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Questions of life and death – An investigation into the value of health library and information services in Australia

A report published in October by Health Libraries, Inc, supported by the Australian Library and Information Association, investigated the value of health library and information services in Australia ( through an online survey during August/September 2012. The authors write:

The results confirmed the significant contribution made by library and information services, through their service delivery, technology, space, collections, and most of all, the surveys confirmed the value of employing qualified library and information professionals.

A summary of their findings shows that the majority of respondents (between 64% and 98%) had used library information resources, library space to study, or support services such as copying facilities, document delivery and training. 84% had been helped by library staff. The vast majority of respondents reported satisfaction with services from library staff and resources provided by the library.

While these numbers are encouraging we caution readers who may want to point to this data as evidence of the value of librarians. The methodology is not described in detail. The survey was posted online (it’s not clear where) and participation was entirely voluntary. The population to whom the survey was directed ranged from a few hundred to 60,000. The authors do not describe the participating institutions and it is not clear what the participation rate was in relation to the population of each. A total of 128 individuals responded to the survey, of which 80% were from just two organizations. The questions concerning the value of the librarian were rated as satisfaction with services received from library staff. While 99% were satisfied with library staff expertise there were no questions relating the impact of that interaction to the user’s work or learning.

We encourage you to consider the methodology and meaning of the questions as you read this report. If we want to convince our administrators of the value of the librarian it behooves us to develop methodologies and tools that will provide clear evidence and support our conclusions. While the Australian study administrators may have more information the report as published does not convince us that their responses prove the value of the information professional. We do not recommend citing this study’s results. Remember that the MCR staff is ready and willing to assist any Network members who want to collect data regarding their impact in their institutions. Give us a call or email either Betsy Kelly or Barb Jones.

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