Seeking a Few Brass Tacks: Measuring the Value of Resource Sharing

At the two most recent American Library Association conferences, I’ve met with a small ad hoc group of librarians to discuss how we might measure and demonstrate the value that sharing our collections delivers to various stake holders: researchers, library administrators, parent organizations, service/content providers.

First we described our current collection sharing environment and how it is changing (Orlando, June 2016).

Then we walked through various ways in which, using data, we might effectively measure and demonstrate the value of interlending – and how some in our community are already doing it (Atlanta, January 2017).

Our next logical step will be to settle on some concrete actions we can take – each by ourselves, or working among the group, or collaborating with others outside the group – to begin to measure and demonstrate this value in ways that tell a meaningful and compelling story.

As the group prepares to meet for a third time – at ALA Annual in Chicago this weekend – I thought it might be useful to share our sense of what some of these actions might eventually look like, and what group members have been saying about the possibilities during our conversations.

“Value of Resource Sharing” discussion topics: Round III

We demonstrate value best by documenting the value we deliver to our patrons.

o “One could fruitfully explore how what patrons value (speed, convenience, efficiency, ease) determines whether resource sharing is ultimately perceived as valuable.”
o “Rather than focusing on systems and exploring the life cycle of the request, we should look at that of the learner.”
o “We need to support our value not just with numbers, which are important, but with human examples of how we make a difference with researchers.”
o “We are now sharing this [citation study] work with our faculty and learning a lot, such as their choice not to use the best, but most accessible material.”
o “Did they value what we provided, and, if so, why?”
o “We know that resource sharing supports research, course completion, and publishing, but it is usually a one-way street: we provide information on demand but don’t see the final result, the contribution of that material to the final product.”
o “We need to collect and tell the stories of how the material we obtain for our users transforms their studies or allows them to succeed as researchers.”
o “I think we need to explore how we can make the process smoother for both the patrons and library staff. We talk about the cost of resource sharing a lot but we haven’t really talked about how it could be easier or how policies get in the way or how our processes are so costly because they make so much busy work.”

Common methods of measuring and demonstrating value include determining how much it costs a library to provide a service, or how much a library service would cost if the patron had to purchase it from a commercial provider.

o Q: “How much did you spend on textbooks?”  A:”None! ILL!”
o “Why not measure that expense [of providing access to academic databases to students]?”
o “Build an equation to calculate the costs of various forms of access: shelve/retrieve on campus, shelve/retrieve remotely, etc.”
o “Paul Courant did a study of what it cost to keep a book on the shelf on campus as opposed to in offsite storage….Are the numbers in the Courant study still right?”

Collections have long been a way for libraries to demonstrate value – by counting them and publicizing their size. Numbers of volumes to which you have access via consortia is becoming a more useful metric. Collections can have different values for an organization, depending upon context: where they are housed, how quickly they can be provided to users, and who wants access to them.

o “How can access to legacy print in high density storage be monetized? Perhaps a change in mindset is in order – to lower costs for institutions that commit to perpetual preservation and access, and raise costs for institutions that do not.”
o “What would be the cost to retain a last copy in a secure climate controlled environment? Would we then be counting on ARLs to do the work of preserving our cultural heritage? We already know there are unique material not held by ARLs, so how do the pieces fit together? How do we incorporate public libraries which also have many unique materials in their collections? How do we equitably share the resources and costs?”
o “We rely on redundancy…65% of…requests are for things…already owned.”

We can demonstrate value by providing new services to patrons that make their experience more like AmaZoogle.

o “How do we create delivery predictability models like everyone in e-commerce already offers? Are we just afraid to predict because we don’t want to be wrong? Or do we really not know enough to offer delivery information to users?”
o “I’m interested in focusing on the learning moments available throughout the resource sharing workflows and integrating stronger information literacy into the users’ experience…’We’ve begun processing your request for a dissertation…Did you know your library provides access to these peer reviewed journal articles that you might find helpful?’ or ‘You can expect this article to hit your inbox within 24 hours – are you ready to evaluate and cite it? You might find these research guides helpful…'”

What ideas do you have for measuring the value of sharing collections?  We’d love to hear from you about this.  Please leave us a comment below.

I’ll report out about takeaways from the group’s third meeting soon after ALA.

Dennis is a program officer for OCLC Research, concentrating on studies and activities involving the sharing of collections.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookBuffer this pageShare on Google+Email this to someone

2 Comments

  1. Just wondering whether we can demonstrate that resource sharing frees up staff time that was previously devoted to a local collection management activity and thus enables us to devote more staff time to other priorities?

    • Thanks for this, Janine! While the group has discussed how automating processes frees up ILL and circ staff to attend to advanced, higher-priority tasks, the idea that sharing collections can also free up collection management staff is an important addition to the conversation.

Comments are closed.