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Whooo Says

Dear Whooo,

Over the years, I have paid close attention to the numbers of hospital libraries that have been closed. I have tried to keep my supervisor and other managers aware of the importance of the library services I provide to the hospital and medical staff by writing an annual report, doing regular promotions, posting information on our intranet and passing complimentary letters about library services and staff on to appropriate people. Now, my supervisor wants me to figure out the ROI for our hospital library. I wonder if this is connected to the upcoming changes of the Affordable Healthcare Act and the fiscal challenges of hospitals today.

Thanks for your help,

Dear Curious,

I’m so glad to hear from you. I’m impressed with your consistent approach to the marketing and promotion for your library, and your recognition that telling the story of your value has many different parts. Also, I’m so glad you are curious about the link between the substantial changes in the business of healthcare and the financial impact of the hospital library.

I think including the financial piece of the library value story is particularly important now. We all know that the costs incurred by the hospital for running a library are high. However, to isolate that cost without also considering the added value of the librarian’s services, how much the library resources are used and the impact of their content on hospital concerns gives a skewed view of this financial investment. Thus, it is the librarian’s job to create that complete picture.

Because you are in the MidContinental Region, you may remember that Betsy Kelly and Barb Jones have created three basic calculators for this express purpose; they are the Valuing Library Services Calculator, the Return on Investment or ROI Calculator and the Database Calculator. The Valuing Library Services Calculator is used to determine what the retail value of the services and resources provided by the library is (what would your administration have to pay for the resources and services you provide if the library were not available in your hospital?). If you decide that your administration would not pay for 100% of what you provide, you can divide the result by the percentage you think they would pay. The ROI Calculator and the Database Calculator are used to determine the return or value that the hospital receives for every dollar they invest in library resources. Books and journals are both calculated as a total of what you have in the library; each database must be calculated as a single unit. These calculators may be found at They are accompanied by complete instructions on how to use them and documentation on how the suggested values were determined.

Before you jump in and start plugging numbers into these calculators, Curious, you should realize that this will take some time, planning and political savvy. First, you need to identify who will be interested in these values and who will have the expertise to help you with this work. You and the selected individual (your manager, the Chief Financial Officer or some other interested party) will then need to discuss the specific resources and services provided by your library. Some of the issues you will need to discuss are:

  • How do you collect your statistics, and what do you collect?
  • What data do your vendors provide in terms of usage statistics?
  • Can you isolate individual titles, or are you part of a package or consortium that makes identifying each title difficult?
  • If a user accesses a book or journal, what does that mean in terms of content used? Did they read one article, two articles, etc.?
  • Do you differentiate between reference question and mediated search? If so, what is the difference in terms of time spent and skill required?
  • What is the average salary/wage of your users?
  • What is an average workweek for your users?  (We established either a 37 or 40 hour workweek as standard, and did not include any time worked over that.)

You both will have to agree on the answers to these and other questions, and to the assigned value for resources and services you enter into the calculator. Be conservative in establishing your values; your results will be significant and much easier to defend if you have not exaggerated or inflated them at all. When you actually enter your data into the calculators, the totals you will see are pretty amazing, and will likely be scoffed at unless you have reached agreement on the definitions and values we have just discussed.

After you have arrived at common definitions and values for your activities and resource usage, gather your existing statistics.  If these are complete for your needs, and match the criteria you have defined, you can start to enter numbers into the calculators. If not, you may have to start collecting your statistics and enter them after you have adequate data. I think you will be very interested to see what the numbers show about your activities and resource usage. You should report your findings to your manager and other interested personnel in an annual report, white paper, conversations and any other appropriate method.

One of the nice things about using these calculators is that you can contribute your values to a common collection of data submitted by other libraries. Barb and Betsy have received submissions from most of the states, several provinces in Canada and a library in Spain. Having that information as a benchmark can help you determine how your library compares to others.  With that information, you can plan new activities and services in a more informed way.

I hope this answer is helpful, Curious. If you have further questions, I know that you are welcome to contact either Barb ( or Betsy (



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