Nga Ong, California Digital Library
Sian Brannon, University of North Texas


In the most basic sense, an e-resource turnaway is “the number of times access to a resource has been denied to a user because the maximum number of licensed users has been reached” (Amy Pattee, 2013, Developing Library Collections for Today’s Young Adults, Scarecrow Press). It can also be for when a user is turned away from a resource because the library has no license for the content. Turnaways may demonstrate an “unmet need” of a collection (similar to ILL data). Vendors frequently like to provide turnaway reports to libraries as evidence of serious demand. Turnaways can be a useful metric to assess the impact of cancellation when used in conjunction with ILL data and qualitative surveys. This article defines the various forms of turnaway data and recommends a few factors to consider when looking at turnaway reports.


According to The Friendly Guide to [COUNTER] Release 5 for Librarians, they are also referred to as “Access Denials” and take on two forms: 

“Two varieties of access denial metric are tracked in Release 5: 

No_License’: counted where a user is unable to access a unique content item because their institution does not have a license to the content. 

Limit_Exceeded’: counted where a user is unable to access a unique content item because their institution’s cap on the number of simultaneous users has been exceeded.” 

Many vendors provide access-denial data in the COUNTER R5 Database and Title Master reports and in Standard reports (DR-D2, TR-B2, TR-J2). A “No_License” metric is triggered when users try to access full text content to which their institution does not have a license. A “Limit_Exceeded” metric is triggered when users try to access full text content which has exceeded its concurrency cap if the institution has a concurrency-limited subscription to the content. Below is an image of TR-J2 showing the two types of access denial data (Hendry, 2020). 

Turnaway Sample Counter

Librarians can use the “No_License” or “Limit_Exceeded” counts in the COUNTER reports to investigate the costs of subscribing to the e-resource or increasing the concurrency cap for the e-resource. Delving into the data will help when you go to negotiate with the vendor for potential purchase.

Factors to consider when reviewing turnaway counts

  • First consider whether the journal/book/database even fits into your collections. 
  • Then, you are looking for resources with the highest numbers of content where access was denied. 
  • If you consider the cost of the resource, would the cost per use likely align with other thresholds you have set?
  • Refer to your ILL data to see if there are requests for the content (perhaps that occurred after a turnaway).
  • Is the content available in another resource you have?
  • Be skeptical about making an assumption that turnaways alone can project future usage. 
    • Since turnaways are easily triggerable, some believe that “Turnaways [might not be] as strong an indicator of patron need as interlibrary loan requests. After all, if a patron clicked on an article, found they could not view the full text, and then decided not to request the article on interlibrary loan, this person has made a decision that the article is not essential. If you are considering adding a subscription to a journal based on its appearance in the turnaway report, use a higher threshold for how many turnaways it should have than you would use as your threshold for ILL requests” (Kohn, 2015).
  • Decide on an overall strategy for handling turnaways.
    • “If you make policy decisions related to turnaways, you won’t have to decide case-by-case what to do. For example, you may decide to automatically purchase a second copy or upgrade to a [multiple-user] copy [after a set amount of turnaways].” (Arndt, 2015).
  • Double check the turnaway message that displays to patrons—try to make it helpful to your users.
    • “Platforms differ in terms of what happens when a user tries to access full text content to which their institution does not have a licence. [In some] platforms where an Access_Denied notice is not displayed, the user clicks on a record and is directed to the abstract. This is counted as an investigation, but because the user is unable to access the full text it is also counted as No_License. On some other platforms, if a user clicks on a record, they will immediately see an Access_Denied notice [or a message asking them to purchase the content or contact a librarian] – they will not be able to access the abstract or the full text. In such a case an investigation will not be counted, only a No_License.” (Email: Lorraine Estelle in email to LIB-STATS Digest – 16 Dec 2019 to 17 Dec 2019 (#2019-61)).
  • Verify with your vendor what may cause a turnaway and set your turnaway threshold accordingly before making a decision to subscribe.
  • You should normalize unusual spikes in turnaways in the monthly data. If you are using turnaways as evidence to subscribe, you should normalize the monthly data where there are unusual spikes. Providers tend not to notify or block unusually high turnaways due to crawling activities.
  • Separate out the titles you don’t previously subscribe to in turnaway reports when assessing data for a cancelled package and evaluate the impact on cancellation. You may also want to look at the turnaways data for titles previously not included in the cancelled package to add to the re-subscribed package if the turnaways meet the set threshold.
  • For titles with high turnaways, check if there is alternative access (in other aggregator packages or OA) before subscribing.
  • Check provider notification logs for subscribed titles where access had been blocked due to unusual download activities.

Suggested articles & references

Arndt, T.  (2015).  Getting started with demand-driven acquisitions for E-books: A LITA guide, American Library Association,

DeMoville, N. & Wood, A. (2016). Get ’em in, get ’em out: Finding a road from turnaway data to repurposed space. The Serials Librarian70(1–4), 266–271, DOI: 10.1080/0361526X.2016.1159424

Hendry, J. (2020).  Release 5 manual for librarians journals: Understanding metrics and standard views. Module 2: Journal Usage, ProjectCounter.Org, 12,

Jabaily, M. (2020). Predicting potential electronic serials use. The Serials Librarian, 78(1–4), 104-111, DOI: 10.1080/0361526X.2020.1703164

Karen Kohn, 2015, Collection evaluation in academic libraries: A practical guide for librarians, Rowman & Littlefield

Smith, M. (2019) Living in denial: The relationship between access denied turnaways and ILL requests. The Serials Librarian, 75(1–4), 31–41, DOI: 10.1080/0361526X.2019.159

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