I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that libraries play in society and the impact we have – for good or evil – in how society works and progresses. I was moved by the impact of a story that I heard at ALA Midwinter, which I will paraphrase here:
Sharon Terry has an amazing story. You can watch a video and hear her tell it online. Terry tells a story that makes it crystal clear why libraries must be at the front of open access and unfettered access for research and learning. Terry and her husband became activists through a very personal route. She was a college pastor and her husband a construction worker. Their two young children were both diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and were given little hope of any course other than the loss of their eyesight and other complications.
At ALA she described the hoops she had to go through to access publicly supported libraries and databases in search of a cure for her children. She schemed to become an "authorized user," paid fees, fines, ILL fees, etc. At some points, she had to resort to borrowing and stealing passwords to access content. In the end, despite library policies but because libraries exist, she succeeded – and how! Terry and her husband researched the medical literature, built a definitive chart of the disease, patented the gene they found was responsible for the disease, and wrote articles that were published in the prestigious medical journal Nature. Despite being laypeople, they did quite well with the research literature once they got their hands on it.
They formed the Genetic Alliance, an international coalition of advocacy groups that has collected hundreds of case studies on parents and advocates who have suffered from the lack of open access to current medical literature. Terry also formed the Alliance for Taxpayer Access to secure public access to research funded by taxpayer dollars, especially through the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). More examples presented by Terry demonstrate the importance of open access and the particularly obvious case for Open Access to publicly funded research results. She responds bluntly to the charge that the NIH proposal will harm the financial stability of publishers saying, “Since when is the NIH/government in the business of ensuring the sustainability of companies?”
There’s a happy ending to this story. Today, the Terry’s children are doing well, and the treatments that their parents vigorously pursued have worked. Some at ALA Midwinter were moved to tears – some by the simple story of the power of research, others, I suspect, in fear of how many have been hurt by library rules that restrict access to our collections and services (http://library.ucsc.edu/science/ELD/2005/ACRLSPARC.doc).
So, as I said, this story got me thinking about proofs to how the unfettered access to information and information services makes a difference in our various communities: public libraries, school libraries, university and college libraries, and special libraries. What is the real value of public, academic, school, and special libraries? Here are the highlights of what I found. I’ve included a selected webliography at the end of the article so you can enjoy more of the reading too.
Value of Public Libraries
Dividends: The Value of Public Libraries in Canada, a study done in 1996-1997, was a seminal work in exploring the impact – both soft and hard measures – of public libraries on the communities in Canada. Key conclusions were that:
· Public Libraries have an increasing role to play in Canada
· Public libraries, however, are under increasing financial pressures
· Public libraries are cost-effective information providers
· Public libraries support the local economy
· Public libraries support the cultural industry sector
· Public libraries support Canadian culture
· Public libraries support a democratic society
· Public libraries support and promote literacy
· Public libraries support children and students
· Public libraries support lifelong learning
· Public libraries help bridge the digital divide
· The value and importance of information is increasing
Pretty powerful stuff! Many of the measures in this study were soft or polling data with some anecdotal stories to support the conclusions. I understand that a new study is under serious consideration by the Canadian Urban Libraries Council. This would clearly be a most welcome update.
Recently, several jurisdictions have taken library system impact measures to another level. In September 2004, a comprehensive taxpayer ROI study on the impact of public libraries in Florida found (all figures US$):
- Overall, Florida's public libraries return $6.54 for every $1.00 invested from all sources.
- For every $6,448 spent on public libraries from public funding sources in Florida, one job is created.
- For every dollar of public support spent on public libraries in Florida, gross regional product increases by $9.08.
- For every dollar of public support spent on public libraries in Florida, income (wages) increases by $12.66.
Another major study, released in January 2005, was conducted in South Carolina by the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina in collaboration with the South Carolina Association of Public Library Administrators and cooperatively with the South Carolina State Library. In a survey of library users, the study found that they perceived that the public library:
- "Improves overall quality of life: 92% said yes.
- Increases local property values: 47% said yes.
- Attracts new businesses to the community: 38% said yes.
- Attracts patronage to local businesses: 44% said yes.
- Enhanced personal fulfillment: 73% said yes.
- Nurtures a love of reading: 73% said yes.
- Is a source of personal enjoyment: 64% said yes.
- Helps manage personal finances or saved money: 32% said yes.
- Helped to obtain a new job: 11% said yes.
- Helped improved or start business: 15% said yes.
- Helped with a business opportunity: 25% said yes.
- Assisted workers to be more productive in their job: 37% said yes.
- Introduced users to new technologies: 28% said yes.
