ROI: Measuring the Library’s Contribution to the Academic Enterprise

ACRL President Lori Goetsch and I presented a briefing on the ACRL value of academic libraries project to a standing room only crowd at the Spring Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) meeting in Baltimore last week. We had optimistically promised preliminary results of the comprehensive review of the quantitative and qualitative literature, methodologies and best practices currently in place for demonstrating the value of academic libraries.

However, our extremely capable and diligent researcher, Megan Oakleaf, assistant professor at the Syracuse University iSchool, really felt it was too soon to draw preliminary conclusions.  So Lori and I explained that the session would be an informational update only and gave folks the opportunity to choose another session. Only one person in the 50 plus audience left the session – evidence of how important this work is to the profession.

So what did we talk about?  We reviewed the goals of the project:

–    To define value in terms of institutional, not library, goals.
–    To identify measurable surrogates that demonstrate the library’s impact on institutional goals.
–    To provide best practices on measuring identified surrogates.
–    To explain how the findings should inform data collection decisions of academic libraries going forward

We reviewed the types of ROI studies Megan was finding for public and school libraries (special libraries research is being reviewed, too) and how these studies might suggest avenues for additional research.  We  explained that Megan is looking at existing data sets – (including ARL, ACRL, NSSE, CSSE, NCES, etc.) to see if there are elements that might correlate with student success and use of the library. We also suggested that librarians may need to collect different kinds of data from the traditional inputs/outputs because usage and  collection size do not necessarily equal value. While inputs/outputs are useful performance measures for making decisions about resource and service decisions within the library, they are not as effective for demonstrating the value of the library within the institution. Libraries need to develop and collect data that demonstrates impact/influence on student learning outcomes, faculty teaching success, and faculty research output.

We discussed the pressure –for data-driven evidence that demonstrates the value of the academic library and the many ways that value might be defined. While there are many kinds of value the library provides (and many ways we might consider measuring it) this research project is particularly interested in student engagement and what impact the library has on student success.

Those in attendance agreed that pressure from campus administrators to demonstrate the library’s value would continue. One attendee said that her CAO is interested in any correlation between group study space and graduation rates! We agreed that different institutions would have different interests and approaches to articulating value and that it was important to clearly define and articulate how libraries help their institutions succeed.

We are confident that ACRL’s research will shed some light on how libraries enhance institutional success with respect to student enrollment, achievement, retention, graduation rates, and learning. ACRL will continue to build on this important work to create tools and research that members can use.

The final project report will be posted to the ACRL Web site by July 31, 2010.