Here on the Value blog we’re interested in highlighting research and publications that demonstrate the value of academic libraries. The way we define “value research” is assessment of library services and resources in the context of an institutional mission. If you have a project you’d like us to highlight, please comment on the blog (first you must create an account) or complete the VAL project survey to tell us about publications or work in progress.

There’s an article in the July 2013 issue of College & Research Libraries that we haven’t yet talked about on this blog, but that is an example of fairly traditional library value research. It’s “A Citation Analysis of Atmospheric Science Publications by Faculty at Texas A&M University” by Rusty Kimball, Jane Stephens, David Hubbard, and Carmelita Pickett. The stated objective of the article is to determine how well the Texas A&M University (TAMU) Libraries collection meets the needs of faculty researchers in the TAMU Atmospheric Sciences Department by asking what sources were cited by these authors, and does TAMU Libraries own them in electronic or print format. Many collection analyses have been published in library journals, but the authors assert that this is the first on publications by atmospheric scientists.


So, if we think about a citation analysis from the point of view of Megan Oakleaf’s impact map, above, what happens? One campus goal for any research university is faculty research productivity. The library has obvious contributions in the form of resources purchased, so this is a point of impact. Through a citation analysis of faculty publications, librarians can document impact and then send a message via library literature but more importantly through our own campus channels about how the library supports faculty research. Throughout the process we can reflect and improve our provision of resources and services.

This article from College & Research Libraries notes that the TAMU Libraries owns at least 90 percent of all material cited by the atmospheric science faculty and 100 percent of the most frequently cited titles. What a great message to share with the faculty there!


If you or others at your institution are interested in finding out how your library contributes to faculty teaching, a review of course content can be a point of analysis for library impact and value. The Value Report answers the question, “How does the library contribute to faculty teaching?” in this way:

Most librarians think only of their contributions to library instruction, such as guest lectures, online tutorials, and LibGuides. However, libraries contribute to faculty teaching in a variety of ways. They provide resources that are integrated into course materials on a massive scale (a value that is long overdue to be adequately captured and communicated). They collaborate with faculty on curriculum, assignment, and assessment design. (Value Report, p. 134)

To measure library impact on faculty teaching, we can look at syllabi, assignments, course reading lists, course websites, course reserves, and more. Questions to ask in the perusal of course content include: Where, in these documents, are library resources used or referred to? Where could (or should) library resources be more integrated into a course?

Data sources for course information are not too hard to come by: course syllabi are often archived on a department website or in a departmental office, and depending on your institution’s online courseware, you may be able to gain viewing privileges for course websites. Information on course reserves is available within the library, and librarians may survey their colleagues to learn about collaborations between instructors and librarians on curriculum, assignment, and/or assessment design.

A library-focused analysis of course content can illuminate connections between various types of library use and institutional mission and outcomes. And if your library is not currently collecting data on these potential correlations, it’s worth considering.


Editor’s note: In today’s guest post, Joseph Matthews examines the recommendations of  two 1990s articles on library performance measures in light of the VAL report.

Back in 1996, Peter Hernon and Ellen Altman suggested that academic libraries should publish a series of performance measures that would reflect the library’s contribution toward teaching and research.1  Karen Bottrill and Victor Borden suggested an additional set of complimentary measures.2  Probably as a result of the fact that academic libraries were not being asked to provide measures of their value at that time, few if any libraries took up the challenge and started to regularly collect and report such measures.  It is interesting to look that these suggested measures and see how well they line up with the call by Megan Oakleaf to begin to conduct assessments in order to demonstrate the value of the library.

These suggested measures include:

  • The percent of courses with materials in the reserve reading room.
  • The percent of students enrolled in these courses who actually checked out/downloaded reserve materials.
  • The percent of courses requiring term papers based on materials in the library’s collections.
  • The percent of courses requiring students to use the library for research projects
  • The number of students who checked out library materials.
  • The number of undergraduate (and graduate) students who borrowed materials from the library.
  • The number of library computer searches initiated by undergraduates.
  • Percent of library study spaces occupied by students.
  • Number of pages photocopied by students.
  • Percent of freshmen students not checking out a library book.
  • The percent of faculty who checked out library materials.
  • The number of articles and books published by faculty members.
  • The number of references cited in faculty publications that may be found in the library’s collections.

While most of these measures are output measures, they are not assessing the impact of the library in the lives of students or faculty; they are measures that indicate the extent to which the library’s collections and services are reaching different user segments on campus.  And such information about the reach of the library is an important first step in determining the value of the academic library.  It would seem reasonable that a library should know what proportion of students, faculty and staff are using the library each year as a starting point in determining the library’s impact.

Thus, it is suggested that the library should collect and analyze the necessary data to know what proportion of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and researchers used the library during the prior year.  The library might want to know:

  • The percent* who borrowed materials
  • The percent* who downloaded online materials
  • The percent* who used the physical and virtual collections.

Rather than relying on a “gut” feeling that the library is being used by various campus groups, the library would have clear evidence of its actual use by different segments of the university.  A second reason for actually determining the actual amount of usage of library resources is that it would allow a library to compare its usage to other “peer” libraries that have also determined the actual usage of the library resources.  A third reason for determining these usage numbers is that the library could set short-term and long-term targets to increase the usage of library physical and virtual resources.

* = Undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and researchers.

1 Peter Hernon and Ellen Altman.  Service Quality in Academic Libraries.  Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1996.

2 Karen Bottrill and Victor Borden.  Examples from the Literature.  In Using Performance Indicators to Guide Strategic Decision Making.  Victor Borden and Trudy Banta (Editors).  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994, 107-119.

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