Archive for May, 2009

The purpose of libraries in a corporation

May 7, 2009

I wasn’t going to do a follow up to my last post but as usual various conversations over the last month have percolated this up to the surface. And this didn’t start as a follow up it just reads like it is.

By the way- special librarians know this stuff (or should). It’s not new and it’s very basic- it just needs to be explicitly stated from time to time especially to those masters who are not librarians, in terms that they will understand.

The purpose of a special library in a research organization/ corporation is to save the organization money.

Our role is to do it through efficient management of information sources.

The library is not a just a cost centre. It’s cost benefit and ROI can be demonstrated.

Take the cost of buying books and journals for the library- the most basic of services. Now compare it to the cost of every researcher buying their own copies. Because they will not go without. They will just buy it themselves and do. Every time we ask a researcher for a cost code to buy a book rather than having the budget to fund the purchase they will wonder where the benefit is to them of letting us cataloging the book and making it available to the wider organization when they could just use their credit card, go to Amazon, get it quicker and not deal with the library at all. The benefit is to the organization as a whole not to have many multiple copies of books needlessly purchased but we need to track such dispersed purchases in order to prove the cost benefit of the library alternative. The same calculation can be used for journals, comparing enterprise wide subscriptions to the costs of buying individual articles directly from publishers or buying individual membership and subs. The benefits are in the economies of scale provided by centralizing purchasing including document delivery. The benefit is not to the individual researcher so its up to the organization to provide the incentive by providing a well managed adequately funded library service. This is the same reasoning as managing software purchases and licenses enterprise wide. It is not different.

How about my colleagues wages? Cost out the researchers time to source a paper, do a literature search or a citation analysis. Now we are paid half as much and can do it in half the time.  The work still needs to be done. But my way costs 1/4 as much. When I am doing a training class it’s to provide the researchers the skills to use the tools that will save their time or simply to introduce them to the benefits of using my services and saving their time that way. Either way saves the organization money.

The library service needs to be able to provide the data to management to enable the ROI calculations. Statistics from systems are easy but everyone grumbles about keeping stats on reference requests and other non systematized services. Suck it up people! It’s absolutely vital that we have the data that prove that we are providing a service that meets our purpose. Also every proposed new service has to be evaluated in this light. Does it save the time of the client (and therefore save the organization money) or does it make the existing services more efficient (and reduce costs and save money)? We do it all the time with journal subscriptions – is it more cost effective to subscribe or pay document delivery per article? We have the data for that. Any other service is no different – it just may be a bit harder to get the data.

Having a purpose really focuses thinking! And in a special library it is so straight forward. Not meeting it or not being being able to show that we/you are meeting it will mean the closure of our/your library.