Library Value: Coming to a Theater Near You?

In January 2011, Library Quarterly published a paper I wrote for the Library Assessment Conference in 2010.  In it, I included a “library impact map” that illustrates the origin of library value, if value is defined as the library’s impact on users.  I’ve added to the map and changed it in the time since–its current iteration is available on my website.  The main idea is that users and institutions have needs, outcomes, goals, priorities, missions, etc. that they seek to achieve, and libraries provide expertise, services, and resources to meet those needs, outcomes, and so on.  Where those two elements intersect, library impact (value) exists.  The challenge lies in documenting that value via assessment, increasing it through reflection and continuous improvement, and ultimately communicating it to users and other stakeholders.

About a month ago, I came across a video from Oregon State University that does a brilliant job of communicating value, albeit not library value.  As you watch it, note the argument they’re making: their institution has economic impact.  Go to Oregon State and you’re more likely to graduate, get a job in your field, and earn more money.  Work at Oregon State and you’ll conduct research that changes lives and creates jobs.  Basically, come in any kind of contact with Oregon State and your life will be better.  Well, they don’t say that last part, but you get the idea.

While chatting with some assessment colleagues, I suggested that this video could serve as a great model for libraries seeking to communicate their value.  In response, Steve Hiller shared the video that the University of Washington has released, which was circulated to the library community last week via the ARL blog.  Watch this video, and you’ll see a compelling argument as well, one that incorporates a variety of user perspectives and voices.  Ignore the part about what the library does and how well they do it.  That’s great, but if you focus on the “value to users” perspective, this video is even more interesting.

The video shows us that the library helps users meet and collaborate.  It facilitates a neutral, interdisciplinary environment beyond the silos of higher education.  It connects the local community and the world outside universities.  Through their interactions with the library, users save money and time.  Library users “get what they need” in terms of existing knowledge, and–better yet–create new knowledge.  Students work in groups and share their learning experiences.  Faculty enhance classroom experiences, for themselves as well as their students.  In the workplace, library users make informed decisions–possibly life-saving decisions–because of the library.  Basically, the UW Libraries make life better.  Well, they don’t exactly say that last part, but they don’t have to.

Imagine the communications all libraries can develop–both multimedia and traditional–when they articulate their impact on users and collect the assessment data and evidence to back it up.  It’s exciting!

And by the way, lest you think I exaggerate, libraries do save lives.  Just check out the special library impact research cited in the Value of Academic Libraries Report beginning on page 89…an inspiring foundation for our ongoing academic library value research efforts.

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