The Empirical Value of Special Librarians: An Australia ROI Study

AustralianROI

One of the biggest difficulties with the law librarian profession—and really, this is true of any profession with a strong customer service and/or pedagogical component—is gauging the empirical value of what law librarians do. There is not a one-step, direct, easily definable correlation between a law librarian task, and how much revenue that task generates or saves. Without the aid of ROI studies, specifically measuring the monetary value of law librarians is impossible.

A collection of Australian library groups collaborated to fund a ROI study on the value of Special Librarians (available here, and the library groups’ summary is available here). Special Librarians are defined in this study as librarians working in health, law, government, business, industry, media, and other commercial or industry groups with a very specific patron-base. The study was conducted by SGS Economics and Planning, an Australian planning and economics firm. The study concluded that for every dollar invested, special librarians return $5.43. The study indicates this might even be a low estimate.

How do special librarians bring this high amount of value?—here is how the study defined the skills of the special librarian:

  • High relevancy search results obtained quickly via thorough searches through robust content sets
  • Training to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of patron searching skills
  • Current awareness results curated from high relevancy, national and international sources
  • Management of specific, subject-oriented collections

Here are some extremely interesting findings of the study:

  • 40% of potential special library users enlist the help of librarians.
  • 56% of librarian-patron interactions are electronic, 27% are face-to-face, and 11% are by phone
  • Funding for floorspace, expenditures, and staffing have all fallen within the last three years
  • Librarians are 3.3 times faster than their users when undertaking the following tasks: performing research, reviewing literature, delivering documents, and other reference tasks

The study aimed to quantify the time saved by library users, and the value of “out of pocket” expenses saved via librarian resources. The methodology was to conduct in-depth case studies among Australia’s estimated 2200 special libraries; 11% of libraries responded to the study’s survey, and another 4% of libraries responded to the study’s questions about costs and benefits.

Much credit must be given to the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), Health Libraries Inc (HLInc), ALIA Health Libraries Australia (HLA), and the Australian Law Librarians’ Association (ALLA) for collaborating on administering and funding this project. This information is a giant boon to the industry, and extremely beneficial for budgetary negotiations, salary negotiations, and internal marketing and promotion of the library. Seeing results like this really makes me excited about anticipating what the AALL ROI project will find, as previously written about on this site.

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