The March statistics for the blog reveal that the “The Value of a Library” entry received the most hits. Because this topic is of interest to so many, I wanted to offer another article, which will give me the opportunity to point you to one of my favorite blogs at the moment, “In the Library with the Lead Pipe.” I don’t know of any other blog with such extensive and complex entries – almost more than offered by an e-zine.
A recent entry, titled „Are You Worth It? What Return on Investment Can and Can’t Tell About Your Library”, asks what “return of investment” (or ROI) can – and cannot - reveal about the value of a library. I highly recommend the article, which includes further readings. To entice you to read it, here is a brief summary:
There have been a number of reports in the media recently about the growing numbers of people using public libraries – a development that is occurring not only in the U.S., but in Germany as well. Libraries, however, are also, of course, affected by cuts and by savings measures. Good arguments for investing more money in libraries, therefore, become more important than ever before.
Naturally, there are many ways to measure the value of a library (circulation statistics, number of patrons, etc.), but the article chooses to focus on libraries’ return of investment. It’s difficult, however, to define a library’s return when using ROI analysis,. It’s important first of all to determine what return the library is striving for. Then it’s important to differentiate between direct and indirect, individual and collective returns. Direct and individual returns are easier to measure than indirect and collective returns, such as the example the article uses of the contribution that libraries make to a better-educated citizenry.
The article discusses various approaches to determining the ROI of public libraries, academic libraries and special libraries. In the case of academic libraries, one measure might be the number of library sources cited in grant applications. Special libraries, funded by the government or corporations, can base their ROI on the time that colleagues save by turning to the library with their requests and utilizing its expertise. This is another example of the way that in-house libraries can increase productivity and cut costs. In any case, it is clear that it is not enough for these libraries to offer good or very good services – they must make the positive cost-benefit relationship transparent to funders.
This type of determination of ROI obviously has its limits, and does not always reflect an accurate image of a library’s value. One disadvantage, for example, is that evaluation is done in close and very individual relationship to the particular organization. Comparisons with other libraries are therefore difficult. Nor can small libraries bring the same return as larger libraries. And the libraries of non-profit organizations must, as a rule, be able to demonstrate a different kind of value, above all if the organization’s mission is of a moral or an ethical nature. But it is important for these libraries as well to be able to demonstrate a value, to demonstrate, quite honestly, that they have not become obsolete in the Internet age we live in.
Taking into account all of these methods of valuation, as well as the fact that statistics are an important criterion in arguing for libraries, it should not be forgotten that it also is the task of libraries to support and strengthen civil society. It therefore is important for libraries to find a balance between positive statistical outcomes and their inherent mandate. The reputation that an organization, a city or a university enjoys based on the services offered by its library should not be underestimated, but are not measurable.
If you are interested in further reading, I would recommend the
bibliography compiled by the ALA .