- Helped users with primary education work: 18% said yes.
- Helped users with life-long learning: 47% said yes.
- Contributed to their home schooling efforts: 12% said yes.
In addition, the study revealed the following about business users:
- 49% of business users indicated that they obtained most of the business/research information from their public library.
- 78% of business users indicated that information obtained from the public library contributed to the success of their business.
- Without access to the information in their public library, 23% of the business users indicated that they estimated their operating costs would increase between $500 and $5,000 and 7% estimated costs would increase by $5,000.
- 41% of business users said that if they did not have access to the public library it would have some negative impact and 33% said it would have a major negative impact on their business.
- 59% of personal investors said they obtained the information needed for making investment decisions from their public library.
- 48% said “definitely” the investment information at the public library had contributed to their financial well being and 34% said “somewhat."
- 32% of the respondents said the dollar value of the information obtained from the public library was between $10,000 and $1 million and 2% said over $1 million."
Among the economic impact findings are the following:
1. The direct economic impact of all SC public library expenditures is $80 million.
2. The existence of SC public libraries brings to the state (from federal and private sources) almost $5 million each year that it would not otherwise have.
3. The value of the loans and use of books, videos, cassettes, CDs, newspapers, magazines, etc. to users each year is approximately $102 million.
4. The value of reference services to users in SC each year is approximately $26 million.
5. The total direct economic impact of SC public libraries is estimated at $222 million, while the actual cost of these services to the state and local governments is only $77.5 million. This means that for every $1 spent by state and local governments on SC public libraries the return on investment is $2.86.
6. The indirect economic impact of SC public library expenditures (wages, supplies, books and related materials, construction, etc.) on the state’s economy is almost $126 million. This means that for every $1 expended by SC public libraries, the state receives $1.62 of indirect economic impact.
7. The total direct and indirect return on investment for every $1 expended on the state’s public libraries by SC State and local governments is $4.48 - a return of almost 350%!”
Glen Holt, of the St. Louis Public Library, has written numerous studies on their role in the community. There are other studies across the land.
There may never be enough of these impact studies. There are certainly more than enough already, however, if we don’t use the data to influence the folks who control the purse strings! Read them and use what you need. If they’re not right for what you need, then do your own study, talk to your library schools, encourage more research, contract the survey you need, etc.
Value of Academic and College Libraries
The value of academic libraries is often strongly tied to the value of colleges and universities themselves. There are many reports on the impact of universities, colleges, and higher education on the economics of a community.
In this particular sector, I am fond of a study called “Libraries Designed for Learning” by Scott Bennett. This is an articulate report on what needs to be considered to place the library at the heart of the new university – virtual and bricks. As we create information and learning commons, we need to consider many new and mutated issues (including our Millennial users), and this report is a good place to start.
Another study that makes a good point is OCLC’s “White Paper on the Information Habits of College Students” (www.oclc.org). This excellent, free study provides data on students’ preferences in dealing with the library and research information. It concludes with some tough questions for libraries and library staff to ponder, strategically.
What should libraries’ strategies be if students:
- Prefer Web access from home?
- Naturally gravitate towards the most popular Web tools?
- Prefer single-point access using Web search engines?
- Want assistance in any way at all - although they prefer personal and face-to-face?
- Want access to resources - wherever they are or whoever owns them?
- Clearly want to know more about library services?
- Base their opinion and perceptions of library service on evening and weekend experiences?
"The Digital Disconnect: The Widening Gap between Internet-Savvy Students and Their Schools” (August 14, 2002) and “The Internet Goes to College: How Students are Living in the Future with Today's Technology” (September 15, 2002), both from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, are based on reliable data. It’s scary data too. There is an emerging proof of a severe generation gap between students and the teachers, professors, and librarians that serve them in their learning environment. Some might say that’s just the students' perception and they need to learn more. Great marketers live by the adage that "perception is reality” since few individuals differentiate between their real and false perceptions.
“Dimensions and Use of the Scholarly Information Environment” from CLIR/DLF (http://www.clir.org) was published after the Digital Library Federation and Council on Library and Information Resources commissioned Outsell, Inc. to conduct a large-scale study. This project looked at undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members from academic institutions to better understand how users' expectations of libraries are changing. A summary report, including 158 tables, is now available online. This report is fascinating in its detail about how students, professors and librarians are using electronic resources from e-journals and the OPAC to the Web and subscription databases.
I do worry that my research finds too few empirical studies of the broader role of the college and university library on learning and research in the academic setting. Are they just difficult to find? Is the position of the academic library so unassailable that the research isn’t needed? I wonder.
