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Volume 16, No. 4 • May/June 2002
• Cover Story •
Practical Tips to Help You Prove Your Value
by Amelia Kassel

During recent years, information professionals in many settings have had to learn new skills and competencies not taught in graduate school, yet nevertheless necessary for most productive relationships, and even for survival. Significantly, many librarians now ask and talk about strategic and proactive measures that both create and prove value for their organizations. One speaker elegantly referred to information centers as "institutional assets." Yet transforming libraries into recognized corporate assets has its challenges. This article covers guidelines and tips for creating, explaining, and communicating value. They're drawn from several resources, including SLA; Outsell, Inc.; and a presentation I gave, titled Library Services in the Face of a Merger, that focused on ideas for proving your value as an information professional.

Demonstrating 'Return on Investment'
A distance education program videotaped last year and sponsored by SLA and Factiva1 focused on several techniques for return on investment (ROI). The video addressed a number of topics:

Although panelists were from large corporations, they concurred that solo librarians, law librarians, those in small libraries—just about all librarians—can and should use the above techniques to prove value, and they must make time to do this. Roger Strouse, of Outsell, Inc.,2 suggests:

ROI is something executives want to understand when they're spending a large part of their budget. With a strong focus on the bottom line, executives tend to have less emotional attachment to the various operations they oversee and are willing, or even anxious, to jettison a unit that doesn't contribute in a tangible way....

Calculating the return-on-investment is simply a matter of comparing the cost data (budget, user time spent, other direct costs, etc.) with the financial benefits (user time saved, savings in consolidated buying, savings in direct costs, etc.). When the financial benefits outweigh the costs, a positive ROI is proven.

Understanding Your Corporate Culture
As a first step, understanding your own corporate culture is of critical significance since the library must align its internal measurement efforts for ROI with corporate strategic initiatives. The following are some common examples of corporate ROI metrics:

Strouse talks about engaging the library staff to leverage its knowledge, experience, and creativity. To meet that end, he recommends conducting staff focus groups with specific goals: The library staff, therefore, is one source for identifying how to develop measurement programs. Solo librarians, admittedly, have to work on their own, but contact with library users and others within their organizations and the sources mentioned in this article are good resources to draw upon as well.

Once you understand the goals of your corporation and the measurements that are important to it, you can identify ROI metrics that are in tune with the company to calculate your library's value. An organization that brings hundreds of products to market, for example, regularly looks for ways to decrease new product development time cycles. Its information center librarians should provide it with the scientific, technical, and business information necessary for developing initial concepts (research and development), and they may also conduct a market analysis or competitive intelligence research. The corporate librarian assists users by collecting data and analyzing target markets, or by identifying potential marketing strategies and ad campaigns launched by competitors. The information the librarian locates and delivers is important for market positioning. Research that encompasses technical, scientific, or academic studies often contains models (or paradigms) and case studies that uncover crucial details about the competition.

Or, the librarian may provide information about intellectual property, encompassing patents, trademarks, or licensing. The research results for these types of queries ultimately affect the bottom line. Moreover, a librarian's due diligence research may uncover financial or fraudulent activities that ultimately save a company millions of dollars because it helps managers to engage in savvy negotiations, or in deal making during potential mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Research saves the day by revealing data that can be used to avoid a potentially bad deal.

Information professionals know their value based on the examples above. What has become glaringly and painfully apparent, however, is that key managers may not know or understand what's going on behind the scenes of their own organizations. It is essential for corporate librarians to measure and report results to those who hold the purse strings.

Practice Information Professionalism
Collecting, documenting, and analyzing the right data, assessing their implications, and communicating them are important next steps in the evolution of what I'll call "information professionalism." Sometimes, corporate librarians will require support from cost accountants inside their firms, other experts, or outside consultants. For starters, SLA's video and list of additional resources are chock-full of ideas and are a good beginning for learning more about how to calculate ROI and user trends. See

Annual Reports: Annual reports and other internal materials are sources for learning more about your company's goals and requirements. Regularly reviewing the glossy annual report, proxy statements, 8-Ks, 10-Qs, and 10-Ks can become part of your strategic and market planning effort. As a business-within-a-business, it's necessary for the information center to plan. Annual reports sometimes provide information not in a 10-K, and vice versa. Learn to read financial statements. Look for potential opportunities or threats, and for problems or issues that you can address by developing information and knowledge products and services that are integral and valuable to the corporation. Also, it's always important to read the notes regarding any financial statements because they may contain critical information and disclosures to be aware of.

