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Calculating the Value of Libraries

In 2008, Barb Jones and Betsy Kelly, the Library Advocacy and Assessment and Evaluation Coordinators respectively, developed a calculator (http://nnlm.gov/mcr/evaluation/calculator.html) for demonstrating the economic value of library services. The concept had been used by state and public libraries to show the benefit, in tax dollars, the user received during a visit to the library. Our calculator turned that idea on its side to allow librarians to use data they were likely already collecting to illustrate the value they return to their institutions. We thought it would be interesting to try to get a picture of the value of services provided by health sciences libraries nationwide so we decided to invite librarians to enter their data in the online form and submit the results to us. Over the past five years we have received usable data from 213 libraries across the U.S., in Canada, and a few other countries.

The calculator returns the simple cost/benefit ratio (CBA), which is often also referred to as the return on investment (ROI). We realized from the outset that the results were dependent upon whatever data the librarian entered in the calculator form. Self reported data might be suspect but the aggregated results have been consistent across time, library type, and size and we are confident that they are a reasonable reflection of the value libraries provide for the dollars allocated for their budgets.

Submissions were received from every institution type and NN/LM region. Libraries in the NN/LM account for 85% of all submissions regardless of institution type. The MidContental region contributed 44, or 25% of the regional submissions.

Table 1. Number of submissions by institution Type

Table 1. Number of submissions by institution Type

 Table 2. Percentage of contributions by NN/LM Region

Table 2. Percentage of contributions by NN/LM Region

We have five years of data and the average CBA for all U.S. libraries reporting is 9:1 and 8:1 for academic, hospital and corporate libraries in the NN/LM. That is, for every dollar budgeted for the library, users realize a benefit of between $8 and $9. Fifty seven percent (121) of submissions were from hospital libraries and 16% (34) were from academic libraries. For hospitals the average CBA is 6.6:1 and 21:1 for academic libraries reporting.

Table 3. Average CBA by NN/LM region

Table 3. Average CBA by NN/LM region

Table 4. Average CBA for academic, hospital and corporate libraries by NN/LM region

Table 4. Average CBA for academic, hospital and corporate libraries by NN/LM region

By institution type academic libraries show the largest benefit per dollar budgeted, followed by large hospitals

Table 5. Average CBA by institution type

Table 5. Average CBA by institution type

It is clear from these data that the value of libraries can be calculated. These data are direct – that is a specific service or resource is used and the service or resource can be assigned a monetary value based on the cost to obtain that service or resource elsewhere. These calculations do not include time savings for the user, resource savings due to library purchases as opposed to duplicate purchases for the same resource across an institution, the value of research income, patient outcomes or cost savings from having accurate information available when needed. Anecdotes shared with us illustrate the impact these calculations have had when shared by librarians with their administrators. We encourage you to consider looking at your CBA and discussing the results with your administrator. Barb Jones and Betsy Kelly are available for help and questions.

-Betsy Kelly, Assessment & Evaluation Coordinator

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