It’s critical for all types of librarians to understand how to measure their work’s value and then convey it to stakeholders.
[This is the first article in a two-part series advising corporate and special librarians on how best to convey their value to ensure their survival. Part 1 will discuss how to align an information center with organizational objectives and how to measure and communicate its value to management.
While alignment has long been a necessity in the corporate world, it’s also a smart strategy for other library types, especially as budgets come under ever-more scrutiny. This is a worthwhile read no matter what type of library you work in. —Ed.]
I was a corporate librarian from 1987 until 2012, when I moved to a government position. I spent 14 of those years working for a global firm that reorganized at least once a year. During that time, I reported to 16 different people. The advantage of getting new bosses so often was that I got very good at articulating the value of the info center. Now, I teach and speak frequently on that topic.
When I started at that firm in 1996, I was a solo librarian. By the time I left in 2010, I had built my information center up to 12 full-time employees. We provided information, knowledge, and competitive intelligence services to 3,000 people at 17 locations worldwide, in addition to offering fee-based services to many of the firm’s client companies.
Since I’ve had so much experience in the field, sometimes when I hear about an information center closing, my first reaction is, “That info manager must not have known how to articulate their value.” Or, I think, “They did not know how to align the info center’s services with the core mission of the organization.”
Sadly, many info managers do not know how to explain their info center’s value in terms that management understands. They are not sure how to realign its services when the organization’s strategies or goals evolve.
In this article, I will discuss various techniques for conveying value and ROI to corporate managers (or other high-level stakeholders) in ways they understand. I will provide some examples of how you can align your information center’s services with the overall mission of your organization to help ensure your survival.
Information professionals have often been known for their ability to count things. This is fine if you count the right things. I would argue that counting and calculating should only be done as a means to measure value. Be careful not to focus on “operating measures” (which are about managing the info center), but do focus on “value measures.” In my experience, management may not really care about the number of resources or usage stats; they care about the info center’s contribution to the overall organization’s goals.
Value measures (see above) capture impact and outcomes. This could be measuring the effect of a service, which is the improvement or change in the target user, community, or environment. Outcome-based evaluation helps you justify budget and staff requests, ensures you are adhering to your mission and meeting your goals, and demonstrates the info center’s accomplishments and contributions. Ultimately, you need to be able to articulate the info center’s value and positive impact on the organization. The key purpose of value measures is to show that the info center is making a difference.
Why are value measures so important? Quite frankly, if you can’t communicate relevant data about the impact your info center makes on your parent organization, then your budget and job are vulnerable.
Understand Your Organization
If you want to make your info center essential to your organization, you must really understand the organization. That’s where I began my journey.
When I started working in a global consumer-product-testing firm, I knew nothing about consumer product testing. There was a lot to learn. This was a B2B company, and it was constantly growing. I needed to understand the company’s mission and goals. I needed to know the business. What were the services being offered? What was the corporate environment? What factors impacted the success of the company? I read the website and other marketing pieces. I talked to sales and business development people. I learned about the operations and technical side. I read the strategic plan and the appropriate trade journals.
Ideally, you should meet with senior and middle management and ask some of those questions directly. Your goal is to figure out what is keeping them up at night. In my case, keeping the shareholders of the company happy was my CEO’s primary job. He was very financially driven and numbers-oriented. I learned that, to get his attention, I had to talk in terms of increased business growth, competitive differentiation, cost savings, and revenue generation.
Do you know the various department managers and their sphere of influence? (See sidebar above.) The people who lead are not always the influencers. Is there someone whose work has direct impact on other departments? Don’t forget about these influencers; you want to make sure the info center is supporting those areas.
A lot has been written in the library and information science literature about information audits and information mapping. It can be helpful to map your info center’s activities to your organization’s objectives and identify which of your activities helps to achieve its goals.
Measuring and Communicating Value
It’s useful to find out how other people in the organization report their metrics. What are they using to show impact? How do they present the information to management?
You will always be more successful in explaining the value of your library’s services if you are speaking the same language as the managers you’re talking with. To do that, learn your managers’ communication styles. How do they want the info presented? Do they prefer it short and sweet or as a detailed report with supporting data? Do they prefer face-to-face discussion or presentations to large groups? Which metrics matter the most? Do they want everyone to use the same metrics for target budgeting or revenue generation?
Be selective about which metrics you track. Think about them in advance. Every organization is different, so you must determine what’s most important to your management.
Here are some common quantitative measurement techniques and their explanations:
Statistics/Digital Analytics: These numbers are the least impactful in reporting, but there are some managers who want them. Just do not spend too much time trying to calculate them.
- Usage statistics such as ILL/document delivery, number of visits, circulation, catalog searches conducted, etc.