User Surveys: It's necessary to understand user populations, especially for accurate measurements of ROI. Needs assessments, information audits, and user surveys are all activities you should consider. Although librarians often conduct their own surveys internally, getting valid results means knowing whom to survey (i.e., should you survey both your users and nonusers?), sampling, statistical analysis, and conclusions. Outsell, Inc. or other market research and survey firms and consultants can assist you with survey development and analysis.

New Job Titles and New Names
Are librarians having an identity crisis, as one librarian suggested? Looking at some of the job titles bandied about, it's appropriate to reflect on this matter. Many librarians believe that they can prove their value by changing their names. Looking at the concept of branding and identity, there may be more to a name than meets the eye. Here are job titles used in recent years: Knowledge Manager, Corporate Intelligence Officer, Consultant, Global Content Manager, Intranet Manager, Taxonomy Specialist, Research Analyst, Information Specialist. And here are alternate names for libraries that are now being used: Resource Center, Business Information Center, Knowledge and Research Services, Market Research or Competitive Intelligence Center, Virtual Library, Knowledge Center, Digital Library, Research Group.

Today's job titles and job descriptions are quite different from, and certainly much more demanding than, the way they were in the past. For examples, see the Job Title Generator for Library and Information Science Professionals at for a list of job titles in use.

New Competencies, Skills, Services
When I interviewed 15 banking, pharmaceutical, and utilities librarians and consultants on this subject, their answers revealed some of the new skills and competencies that corporate librarians provide. These reflect the added value these professionals offer compared to the more limited, albeit often technical and detailed, activities of past years. The list includes a variety of skills and functions:

In one situation, the library staff pioneered Web and intranet development. Staff members provided training for senior management and taught others in the company how to use the Web. As a result, upper management decided that the library staff should become consultants and coordinators. Librarians were put in charge of organizing the research and development (R&D) information structure that supports the IT function. This new role brought status, recognition, and big salary increases because they were seen as a much-needed, integral part of their company.

Information Professional Skills
Sue Feldman's seminal article "Is There a Future for Information Professionals?"4 describes an impressive array of skills that librarians sometimes forget. It's important for librarians themselves to be aware of and to acknowledge their own talents and skills first, before they can begin to portray and communicate them to others. Feldman discussed topics like problem analysis, word skills, knowledge of resources, and interpersonal skills. Each of these topics encompasses many individual skills.

Some Ways That Libraries Save Money
One important measure of ROI shows how libraries can save money within their units. Here are some suggestions for cost savings:

Some libraries have closed their doors in favor of becoming virtual, sometimes keeping a small collection of hard copy. This step can yield cost savings, while librarians continue to provide important services.

Tips for Being More Proactive
Once you know what you want to measure, gather the data, and identify skills, etc., it's necessary to communicate the information to the powers that be. The skills, products, and services you provide often speak for themselves, at least when you're preaching to the choir, but communicating your worth to executives and users is the final step. Ideas for proactive communication are listed below.

You Should Always Stay a Step Ahead
It will be necessary for you to think about redirecting some of your expertise, resources, money, and people to meet business goals of the company. And be sure to communicate what you are doing! A library can even act as a prototype or model group within an organization. Others are thinking about what to do; librarians do it! Librarians are involved in technology, often years before others. By keeping up with company goals and hot topics, and who's doing and saying what, you can stay one step ahead of everyone else in the organization. Contact and stay in touch with key business units or teams and the executive management. Signs of a major shift in attitudes toward information professionals in many settings bodes extremely well for the profession as a whole, but it will require new and continued efforts in some cases to make the point and thrive.

Amelia Kassel is president of MarketingBase, a firm specializing in market research, competitive intelligence, and worldwide business information since 1984. She provides information and library consulting and training, and combines an in-depth knowledge of information sources and electronic databases with expertise in business and marketing strategies. She has an M.L.S. from the University of California­Los Angeles. Her e-mail address is


1. "Told You I'm Worth It: ROI and the Information Professional." The tape is for sale or available on interlibrary loan to members from SLA.;

2. Robert Strouse. "The Value of Libraries: Justifying Corporate Information Centers In The Year Of Accountability." Outsell, Inc., 2001.

3. Greg Gurdy. "Increasing your Internet's ROI." Factiva White Paper, 2000.

4. Sue Feldman. "Is There a Future for Information Professionals?" Information Broker Newsletter, Nov/Dec 1996.

Further Reading

"Analyzing the Annual Report,"

Online Class Discussion (1997) about what to look for in an annual report,

"The Fine Print: How to Read Those Key Footnotes." February 4, 2002, BusinessWeek Online,

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