The Value of Academic Libraries

An Overflow Audience Turned Out to Hear a Summary of the Report on The Value of Academic Libraries

Last year, ACRL commissioned a report on the Value of Academic Libraries, and a summary of the findings was presented to an overflow audience.  The report can be downloaded or purchased as a bound volume from its website.  A podcast of the session is also available.

Mary Ellen Davis

ACRL Executive Director Mary Ellen Davis introduced the session by noting that there have been many calls for accountability in higher education.  There has been a fear that “no child left behind” would come to higher education.  Would libraries have a voice if that happened?  Higher education administrators are making difficult choices about where to spend their funds, and the relevance of the academic library is being questioned more than ever.  Libraries have gone from being a core value to being a cost center; one university even sent its library a bill for its costs!  How can we demonstrate relevance and value to the community?  In such an environment, ACRL commissioned a study to look at how to align libraries with institutional outcomes, empower them to carry out their work locally, create shared knowledge, and contribute to higher education assessment.  Libraries have tended to use input and output as measures of value; this won’t be sufficient going forward.  How are we making a difference?  We have to align ourselves with the overall mission of the institute.  What are we trying to achieve?  Did it make a difference?  How are we contributing to the goals and revenue of the institution?

The ACRL Board therefore commissioned a study and selected Megan Oakleaf of Syracuse University to conduct it.  The Board hopes that the resulting report will help librarians educate researchers and administrators on their value.

Megan Oakleaf presented a summary of the report and some of its recommendations.  Its focus is on the value of the library to the parent institution as seen by the stakeholders:  students (both undergraduate and graduate), faculty, staff and administration, parents, and the government.  There are 500 references in the report, including not only those on academic libraries but also school, public, and special libraries (they are ahead of academic libraries and have taken different approaches).  Satisfaction with services and external perceptions of quality were not covered in the study.

We have undervalued our libraries, and many of them need a “help packet” to confront their shrinking budgets and the feeling of being marginalized.  In the past, value has tended to be measured by use statistics, but they are not enough of an indicator.  We must see the big picture.  People are really interested in the outcome of their research and the benefit of their library use.

Today’s paradigm is shifting from collections to service.  What purpose do the collections serve?  What is the benefit, the outcome?  What do libraries enable people to do?  What do they use the information for?  (This is a big “who cares” question).  As a result, the  expectations of funding agencies has shifted, and social, economic outcomes have become more important.  What are we enabling people to do?  What do individual users do?  And what impact does that have?  If you know what people are doing, you can start to determine the impact.

Here are a few of the recommendations of the report:

  • Define the outcomes.  What are the needs and goals of your institutions?  Intersect needs and goals.
  • Use existing data.  Don’t do a new survey.  See if the data that you need exists; people are generally willing to share it.
  • Develop systems to collect data on individual library user behavior while maintaining privacy.  We cannot move forward as rapidly as we would like to unless we know what people are doing.
  • Generate data that plays well with assessment management systems.  Most campus departments are earlier adopters at this than we are.  Organize your data by outcomes so you can easily run a report.


Report Recommendations

The library contributes to a wide range of campus activities, including student enrollment, retention, and success; faculty research productivity, grant proposals and funding; as well as the the institution’s overall reputation and prestige.  It is an important campus function.


Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, ACRL President

ACRL President Lisa Hinchliffe wrapped up the session by issuing challenges to library administrators and professional organizations for actions they could do based on the report.



Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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