Value of Special Libraries
Having spent many years in a special library setting, I am all too aware of the position in which special libraries are placed – you’re only as good as your last reference question or research project. You are under constant pressure to justify your services, role, and budget in the specialized environment in which you practice.
There are quite a few studies on the value of special librarians and their services. However, each is often narrowly focused and its results limited to the sector in which it was done.
Two examples, which I particularly admire, were accomplished by Joanne Gard Marshall. The first sought to discover the impact of the medical library on the decisions of doctors. It’s referred to as the “Rochester Study.” In 1991, physicians were asked to request some information related to a current, real clinical case and then to evaluate its impact on the care of their patients. There were 15 participating hospitals. As a result of the information provided by the library, 80% of the 208 physicians who returned their questionnaires said that they probably or definitely handled some aspect of patient care differently than they would have handled it otherwise. Specific changes that were reported by the physicians were:
- Diagnosis 29%
- Choice of Tests 51%
- Choice of Drugs 45%
- Reduced Length of Hospital Stay 19%
- Advice Given to the Patient 72%
Physicians also said that the services and information provided by the library contributed to their ability to avoid the following:
- Hospital Admission 12%
- Patient Mortality 19%
- Hospital-Acquired Infection 8%
- Surgery 21%
- Additional Tests or Procedures 49%
Yes! You do see in these data that working with medical libraries avoided patient mortality. Librarians save lives too! Excitingly, the physicians rated the information provided by the library more highly than that provided by other information sources such as diagnostic imaging, lab tests, and discussions with colleagues.
Professor Marshall also performed another impact study for SLA in 1995. She studied the impact of the library on corporate decision-making in the five major Canadian banks. This study, published by SLA, shows powerful impacts of library-delivered research and reference on decisions having total impacts of over $1 million each. The impacts usually changed the course of the research of the end user and/or saved significant money.
There are other studies that have been done in the fields of patents and in pharmaceuticals that show the impact of the library on improving regulatory compliance and speeding approvals from authorities.
Again, there is too little hardcore research and study, but what is out there is very compelling.
Value of School Libraries
In the school library field, there are numerous studies and seemingly increasing stupidity in just ignoring them. I heard the word "anegnosis" once. It’s similar to "amnesia" although instead of forgetting knowledge and experience, it means to willfully ignore or be unaware of facts and knowledge. Dr. Ken Haycock is a professor and former director at the graduate School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. His summary of the major studies, internationally, was published in 2003 by the Canadian Coalition for School Libraries. It clearly shows that students who attend schools with well-funded, properly stocked libraries managed by qualified teacher-librarians have higher achievement, improved literacy, and greater success at the post-secondary level. Duh! So why are we having a crisis in school libraries, where they’re threatened routinely?
The study is entitled The Crisis in Canada’s School Libraries: The Case for Reform and Reinvestment. “The evidence is there for all to see,” says Dr. Haycock. “That’s why governments in the U.S., Europe, and Asia are aggressively investing in their school libraries. What’s disturbing is that Canadian policy makers are ignoring the findings of literally decades of research that shows why school libraries and qualified teacher-librarians are essential components in the academic programming of any school.” Standardized scores tend to be 10 to 20% higher than in schools without an investment in a school library program. “The relationship between library resource levels and increased achievement is not explained away by other school variables (e.g., per student spending, teacher-pupil ratios) or community conditions (e.g., poverty, demographics). In fact, no fewer than forty years of research – conducted in different locations, at different levels of schooling, in different socioeconomic areas, sponsored by different agencies, and conducted by different, credible researchers – provide an abundance of evidence about the positive impact of qualified teacher-librarians and school libraries on children and adolescents.” (Haycock 2003)
“Two leading U.S. researchers in the field offer this arresting conclusion: 'In research done in nine states and over 3300 schools since 1999, the positive impact of the school library program is consistent. [They] make a difference in academic achievement. If you were setting out a balanced meal for a learner, the school library media program would be part of the main course, not the butter on the bread (Lance and Loertscher, 2003).'”
We need to continue to get the word out. The Ontario Library Association has committed $100,000 CDN to the completion of an Ontario study on the impact of the school library on learners. This will add more Canadian content to the corpus of evidence-based research proving the relationship of teacher-librarians, school library workers, and school libraries to the success of students.
Again, it will all be for naught if we don’t promote it and build understanding in the education decision-making communities. We need to be at the table, and we need to be heard. Support the advocacy efforts of our fellow professionals in the library movement.
