College Affordability & Library Return-on-Investment

When rising costs are a central focus of the national dialogue on the future of higher education, academic libraries have an opportunity to demonstrate their contribution to keeping college affordable for students.  Academic libraries provide the resources students use daily to learn course content and complete assignments at no additional cost beyond their institutional enrollment.

Academic libraries supply the resources included on course syllabi, such as journal articles, book chapters, and reserve materials.  Some academic libraries include textbooks in their collections.  Academic libraries also offer the resources students use to complete their course assignments, like articles found through databases, books and e-books, multimedia and special collections, and so on.  Through the provision of resources, academic libraries make it possible for students to achieve academic success without taking on additional financial burdens.

But how much do we know about the value of library resource provision?  There are some “simple” numbers that we can calculate to demonstrate and communicate the financial impact of supplying students with information resources.

  • What percentage of syllabi readings is available and accessed through the library?
  • What percentage of the resources used for assignment completion is available and accessed through the library?
  • What is the monetary value of providing the resources students use to learn course content and complete assignments over alternative sources?
  • What would students have to pay to retrieve non-local resources if interlibrary loan wasn’t an option?
  • In general, what is the financial value of the resources academic libraries provide to students?

If academic librarians undertake systematic analysis of course content, including syllabi reading lists, textbooks, resources used to complete assignments, etc., they can begin to answer some of these basic questions (VAL Report, page 15).  Of course, we also want to know how these resources contribute to learning and how library services such as reference and instruction impact student academic success; librarians should undertake those investigations as well.

It’s logical to believe that library resource provision makes a real difference in students’ academic–and financial–lives.  Academically, these resources are necessary for student academic success.  Financially, these needed resources pose no additional costs to students.  Now, it’s up to librarians to determine the scope and scale of this manifestation of library value, conduct the analysis, and share the results with our stakeholders!

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