We often hear or read that one of the key strategies to ensure our survival in the library and information world is to be able to demonstrate our value to our parent organisation. There’s an increasing body of literature on the subject, but when it comes down to doing it, there aren’t too many practical examples.
I work in the health area, managing the South Australian state government’s Department of Health library service. In health, access to current, evidence-based information can literally mean the difference between life and death, and there’s no doubt that it’s valued by the clinicians who use it. To demonstrate the usefulness of the library and information service, it’s necessary to collect data which can be presented in meaningful ways to senior administration.
Libraries are very good at collecting activity statistics. In themselves, they can be very useful for the tweaking of service delivery, but they may not convey very much to anyone outside the service itself.
Some work has already been done in the health area, and has yielded some significant results. In Australia, a commissioned study by CGS Economics showed that health libraries were returning $9 for every $1 spent. (1) In the USA, one study showed that health libraries and librarians can provide information support and information literacy training which has a direct effect on clinical decision making and results in improved patient outcomes. (2) Another major study conducted over a group of teaching hospitals in the Rochester area of the USA clearly demonstrated that the work of library services had a significant impact on patient care quality. (3) The data from this study is available for use in future research projects.
Replicating such a piece of work isn’t always possible, dependant as it is on commitment and manpower. However, it is possible to collect data which enables the production of documents which will demonstrate the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of a library and information service. We have developed several Key Performance Indicators which have proved to be a way to clearly show our value to the organisation.
When looking for the types of data collection which can be manipulated to give a good picture of the library service business, we’ve looked at answering the following questions:
· What types of service are being provided? (print / archive collections, database access, e-book access, help with searching for specific information, information literacy training)
· Who is using the service? (doctor, nurse, allied health, administrator)
· What is the information going to be used for? (Research, patient care, teaching, CPD)
· How has the information obtained been used? (Publication, patient care)
Using a simple, brief survey mounted on Survey Monkey to collect data from our patrons and with librarians collecting and inputting data on the work they do, we have produced KPIs which show:
· Cost avoidance through services such as document delivery
· Clinicans’ time saved
· Summary of service efficiencies
· Purpose / use of literature searches and information literacy training.
All these can be used to indicate the value of the library and information service to the work of the organisation as a whole. Using infographics where possible, these are presented in one or two pages only to ensure that the messages are clear and the effort required to read the documents is minimal. The data collection is included in the everyday workflow and would be replicable by even the smallest library and information service.
We have prepared an article which will be published in BIR the near future which outlines the processes behind each KPI, with the KPI documents themselves included in order that they might be used or adapted by other library services.
(1) The community returns generated by Australian health libraries: Final report, September 2013. SGS Economics & Planning: Canberra, 2013.
(2) Sollenberger, J. Holloway Jr, R. The evolving role and value of libraries and librarians in health care. JAMA. 2013 Sept 25: 310(12): 1231-32.
(3) Marshall, J. et al. Library and information services: impact on patient care quality. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance. 2014:27(8): 672-83.