Can we measure and demonstrate the value of sharing collections?

“Value of Resource Sharing” discussion word cloud

In the spring of 2016, Brandeis University’s interim university librarian Matthew Sheehy and I engaged in some informal back-and-forth about the kinds of questions that can be answered about collection-sharing using data. We share an overlapping interest in finding ways in which data can be used to demonstrate or even measure the impact that library resource sharing operations have on the ability of a parent organization to fulfill its mission.

Our correspondence progressed to a point where we wanted to include more voices in the discussion. The idea was to get a number of stakeholders with various perspectives in a room to discuss the value of resource sharing. The 2016 American Library Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, provided an ideal opportunity. Matthew and I took turns inviting colleagues whom we a) knew would be in Orlando, and b) thought would bring something essential to the conversation. We then settled on this starter set of four questions to kick off the meeting:

1) What is the value of resource sharing?
2) To whom?
3) Can it be measured?
4) How do we expect it will change?

The group gathered for 90 minutes at the Rosen Hotel in Orlando on Friday, June 24, 2016, which gave us just enough time to eat lunch, introduce ourselves, and say a bit about our top-of-mind issues. In spite of our limited amount of time together, we managed to produce what I think is a fairly detailed snapshot of the environment in which we work and laid the groundwork for a second discussion that will take place this coming Saturday at ALA Midwinter in Atlanta.

I thought our first pass at describing that environment might be worth sharing more broadly.

Our comments and questions can be sorted into seven main categories, or themes (which are listed below, along with what might arguably be considered the group’s top takeaway for each category).

We also noted some essential facts about metrics, came up with an inventory of ways that collection sharing is valued by three different sets of constituents, and made a few predictions about where the current roil of institutional, technological and economic forces might take us in the near future.

First, our seven categories of comments and questions, and our top takeaway for each:

1. Seeking to understand the current collection-sharing environment.

Top takeaway: We noted that ease of access tends to determine whether research materials get used.

2. Seeking to improve the current collection-sharing environment.

Top takeaway: Several participants noted that we don’t always know exactly what it is that our patrons value, and that it may actually vary in different situations; sometimes it’s speed, while at other times a longer use period or the ability to renew may weigh more heavily on a patron’s wish list. A better understanding of patron desires, expectations, and overall information-gathering behaviors would definitely be a big step toward improving our current sharing environment.

3. Calling some previously-shared values and assumptions into question.

Top takeaway: Once, and for the longest time, lending more than you borrow was a source of pride, but now some net lenders are beginning to think about how finite their resources have become and to wonder if their accustomed role in the sharing community is still sustainable (or desirable) in today’s environment.

4. Seeking to understand the effect of the changing environment on collection sharing.

Top takeaway: These days there are so many consortia to join and opportunities for collaborating that it is becoming essential for collection-sharing managers to carefully assess the value of each current and potential partnership and to limit themselves to participating only in those that are essential.

5. Seeking to understand the effect of the changing environment on the library overall (and, in some cases, the parent organization).

Top takeaway: We realize that, as many libraries manage down redundant print collections, fewer manifestations will have to serve as both preservation and service copies; we’ve seen that this concept works reasonably well with journals but wonder, as we move into shared management of print monographs, if it is a sustainable model for other formats.

6. Seeking to understand the effect of the changing environment on patron behaviors.

Top takeaway: We wondered what effects years of an “access over ownership” library collection-building strategy have had on research outputs at various levels and in the various disciplines.

7. Seeking to understand the effect of the changing environment on content and service providers.

Top takeaway: The increased popularity of libraries purchasing articles on demand for their patrons will lead to changes in the business models of publishers.

Next, we identified six different essential facts about resource sharing value metrics, including specific measurements that can and probably should be made, plus key ideas about why these metrics matter, and to whom.

Top takeaway regarding metrics: We know that we won’t be effective in improving the institution if we are using the wrong metrics to measure success.

Since “value” was the name of the game, we identified ten specific ways that collection sharing is valued, from three different points of view:

1. The Patron
2. ILL Staff
3. The Institution

Top takeaway regarding value: Value to the patron ultimately determines the value to the institution.

Finally, without specifically setting out to make any grand predictions, during the course of our meal four different predictions emerged – all of them having to do with resource sharing’s growing impact on collection management activities, and how that impact will affect ILL units, acquisitions, and content providers.

Top takeaway regarding our predictions: We expect resource sharing to change the course of library operations by becoming the steering mechanism for collection development and acquisitions, through purchase-on-demand for articles and patron-driven-acquisitions for loans, and also by creating effective delivery mechanisms to empower collective collection development across consortial relationships.

A fifth and final prediction came out of this initial session: that we would definitely seek to meet again in the not-so-distant future. When we gather once more this weekend in Atlanta, we’ll focus on trying to nail down ways in which we can actually measure and demonstrate the value of collection sharing to its various constituents. None of what I’ve reported above can be considered big news, but we hope that it will serve as solid ground upon which to stand for the next phase of our conversation.

Again, a detailed account of who said what that day can be found here.