Valuing Library Services by Roslyn Donald

Reasons to Measure Library Services

Corporate libraries, as part of profit-making organizations, have to contribute to their organizations’ bottom line, just like every other department. However, a special library’s contribution to the company’s goals is much harder to measure and evaluate. Traditional measures of library services, such as counting interlibrary loans or keeping track of reference questions answered, does not mean much to the average corporate executive. He or she probably does not "speak library," and is not impressed by circulation statistics or percentages of reference questions answered correctly. Corporate information specialists need to translate the library successes into terms that management is going to understand.

The special library "... is often under pressure to move out from under the corporate overhead umbrella and into the arena of proving its value and contribution to the corporate whole, worthy of its share of the corporate budget" (Keyes 1995). Corporate information specialists should be especially careful to know and understand corporate goals and strategic directions, since library operations are sometimes seen as peripheral to a company’s core competencies. Information specialists must align themselves with corporate goals, and make sure the value of the library’s contributions are known throughout the organization.

How to be in Step with Company Goals

Library services are difficult to measure because their benefits are often intangible. There is no way to quantitatively measure how important a piece of information is to a particular merger or to a licensing deal; even if participants agree the information was important, they cannot put a dollar value on how important it was. There are methods, however, for evaluating services that attempt to put a dollar value on the tangible and intangible benefits of services. Business methods used for evaluating customer service and service quality that can be applied to library services include:

  • measuring money saved or productivity gains in using librarians
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • total quality management

Measuring productivity gains

Keyes’ excellent review of literature on determining the value of special libraries should be required reading for any corporate librarian about to embark on a project to value library services. She describes the various evaluation approaches clearly and concisely, and the annotated bibliography points the reader to many more useful works on the topic. Keyes categorizes quantifying methods in these categories: monetary value by time-saved methods, monetary value by productivity gains, and cost-benefit analysis. Keyes concludes that all cost data for operating corporate information centers that can be extracted, should be extracted as a first priority. Other priority activities include collecting user estimates of the value of library services, and recording positive instances of library services’ impact. After all these activities have been accomplished, the library staff can determine cost-benefit ratios and how to present the results to management.

Cost-benefit analysis

Cost-benefit analysis shows how library services can save money for the company or help the company make a profit. Opportunities for a cost-benefit analysis include: introducing new technologies, outsourcing or bringing services in-house, or implementing new procedures. Cost-benefit analyses can be organized into hard dollar savings, soft dollar savings, and cost avoidance. Hard dollar savings are those easily measured in terms of dollars and cents; they are widely accepted. Soft dollar savings are harder to quantify; examples include freeing up shelf space or saving the library staff’s time. This kind of benefit is not easily quantified, but it is still a benefit. Cost avoidance deals with reducing or eliminating a future cost. Examples include; adding a new part-time staff member (avoiding possible staff overtime) or buying movable shelving (holds more books in less space, avoids need for larger office space).

Measuring library services’ quality

Another way to evaluate library services is to evaluate quality. There are several articles which report on the use of Total Quality Management (TQM) to evaluate library services. TQM is "a systematic process which focuses on understanding customer needs and improving customer services" (Stutz and Cundari 1995). The implementation of TQM in the Deveraux Foundation’s Professional Library, for example, was found to be a useful way to evaluate the quality of library services and provide goals for improvement (Stutz and Cundari). One especially beneficial aspect of TQM is its emphasis on continuous improvement. Now that the system is in place, the Deveraux Foundation’s library staff expect to continually evaluate and improve library services.

Another approach to service quality evaluation is the use of SERVPERF and SERVQUAL models, which are used in management consulting to evaluate customer service. A problem underlying the use of TQM in libraries is the lack of a standardized instrument for assessing specialized reference services. Among the instruments used to evaluate business services, SERVPERF and SERVQUAL were found to be the best models, according to a report on the first phase of an SLA project to develop a standardized instrument for evaluating the quality of library services (White and Abels 1995). The report examines problems in evaluating services and evaluating library services in particular.

Case Study: Ontario Ministry of Finance

Another way to think of valuing library services is to consider the variables that add value to the performance of the organization. This method was pursued by the Ontario Ministry of Finance Library when making a business case for the library’s current awareness service (Harris and Marshall 1996). By selecting just one library service for their initial efforts, the librarians were able to cut down on the number of variables they needed to track. The current awareness service was also a very visible and valuable library service.

The librarians used a survey to determine customer attitudes towards the current awareness service, and attempted to determine the cost to customers if the current awareness service did not exist. By comparing the costs of library staff providing the service with costs from outside providers, they were able to prove that the library’s current awareness service saved the Ministry staff both time and money. The librarians emphasize that a large part of their success was due to presenting the need for library services in terms that management could understand.

Whether a librarian chooses to evaluate money-saving or time-saving, productivity increases, or the quality of library services, it is clear that he or she needs to make some kind of effort to evaluate library services. The reasons for evaluating services include proving the worth of library services, the often indirect relationship between library costs and benefits, and a way to determine areas where staff skills could be improved. Evaluation of library services and marketing of those services are two different sides of the same coin; both are efforts needed to prove to the rest of the company that library services are valuable and add to the bottom line.

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Dmytrenko, April L. "Cost Benefit Analysis." Records Management Quarterly, Jan 1997: 16+. Trade & Industry Database. Online. Insite Pro. 4 Jun 1997.

Harris, Gwen and Joanne Marshall. "Building a Model Business Case: Current Awareness Service in a Special Library." Special Libraries, Summer 1996: 181+. Trade & Industry Database. Online. Insite Pro. 4 Jun 1997.

Keyes, Alison M. "The Value of the Special Library: Review and Analysis." Special Libraries, Summer 1995: 172+. Trade & Industry Database. Online. Insite Pro. 4 Jun 1997.

Stutz, Kara, and Leigh Cundari Leigh. "Enhancing Library Services: An Exploration in Meeting Customer Needs Through Total Quality Management." Special Libraries, Summer 1995: 188+. Trade & Industry Database. Online. Insite Pro. 4 Jun 1997.

White, Marilyn Dumas and Eileen G. Abels."Measuring Service Quality in Special Libraries: Lessons From Service Marketing." Special Libraries, Winter 1995: 36+. Trade & Industry Database. Online. Insite Pro. 4 Jun 1997.

About the author

Roslyn Donald, Managing Editor in the PROMT group, has been with Information Access Co. since 1994. She has also worked in law libraries and for an information broker. Currently she is working towards a Masters in Library and Information Science at San Jose State University. Comments to the author should be directed to .

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