Posts Tagged ‘Purpose statements’

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.

The future of libraries

April 4, 2009

Several discussions have been dominating my Friendfeed best-of-day threads lately all revolving around the future of libraries.

Peter Murray Rust kicked off discussion asking for contribution and feedback for his (then) coming presentation on Libraries of the Future.

I was a bit despondent at the request. If a scientist who would be typical of my normal client did not know what we did or what we were for and had to ask, what sort of job had we been doing? Was this a marketing failure or a service failure or were libraries and librarians really doomed? Dorothea Salo and Christina Pikas and others rose to the challenge.

Then there were the disappointing Taiga Forum provocative statements. Again John Dupuis, Meredith Farkas and Dorothea Salo and others have critiqued these thoroughly.

In contrast late last night (my time) John Blyberg posted the “The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians” authored by himself, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor.

Kathryn told me that something was coming and I had seen the pictures of the whiteboard wiki so when the cat woke me a 3am this morning I went to check.

There have been some comments on the post itself but compared to the reaction to the other two the reaction has been positive, uncritical and low volume.

Don’t get me wrong. My reaction is positive. I am just a bit disappointed by the lack of discussion. Steve Lawson and Dorothea and a few others have pointed to the post. Unfortunately Friendfeed and Twitter trends work on the volume of the discussion not the positiveness of the reaction. Maybe its only the controversial posts that will get the attention and this one is just too in agreement with what we think. Or maybe (she says hopefully) it is just too soon.

I then started thinking about how the statements worked as a mission statement for myself and my colleagues.

And it does. Can I work with the statements? Oh yes. Will I be pointing my work colleagues to them? Most assuredly.

But unfortunately I can think of librarians for whom that would not be true.

It all arises from the first sentence. The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization. This would be true of any civic institution. Substitute school or police or court in there and it’s still true. The rest logically arises from that one sentence. The differentials between libraries and other civic institutions are covered by the role statements. The purpose statement thus applies to public libraries, academic libraries and state libraries and (thank goodness) my library as the institution we serve is in itself covered by the purpose statement.

My one nit pick is what about the libraries that are not part of civic institutions? What about those librarians who are employed to serve the information needs of a corporation or company? The prime purpose of the company is make money for its owners. Statements about triple bottom lines and civic responsibilities don’t take away from that fact. The purpose of the library and librarian employed by a corporation cannot be encompassed by the purpose statement from Darien. As a consequence they cannot be governed by the statement “Individual libraries serve the mission of their parent institution or governing body, but the purpose of the Library overrides that mission when the two come into conflict.” Do we expect those libraries and librarians to also serve the higher purpose of the rest of the profession? Or do we call these something else besides libraries and librarians? This has been discussed ad nauseum over the years in regards to the whole profession.

As I said this is a nitpick and I am sure that most corporate librarians would only be too pleased to take on board the rest of the statements and support their professional civically employed colleagues in any way to uphold these ideals as to purpose. But I don’t know whether they could justify incorporating this purpose statement into their day to day work lives.