Representing the value and usage of a print collection

by Helen Mok, Librarian, Parlee McLaws, LLP, Calgary, Alberta

Does anyone use books anymore?  I can find everything I’m looking for online, can’t I?  Do we really need a print collection?  Librarians hear these questions frequently today.  In the law library field, the answers to these questions are yes, no, and yes.  However, as organizational budgets tighten and the need for office space increases, librarians may face pressure to reduce or possibly eliminate their print collections.  How can we show the value of our print material in response to these pressures?

One of the most common ways to show value is through usage statistics generated by the integrated library system.  However, many law libraries in the corporate and government sectors are smaller and may not have an automated circulation system in place that can easily produce these statistics. To supplement general borrowing statistics, here are a few other strategies to demonstrate the value and use of a print collection.

Measuring browsing, informal lending, and library use of the print collection

In corporate and government libraries, library users often browse material for quick reference without signing it out. Additionally, colleagues often share borrowed material among themselves, i.e. a book borrowed by one user is informally lent to another without the library’s knowledge. This type of usage is just as valid as regular borrowing but would not be captured by regular circulation statistics.  So how do you show this usage? If you ask users to leave material they use for quick reference unshelved, this allows library staff to include the number of items reshelved in usage figures, rather than only the material that has been officially signed out.

To help track informal lending, it may be useful to place a label on the book and ask users to sign their name or check a box whenever they borrow the book from another colleague instead of the library. This method would also work to gather circulation statistics for satellite collections outside the main library. Recording use of the collection by library staff is also important. Library staff often consult print material when working on reference requests or providing document delivery. Whether staff record print sources consulted separately or as part of a general reference statistics document, this type of use should definitely be counted.

Show how having a print collection saves time/money

Calculating a metric that shows how much money or time staff save by having access to an on-site collection is another way to highlight the value of your collection. For example, using the hourly rate of a fee earner in a law firm, calculate the cost of accessing an off-site resource by multiplying the hourly rate by how long it would take to get the resource. While it would take merely minutes to grab a book from the shelf, it could take hours, days, or even weeks to get a book via interlibrary loan.   And don’t forget to factor in the costs of interlibrary loans such as transactional borrowing fees, copying fees, and courier costs.

Demonstrate how the print collection supports organizational objectives or staff work

Pinpointing and quantifying how the print collection contributes to achieving organizational objectives or supporting staff performance will help show the collection’s value.  If operating efficiently and cost-effectively is important to your organization, how does your print collection contribute to this? Depending on your organization’s purpose, can you quantify how often staff use the print collection in pursuit of this goal? For example, in law firms, how often do staff consult print material when working on cases and client files? This number should include the reference work library staff do on behalf of lawyers.

Final thoughts

While the focus of this post is demonstrating the value of a print collection, perhaps we shouldn’t separate this aspect from the other services/resources the library provides.  The library is more than just a collection of books on a shelf. Loose-leaf filing, current awareness services/monitoring, routing journals/tables of contents, reference services, training and instruction, interlibrary loans/document delivery, electronic resources—the library provides all of this to the organization and its staff. Defining and quantifying their impact along with that of the print collection sends a strong message on the overall value of the library to the organization.

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3 thoughts on “Representing the value and usage of a print collection

  1. Another good idea is to record uses of the print collection by librarians in answering patrons’ questions, conducting research, or locating specific materials. A robust reference request management system often will allow to record the “types” of resources used to respond to a particular request. In our library, for example, every time the reference librarians respond to a question, we record whether the resource used was in the main print collection, Government Documents, Superseded Materials, etc., or whether we used an electronic resource. This is done in addition to – but beyond – the “in-house check-in” function that our integrated library system offers.

  2. Great post! However, I would urge you to lean on your vendors for support here. One way that we often help our customers is by bouncing back or linking out already purchased content. The additional benefit comes from the reporting end of things. When using a single vendor to purchase un-owned content you can see where the dollars are being spend and make budgetary decisions or collection management decisions without expensive software and other management services. Look to your vendors to help!

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