user groups. This question has by and large confirmed these categories but we also see a large representation of archivists. Of course, we cannot forget our colleagues who contribute data to the RISM database. We had a small number (n = 4) of people who indicated other music-related professions (composer, concert organizer, critic, publisher). It was interesting to see the small amount (n = 8) of non-music professions indicated: art historian (2), computer programmer, dentist, journalist (2), lawyer, museum director. Even this small sampling reminds us of the fact that non-specialists make use of our database

We can also use the responses from this question to comb the data for insights on how different user groups use the database and how we can steer our services towards different user needs.

Your Comments

We are hard at work evaluating the hundreds of comments that you wrote. One wish that came up frequently was to have more of our printed resources integrated into the online catalog. Earlier this month, we announced that the entire series A/I and years 1500-1550 from B/I are now available in the online catalog–a step that we hope is one of many towards integrating RISM’s publications into a central resource.

Keep an eye on this blog for more results from the survey. All news will be posted on the RISM Survey page (linked at the bottom right of our website).

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