SPEC Kit 318: Impact Measures in Research Libraries  · 9
In the face of ubiquitous access to online informa-
tion, users tend to give libraries less and less credit
for contributing to their success at their work. At the
same time, funders and governing bodies increasingly
challenge libraries to demonstrate their impact beyond
the occasional user testimonial and anecdote. The
number of volumes held or number of library instruc-
tion sessions taught is no longer seen as compelling
justification for continued funding. The question that
the profession needs to be able to answer is this: what
difference do library resources, services, and expertise
make in their users’ lives?
In their 2007 SPEC Kit on library assessment,1 au-
thors Stephanie Wright and Lynda White reported
that library assessment was alive and well in North
American research libraries and that there had been
considerable progress in that area from the mid-1980s
through 2007. The authors of this SPEC survey were
curious about how much research libraries have
ventured beyond gauging user satisfaction and col-
lecting input and output measures, into attempting
to assess the impact of library use on academic and
career success. What kinds of projects, experiments,
or programs have taken place in recent years, how
wide spread are these, what do their results reveal,
have these results been shared and have they made
a difference for the library? Are there best practices
emerging? Finding answers to such questions and
helping to spread best practices was our goal.
The Survey
Loosely following a framework presented by Roswitha
Poll and Philip Payne in their article entitled “Impact
Measures for Libraries and Information Services,”2 the
survey asked respondents in ARL member libraries
whether they have investigated five major areas of
possible library impact: correlations between mea-
sures of library use and student success pre- or post
graduation; correlations between participation in li-
brary instruction and information literacy skills; corre-
lations between measures of library use and research
output; attempts to calculate how much financial value
the library contributes to the parent institution or user
community; and any other areas of library impact.
Within each of these five areas, the survey asked
which measures were correlated, which methods
were used to collect data, what conclusions were
drawn, who instigated the study, whether the study
was one-time or ongoing, whether the results were
shared outside the library, and whether the results
were used to influence decisions at the library or par-
ent institution.
The survey was conducted between February 22
and March 31, 2010. Fifty-five of the 124 ARL member
institutions completed the survey for a response rate
of 44%. It is impossible to know whether the respond-
ing institutions provide a representative sample of
the impact assessment activities in ARL libraries, or
whether the libraries that did not respond to the sur-
vey indeed have done less in this area.
Findings and Observations
Despite the urgency the library community has felt
in recent years to justify its value, the responding li-
braries reported shockingly little work that focuses
on investigating whether use of library resources
and services correlate with measures of success for
library users. Only 19 respondents (34%) report having
conducted a study in one or more of the five impact
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