by Erica Anderson, posted with permission from the TALL Quarterly Winter 2011 v.30, no. 4
Library value is communicated in everyday actions and services; this idea is not new to librarians who have always focused on user needs. Today, librarians must also find a way to stand out from the crowded marketplace of information services and address users’ devalued perceptions of libraries. Easy access to the Internet and other sources of information at people’s fingertips means that libraries are a part of a highly competitive information market. In addition, the current economic climate of recession and budgetary restraint means libraries increasingly face budget reductions or closures.
To secure clients’ attention and support, librarians must demonstrate their value to their clients and organizations. Learning to recognize and implement unique innovative services will highlight the librarian’s valuable role in their organization. However, it is most critical to address the devalued perception of libraries by creating a library culture of continuous advocacy. This means demonstrating how the library is aligned with its organization’s goals and sharing stories of library value with users. A review of library literature, as well as an examination of the ways in which TALL librarians are innovating services, will illustrate how librarians can demonstrate their value to their organizations and users.
Demonstration Through Innovation
In their article “Assessing Innovation,”  Zeeman, Jones and Dysart describe the many ways corporate and government libraries’ are articulating their value to their organizations. The innovations that they write about demonstrate the value of librarians as the service. Many authors agree that library value is based on the service of librarians, rather than the library as a place; Mary Ellen Bates writes that it is the librarian’s insights and analysis of information that creates a valuable service. Michael Germano and Stephen Abram argue that librarians are the thing that set libraries apart from all other sources of information.
We know the who, but how are librarians innovating services today? Zeeman, Dysart and Jones found that librarians are offering more analysis of information, creating data visualization tools and information maps, providing more media analysis and custom reports to clients. Librarians are embedded or aligned with client teams and integrated into workflows more than ever before. While librarians are enabling clients to use more content directly, by promoting client self-service through e-learning and web portals, librarians are also aligned and embedded into client workflows. Most significantly, the libraries surveyed are designing targeted and unique information services for their organizations.
What is Value and How Do You Measure It?
Money talks: one definition of value is “material worth.” Discussion about demonstrating library value began in the nineties by addressing the monetary value of libraries, often using return on investment (ROI) calculations. An ROI assessment is borrowed from the business world and attempts to determine whether the money invested in the library produces a positive return. For instance, an ROI calculation could measure the costs associated with a library, like the cost of books, database subscriptions and library staff time against the financial benefits, which could be things like saving user’s time, bulk purchases, and centralized licenses. An early example from the public library sector shows that for every $1 in tax money spent on the library the benefit to society is $4 in return. This example can be said to prove that libraries are a positive investment with a good return. An ROI calculation like this is especially intriguing to legal and corporate libraries who are often asked to prove their worth in a language that business understands. In a similar vein, libraries often keep statistics that count loans, reference transactions, or product usage to quantify the value of its services.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: while value is often equated with money, value can also be defined as “relative worth.” In this vein, library literature increasingly argues that monetary measurement techniques, like an ROI, might be a step in the wrong direction. At best an ROI offers one part of the picture; at worst they belittle a library’s worth into a dollar amount that can make it even more of a target for budget cuts. Library services are difficult to quantify and may be better suited to assessment models that account for qualitative factors. Newer business valuation techniques like Social Return on Investment, Balanced Scorecard, and Triple Bottom Line Accounting, use more qualitative factors when considering the impact of services and are detailed in Worth Their Weight: an Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation. While these techniques hold promise for advocacy, the report points out that library marketing materials need to change to cite the specific uses and specific benefits of libraries at their particular organizations.
Marketing is Key
Perception is reality: another definition of value is from Germano’s “The Library Value Deficit” where he writes that creating value is the “combining of a product or service with a targeted need that produces a unique benefit.” This definition emphasizes that creating value is precise and personal to an organization. Germano argues that libraries are no longer perceived as inherently valuable by users and as a result they are facing a marketing crisis that is greater than their budget crisis. An OCLC study also found that the perception of librarians is an important predictor of library funding. Germano argues against using ROI figures for communicating value, since one of the first rules in marketing to gain customer commitment is to withhold a price until a value has been established.