- Reference and research transactions
- Online database usage
- Articles requested from your current awareness newsletters
- Web traffic/downloads/click-throughs
Cost-Benefit/ROI Calculations: It’s smart to do a little math and show the value of the info center or of specific information services in dollars. That always gets management’s attention.
- Cost per use: The cost of a resource divided by use. $200,000 annually for an online journal divided by 20,000 downloads = $10/article.
- Total library collection value: Add the number of items in the collection and calculate the average price of the items, plus staff time to maintain the materials, divided by the number of books, journals, reports, etc., circulated.
- Estimated dollar value: Ask users to calculate the estimated dollar value of benefits they receive. How much time and money did your data save them?
- Cost/benefits analysis: Figure this out by adding up your staff time and direct costs, then dividing that by savings in time and dollars, outside revenues, etc.
- Net income per total assets: Take your net income (which is revenue minus expenses) and divide by your assets (which is the total dollar value of inventory, equipment, and personnel).
- Info center’s time versus user’s time: This equates to time saved. Calculate the number of hours it would have taken the user to identify, collect, and format the information they need and compare it to how long an info pro takes to do the same work. A 2007 report from Outsell (“Information Management Under Fire: Measuring ROI for Enterprise Libraries”) states that an info center interaction saves the client an average of 9 hours. If you assume that most of your clients are professionals with average salaries of $120,000, the full cost of a client’s time is $79/hour. An info pro’s time, with a salary of $100,000, is $66/hour. Add in the fact that an info pro usually takes far less time to find, analyze, and distill information than a client would, and you’ll see that the savings can be dramatic (“The True Cost of Information: Measuring the ROI of the Information Center,” by Mary Ellen Bates; www.springernature.com/gp/librarians/landing/roicorplibrary).
Cost-Recovery Mechanisms: Another way to show your value on a constant basis is to directly charge your clients for your services. Often, the info center manager needs to initiate cost-recovery and work with the finance department to implement it.
- Charge-back for services: When you subscribe to a specific information source to support a specific department, you can offset some of the price by charging some or all of the subscription costs back to that department.
- Partial funding from other units: When a specific operating unit relies heavily on your information services, you might arrange for it to contribute a percentage of its budget to cover info center usage.
- Project or research support: Operating units are often willing to help fund certain tools or subscriptions that will affect their bottom line or help them solve problems.
- Embedded librarians: Departments may pay the salary for a dedicated info pro who supports their group.
- Revenue generation: Charge for your services. Figure out a dollar value for each service and what users are willing to pay.
You will find it much easier to present concepts of cost recovery when you accompany them with qualitative measures, including outcomes and impact. These value measurements put stakeholders in the center of the picture. They work well for those intangible services that you cannot put a dollar value on.
Benchmarking is a well-known technique, and it is often driven by senior management requests. Benchmarking provides objective, external metrics to evaluate the cost efficiency and overall effectiveness of one info center against others. This can be a great tool to help high-performing info centers demonstrate value to senior management. For those lower performers, benchmarking can help you identify gaps so that you can make needed improvements.
However, not all benchmarking is useful. Martha Haswell wrote an article (“Benchmarking: A Powerful Management Tool,” Information Outlook, v.16 no.5, Sept./Oct. 2012) in which she identified some poor metrics, including the number of holdings per number of staff or amount of space. Better metrics are budget per library user (which standardizes cost comparisons) and the number of users per the library’s FTE (which standardizes comparisons of staff size). Another good metric to compare is the percentage of potential library users who are actual users. This helps you measure outreach effectiveness and set goals that will show your progress to management.
It’s important to realize that there’s a cost to providing poor or incomplete information. Lost business opportunities, a lack of due diligence on an acquisition assessment, etc., can cost an organization a significant amount of money. A 2008 Capgemini report by Ramesh Harji titled “The Information Opportunity” (www.capgemini.com/gb-en/news/pr1605) found that in the U.K., poor utilization of information assets equated to “an annual £46 billion [about $60 billion today] missed opportunity for private sector profits, and £21 billion [about $27.5 billion today] in administrative costs across the private sector.”
Key Points From Part 1
Here’s my best basic advice: Learn everything you can about your parent organization. Build relationships. Start conversations. Because in order to identify value measures that management cares about, you have to take time to understand the organization’s mission and goals, as well as what metrics other departments report and how they do it. This will allow you to arm yourself with strong data that relates the info center’s services to organizational success.
Design your metrics up front; monitor and modify your value metrics and targets. Putting a dollar value on the info center’s services and staff time is a good first step, but you need to think about the broader picture too. That’s where the qualitative info comes in.
In the next issue of MLS, Part 2 of this article will discuss the importance of outcomes and impacts and will offer ideas about how to provide value-added services in your info center’s unique setting.