DREaM event 5: Opening Keynote


Dr Carol Tenopir


Carol Tenopir, from the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, delivered the opening keynote at the final DREaM conference on the topic: “Building evidence of the value and impact of library and information services: methods, metrics and ROI.”

Carol provided a preview of this session in a short interview.



You can also view this presentation on Slideshare.



This video is also available on Vimeo.

Session Summary

Tenopir opened by observing that whilst some tradition remains, the pace of change within libraries can be quite startling as new collections, challenges and opportunities arise every day. Against this backdrop, measuring value, demonstrating value, and choosing between alternatives, is really important.

She described her work on the Lib-Value project, which aims to create a collection of tested methods and instruments to enable academic institutions to measure multiple values for multiple stakeholders. In order to measure value, you have to define value, so Tenopir spent some time reflecting on the different definitions of value, arguing that how you define value will influence what you choose to measure.

First, she discussed the use of purchase or exchange value (what one is willing to pay for information in terms of money or, in most cases, time) and use value (the outcome or favourable consequence of using the information). She highlighted the work of Bruce Kingma, who suggested that value can be considered in terms of economic or private value, social value, or environmental value. Finally, she described measures of implied, explicit and derived value, with illustrations related to the value of reading.

Within libraries, Tenopir observed that we are very good at measuring implied value. She used the example of download data as a measurement of implied value, noting that whilst implied value can be useful, and is usually relatively easy measure, you often need to go deeper to establish how valuable this really is. She illustrated this with an example of a student who downloads a huge volume of articles to satisfy a deadline in a few days and reads them very quickly, compared to a single download that exposes someone to a seminal work which moves their research forward. In this instance, she argued that download rates do not necessarily show actual value.

As part of the Lib-Value project, Tenopir and her co-researchers want to go beyond implied value to look at exchange value and use/outcomes of scholarly reading. To do this, they have primarily used critical incident techniques, in this case starting in the middle of the process. (This contrasts with much research in the LIS field is information-seeking research, which starts at the beginning.)

To demonstrate, Tenopir walked the delegates through some of her research in this area, starting with calculations based on data from the UK which shows that an individual academic staff member will spend a yearly average of 216 hours reading articles, 148 hours reading books and 84 hours reading other publications. She argued that this is a huge indication that reading these materials has an exchange value to what academics do.

These statistics covered all reading, so the next step was to start looking at where this reading came from – whether it be from the library or from “the competition”. She noted that 67% of the readings described above came from the libraries. This figure has increased over time, whilst there has been a decrease in the comparative number of readings from personal collections.

Electronic text format was found to be overwhelmingly the most popular in this research. This factor can thus be used to demonstrate the value of the recent investment in e-collections. Tenopir observed that the high use of electronic materials may be connected to the perception amongst many academics that they are use libraries less frequently than they used to. Although physical visits to the library have decreased, remote visits are on the increase, and the number of resources used by remote visitors per visit is almost double that of those who make a visit to a physical library.

Sometimes it is necessary to put a monetary value on the library, which Tenopir agreed is both difficult and controversial. One reason for this is that some of the values delivered by libraries are in the form of improved reputation or rankings, i.e. not monetary values. She suggested using monetary value as a metric if this speaks to the administration of the institution to show how library activities support revenue-generation. However, you have to use a measure that makes sense to the mission of the institution. If you do choose to calculate the ROI of a library, Tenopir advised ensuring that you use a measure that makes sense for your institution. She warned that you should always remember that once yo cite a number it never escapes people’s minds.

Tenopir concluded by demonstrating how to put a human face on the numbers. She gave a portrait of academic success based on statistics surrounding library use and reading, thus showing the value of these to the individual academic.

Finally, she stressed that whether you measure the library in economic terms or softer terms (such as success), don’t expect it always to give a positive result. If your analysis does not show a good return on investment, first consider whether the method is right, and if it is, look for changes that can made to improve the value of the library based on this evidence.
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