Germano’s argument pulls heavily from the marketing world which frequently discusses a “value proposition;” the first crucial step in creating value for customers. It begins with a thorough understanding of the customer, and then illustrates the “positive tangible benefits” of the service to that customer. More than a list of features, creating a value proposition is an art that illustrates a return on investment, without resorting to numerical calculations. The Worth Their Weight study also noted that “researchers are beginning to turn their attention to the difficult problem of articulating a value proposition that can be expressed in social as well as economic terms and presented in credible and evidence-based advocacy arguments.”
Align Library Service with Organizational Goals
A 2009-2010 CALL/ACBD paper Best Practices for Demonstrating the Value of Your Library Services offers descriptive best practices for proving library value from several libraries in the Canadian Association of Law Libraries, and emphasizes that there is no “one size fits all” answer. The authors, Deborah Copeman and Michel-Adrien Sheppard, ask whether libraries are “measuring the right things, the right way according to the right definition of value?” They found that libraries need to collect user data and create measurements that are relevant to the customer, and strategically align library services with the organization’s goals. Common best practices revealed in the paper include surveys, evaluations, marketing/outreach, user testimonials and statistics. Copeman and Sheppard also found that engaging customers with a library “impact story,” unique to their organization, is an effective marketing tool.
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) also recognizes that libraries have to provide evidence of their value to remain viable to their institutions. Their report, The Value of Academic Libraries,encourages libraries to collect data on their users to figure out their library’s best method of adding value at their particular institution. Just like the CALL/ACBD paper, ACRL emphasizes that each institution will have unique goals and there is no single best practice for aligning library services with institutional goals. Some suggested best practices include linking library service to student retention and graduation, or measuring the library impact on things like student school success, faculty productivity, grant proposals or the institution’s reputation.
A cherry picked selection of library statistics might contribute to a marketing strategy, but raw library usage statistics on their own are not enough. Stephen Abram argues that telling a story and communicating measurements based on usage statistics are more powerful than statistics alone, When usage statistics are used to demonstrate library value they should be directly, and anecdotally, correlated to an organizational goal. For instance, having the latest legal information for lawyers is a type of risk management. The library tasks of checking in serials and loose-leaf filing ensure lawyers have the latest information. Explaining the library’s contribution to the firm’s “risk management strategy” and linking it to library serial management is much more attractive to organizational decision makers than just telling them the number of serials that were checked-in.
Finding a “credible evidence-based advocacy argument”, or “impact story” or, simply an elevator speech that describes unique library services is crucial to the survival of a library. Wendy Reynolds writes that librarians should be prepared to deliver a short pithy speech to clients that appears spontaneous, as if at a chance meeting in the elevator, but is actually a well-constructed and deliberate story of library value. Germano believes this kind of marketing is urgently required; he goes so far as to say that offering a statement of value should be a professional obligation, similar to librarians’ commitment to service. A recent Information Outlook issue dedicated to “Advocating for Librarians” agreed that continuous advocacy must become an integral part of librarians’ everyday service ethic. For library managers this could mean attending meetings with organizational decision makers, and for library staff this could mean becoming embedded in a business unit so that the librarian is seen as partially responsibility for its success.
Sharing stories about library use and well-chosen measurements about the impact of libraries will demonstrate library value to communities and organizations. Dysart and Jones recommend learning from other libraries’ innovations and sharing community impact stories with the larger library community. One place to share and read other library impact stories and innovations are the numerous websites and blogs that call for demonstrating value in today’s libraries. Some notable ones for the law library community are: The SLA Future Ready 360 blog/website (http://futureready365.sla.org/), the blog On Firmer Ground: Promoting the Value of Law Librarians (http://www.firmerground.com/), and the AALL Private Law Libraries Summit (PLL) materials and blog (http://pllsummit.wordpress.com/home/). The Embedded Librarian blog looks at embedded librarians in all types of organizations (http://embeddedlibrarian.wordpress.com/)
Challenging times are also an opportunity. Take this opportunity and share your own story of library value.
