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.

  One Response to “Looking Back”

  1. I’d be interested, coming from an ARL library, in seeing how many of these measures are captured by ARL statistics, and/or by ACRL Metrics. It would be worth starting a discussion about how much those measures that are already captured do (or don’t) contribute to assessing academic libraries’ contribution to teaching and research, and pushing for new measures that might round out the data picture in a standard way.

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