OCLC Advocacy Initiative
In recent years, OCLC has gifted the library community with many items of value. They have launched an advocacy campaign to raise awareness of critical library issues and to help libraries demonstrate their value. The OCLC Environmental Scan as well as the “Libraries: How They Stack Up” document are examples of tools that can be used by libraries to influence their communities and finding bodies.
Normative Data Project from Sirsi and FSU
Today most of the information available on libraries is just that: information on libraries. It is not information about what goes on inside libraries. But it’s what’s inside libraries, either inside our buildings or inside our Web presence, that IS EXCITING and tells a wonderful story.
In January 2005, Sirsi launched the Normative Data Project for Libraries. Designed to help libraries analyze collections and collection use across a large, normalized set of library data, the Normative Data Project (NDP) represents a unique opportunity to standardize and amass a centralized data warehouse containing actual circulation and collections data from contributing North American public libraries.
This NDP is jointly created by leading library community organizations, including hundreds of libraries in North America, the GeoLib Program at Florida State University (FSU), and Sirsi. The goals of this cooperative effort are to compile transaction-level data from libraries throughout North America; to link library data with geographic and demographic data on communities served by libraries; and, thereby, to empower library decision-makers to compare and contrast their institutions with real-world industry norms on circulation, collections, finances, and other parameters. Census, ILS and NCES data are added into the system for comparison purposes.
“Libraries today must find ways to optimize operations, maximize resources, enhance services, extend ‘market’ penetration, and serve ‘customers,’” said Patrick Sommers, Sirsi chief executive officer. “Having access to real-world data on trends and dynamics impacting a broad spectrum of libraries means that library community leaders can conduct benchmarking, manage collections, prepare budgets, choose facility sites, and make other decisions with greater insight than ever before possible.”
Already, more than 700 library outlets - representing approximately 300 North American library systems with combined annual income of more than $340 million and combined annual circulation in excess of 150 million items - are contributing data to the project. Data for 10.5 million unique titles and 30 million copies are contained in these libraries’ collections, which are valued collectively at more than $1 billion. Additional libraries continue to be added, with plans to have data from approximately 500 library systems and 2,500 library outlets in the NDP database this year.
The most important difference between the NDP initiative and other sources of information on libraries is that it is not survey-based data. NDP is based on detailed transaction-level, operational data maintained day-to-day in libraries’ integrated library systems. In other words, NDP doesn’t just provide information on libraries. It reveals what actually goes on inside libraries. For example, there are many sources that provide total circulation figures for libraries, but they provide no insight into what materials are being circulated. NDP will provide a broader understanding of libraries and their operations than previously possible by providing - even down to the call-number level - what materials are being circulated where and to whom. No individual-specific data is gathered or maintained by NDP, so as to protect the personal privacy of individual library users.
“For more than a decade, the GeoLib Program has been focused on bringing to bear the power of geographic and demographic information for library decisions-makers,” said Christie Koontz, PhD., director of GeoLib. “Why is geographic and demographic information so important for libraries? Because, just like other businesses, libraries need to know who and where their customers are,” said Koontz. “Now, with the Normative Data Project, another dimension is added - library decision-makers can view and analyze the actual behavior of library users.”
Beginning June 1, the libraries targeted to contribute transaction and collection level data will be given online access to NDP. The NDP subscription service will also be available June 1 for libraries wishing to subscribe, as will the add-on GIS Customer Marketing Maps for outlet-level neighborhood demographics. In the coming months, the NDP site will also feature top-level statistics for the library community that will be available free of charge, along with a range of valuable resources.
This vendor/library/academic partnership represents a unique opportunity to create ongoing measurements and norms for library operations to effectively track change, manage operations, and build funding justifications. It’s very exciting.
These are challenging times for libraries. We need to communicate our value strongly and in many ways. The studies and opportunities outlined above are fabulous initiatives. We must take our basic statistics and turn them into measurements, and then we must share our measurements. Raw statistics are just representations of effort – something bureaucrats view with cost-cutting eyes. Well-chosen measurements can demonstrate the amazing value and impact of libraries to their communities, host organizations, and funders. All players – vendors, publishers, library workers, institutions, and communities - in the information space have a vested interest to ensure that we communicate this impact and value well. Finally, we must enliven these measurements with the real life experiences of our users. We must share our stories and provide forums for our users to share their stories. It’s these stories that provide the narrative to strongly engage our communities to invest in their own success.
Libraries play an essential, non-partisan role in providing the information that allows citizens to make informed decisions. Libraries make a difference. Libraries transform lives. Let’s never forget that. Let’s speak up.
Stephen Abram, MLS, is vice president of Innovation for Sirsi Corporation and is 2004/5 President of the Canadian Library Association. He would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.