TALL Members’ Demonstrating Value
In the Toronto Association of Law Libraries two libraries have started unique innovative services that demonstrate their library’s value. John Papadopoulos, Chief Law Librarian, Bora Laskin Law Library, University of Toronto and Erin Murphy, Senior Reference Librarian, Miller Thomson LLP provide some insight into innovation and demonstrating value. At Bora Laskin, librarians are aligned with the institutional goals in the Legal Research Writing course and Infoexpress services, and at Miller Thomson librarians are integrated into client practice groups. Both of these examples offer opportunities for continuously gathering client feedback and are perfect examples of library impact stories.
Librarians Integrated in University of Toronto Course
At the University of Toronto, the Legal Research Writing (LRW) course has long been an upper year law school elective course. Recently, the law students found that they needed more instruction in research and writing and they communicated this to law school faculty. When the Chief Law Librarian, John Papadopoulos, heard of this request he asked to be a part of the curriculum committee developing the course. Law librarians have long advocated that students would benefit from a mandatory research and writing course, and when the request came directly from the students to the administration it got things moving. By being part of the development of the course, and eventually delivering some of the lectures to the students, John says that the library has the opportunity to become an integral part of the administration’s direction and the law school’s curriculum goals. The librarians that teach the course are also entrenched in the work flow of the students and faculty. The LRW course started in September 2011 as a mandatory course for law students, with law librarians contributing all three of the lectures on the research process and tools, and doctoral students contributing the other seven lectures on writing and analysis. John says that demonstrating library value by aligning library services with the university’s goals, in this case contributing to the curriculum, has greater impact on clients than trying to get the administration’s attention with circulation or reference statistics.
Bora Laskin Law Library Aligned with Law School Goals
Another University of Toronto Bora Laskin Law Library value-added service, “infoEXPRESS,” is modeled on American university faculty services and offers one point of library contact for faculty members. Rather than faculty trying to figure out where their information will come from in the library – ILL, document delivery, retrieval, reference etc. – infoEXPRESS can be contacted with any library request and the final product is delivered to the faculty member. John says this service fundamentally changed the faculty’s relationship to the library because it has freed up the faculty members time and allowed them to be more productive in their research. When informally speaking with one faculty member, John learned that infoEXPRESS is so valued by faculty that that faculty member claimed that it is the best thing about being at the Faculty of Law thus giving the library another valuable impact story.
Integrated Librarian at Miller Thomson LLP
The integrated librarian initiative at Miller Thomson LLP provided a great opportunity for the library to build stronger working relationships with the lawyers, and to increase awareness of librarian skills and services. Erin Murphy, Senior Reference Librarian described the integrated librarian role as being developed to make it easier for lawyers on different floors to access library services, and to provide more targeted support to different practice groups. At the same time, the library wanted to increase its profile with various practice groups and find new ways to offer training. Practically speaking, Erin took on the integrated librarian role by moving to an office within the business law group area for a couple of months. Following that, another librarian took up residence with the labour & employment group for a couple of months. Overall, Erin said her library has had great success with the initiative.
While the integrated service allowed the librarian to work more closely with a particular practice group, it did present some challenges for the library team. In addition, being separated from the rest of the team made collaborative projects a little more difficult and being on another floor meant being away from the print library collection, so “quick reference” sometimes took a little longer than usual. Logistically, office space is at a premium, and offering the service to other groups is somewhat dependent on the availability of a suitable location for the integrated librarian.
The Miller Thomson LLP library saw a definite increase in research requests both during and after the time the librarian spent with each group. Erin said that often lawyers would stop to ask for research assistance as they were walking past her. Lawyers commented that seeing the librarian there with them was a good reminder that the library could help, and they asked questions that they might not have thought to call about. The library was also able to capitalize on the close proximity and offer short, on-demand training sessions if someone was having trouble with a particular online resource. The feedback on the initiative was very positive.
Top 10 Tips for Demonstrating Value:
1 Align – library services with organizational goal
2 Gather– user stories that show how your library contributes to the organization’s goal
3 Advocate – offer a statement of library value or impact story in your client interaction
4 Change – the user’s perception of the “library as place” to the “library as service
5 Market – think about your library’s “value proposition” – its unique benefits – when creating a marketing pla
6 Embed – integrate a librarian into client’s workflow in an area in your organizatio
7 Create value – target user needs with services that offer a unique benefi
8 Innovate – try out new ideas that transform service
9 Share – with the library community - publish articles, blog posts on your library impact story
10 Evaluate – consider a library valuation study that uses qualitative factors
 Michael Germano, “The Library Value Deficit” (2011) 24:2 The Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances100 at 102 [Germano].
 Raveena Aulakh, “Toronto Library Services Face Cutbacks,” Toronto Star. (14 October 2011) online: <http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1069630—toronto-library-services-face-cutbacks?bn=1>; Kelly Loeper, “Future Uncertain for Law Library,” The Journal Queen’s University. 137:37 (19 March 2010) online: <http://queensjournal.ca/story/2010-03-19/news/future-uncertain-law-library/>.
 Deane Zeeman, Rebecca Jones and Jane Dysart, “Assessing Innovation in Corporate and Government Libraries” Computer in Libraries 31:5(June 2011) 7.online:<http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jun11/Zeeman_Jones_Dysart.shtml> [Zeeman, Jones and Dysart].
 Mary Ellen Bates, “ When Searching Isn’t Enough: Adding Value to Results” (For Web Search University, Washington, DC, 4 October 2011) online: Bates Information Services <http://www.batesinfo.com/extras/assets/wsu-adding-value.pdf>.
 Stephen Abram, “The Value of our Libraries: Impact, Recognition, and Influencing Funders” (For Arkansas Libraries.. 2007) online: Stephen’s Lighthouse <http://stephenslighthouse.com/files/ArkansasLA_Value.pdf> [Abram] ; Germano, supra note1 at 105.
 For example: Robert H. Hui, “ROIs Can Validate Your Library’s Value” AALL Spectrum Magazine (October 2002) 20.
 Dick Kaser, “Proving Your Worth,” Information Today 27:6 (June 2010) online:
 Abram, supra note 5
 Susan Imholz and Jennifer Weil, Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation (New York: Americans for Libraries Council, 2007) online:<http://www.ila.org/advocacy/pdf/WorthTheirWeight.pdf> [Imholz and Weil].
 Germano, supra note1 at 104.
 Cathy DeRosa and Jenny Johnson, From Awareness to Funding: A Study of Library Support in America (OCLC, 2008) online: <http://www.oclc.org/reports/funding/fullreport.pdf>.
 Victor Camlek, “How to Spot a Real Value Proposition” (2010) 30 Information Services and Use 119
 Imholz and Weil, supra note 9.
 Deborah Copeman and Michel-Adrian Sheppard, Best Practices for Demonstrating Value of your Library Services. (For Canadian Association of Law Libraries,Courthouse and Law Society Libraries SIG 2009-2010, April 2010) online: <http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.169.5671&rep=rep1&type=pdf>.
 Megan Oakleaf, Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2010) online: <http://www.acrl.ala.org/value/?page_id=21>
 Abram, supra note 5.
 Penny Bailey, “How Library Management Systems can Demonstrate Value for Money from Information and Library Services.” (2011) 28:2 Business Information Review 119 at 124.
 Wendy Reynolds, “Going Up?” (14 June 2010). online: Slaw.ca <http://www.slaw.ca/2010/06/14/going-up/>
 Germano, supra note1 at 104
 James Matarazzo and Toby Perlstein, “Continuous Advocacy Creates Opportunities for Survival” Information Outlook 15:6 (September 2011) online: sla.org (password required).
 Zeeman, Jones and Dysart, supra note 3.