Communicating our value – and costs

ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee (2012) published in June the list of 2012 top ten trends in academic libraries. The data was collected by reviewing the literature, attending conferences and contacting experts. Many important trends were mentioned but the most mentioned and discussed ten trends were:

  • communicating value
  • data curation
  • digital preservation
  • higher education
  • information technology
  • mobile environments
  • patron driven e-book acquisition
  • scholarly communication
  • staffing
  • user behaviors and expectations

These topics are certainly hot topics also in the university libraries in Finland. We are very familiar with the changes in higher education institutions and their funding. European countries are facing serious financial problems which have influenced also the universities. In addition, the Ministry of Education and Culture announced the new funding model for the Finnish universities in April 2012 . The aim of the new model is a better, more efficient international university system with stronger impact and a better defined profile. Although the aim of the new model is accepted and desirable, it is obvious that due to the model there will be winners and losers among universities.

In the circumstances of tight economy it is important that university libraries communicate their value to the universities. The top management of the university has to be sure that the money given to the library will benefit the university more than if the same money would have been given to some other units or activities. University libraries have to demonstrate their value to the scientific community. At the same time, they have to improve their performance because new needs and expectations of the customers will arise. Further, they have to make it visible that the production of library services is not free.

Although it might be well-known that university libraries contribute to the higher education and research in many different ways, it is not necessarily understood, what the real costs of the library services are. The main costs of the university libraries are library premises, information resources (books and journals both in the electronic and printed form) and personnel costs. All of them have their price.

The library as a place is the most important public space on the campus. Modern university libraries are complex and multifunctional places which are not only housing printed collections but offer a modern and flexible learning environment.  As a place the library has a value especially to the students, who do not have their own offices on the campus. In Tampere University Library  we have studied the use of library premises by multiple methods and noticed that well-equipped library premises are really needed and used (Lehto, Toivonen & Iivonen 2012, Lehto, Poteri, Iivonen & Matthews 2012). Students still come to the library to study. They need a place where to study alone but also rooms for group work. It is the university’s benefit that students come to the library to study, progress in their studies and finally graduate from the university.

High quality research needs high quality information resources, which are usually very expensive.  Many university libraries use the major portion of their acquisition budgets for the license fees of e-journals, especially for the “Big Deals”. Because the license fees of the e-journals seem to rise more than the acquisition budgets, university libraries already face difficulties with their ability to provide an access to the expensive, high quality e-journals. However, there is a clear connection between the access to high quality information and the productivity of the faculty.

Carol Tenopir has studied the reading and publishing of the faculty members for years. She has noticed that the faculty members, who publish more, also read more, and further, the faculty members who receive more awards, read more (see e.g. Tenopir & King 2000, Tenopir 2011). She states: “Since the library is the main source of readings for publications and research, a tie between the investment in the library collections and high quality faculty can be made.” (Tenopir 2011) The cuts of acquisition budgets would without doubt mean the cancellation of important subscriptions. This would limit the faculty members’ access to the publications they need, and might even decrease the number of university publications.  This would have serious consequences to the funding of the university because of the new funding model of Finnish universities.

University libraries in Finland as well as elsewhere have had to cut personnel costs. However, more important, they have had to reassess what kind of staff members they need, what are the core tasks of the university libraries and which kind of competence is needed. Staff development through recruitment is important, and so is the continuing training of the current personnel. It is very challenging to cut personnel costs and invest in the knowledge and expertise of the people at the same time.

The work in the university libraries bases nowadays more than ever on the high-level expertise. For example, teaching information literacy requires good pedagogical skills. The special feature of the competence of the library staff is that it can be integrated into the competence of other actors in the university to increase a competitive advantage of the whole university. Radical and uncontrollable cuts in the personnel costs of the university library would harm more than benefit the university.

The directors of the Finnish university libraries are aware of the necessity to demonstrate the impact and outcome of the library services to the university. Various methods such as usage statistics and service quality surveys have been used in measuring the value of the library. New methods, such as critical incident interviews and return on investment -methods suggested by Tenopir (2011) are definitely worth using. Adopting evidence-based librarianship (EBL) method in developing library practice and services can ensure that the library makes good decisions and produces the added value to the scientific community. (Booth 2006, Eldredge 2006, Iivonen 2012.)

I believe that the wise university does not doubt the value of the library. The library has been appreciated and valued as an important infrastructure of the research and higher education. However, it is important to communicate to the top management of the university that high-quality library services are not free and to make visible which are the real costs of library services. It is important to explain why it is still important to invest in the well-equipped library premises, why the university has to pay for the work of high-level experts even in the library, and how much the price of high quality information resources are rising annually. It is not easy even for the directors of university libraries to understand the continuous rising prices of the information resources or e-journal packages, especially the “Big Deals”. How could it then be easily comprehended by non-librarians? The top management of the university is responsible for the university finances, which is a very demanding task. It is important, therefore, that the directors of the university have the correct information about the costs of the library.


ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee (2012). 2012 top ten trends in academic libraries. College & Research Libraries News 73 (6): 311-320. Available at  (accessed 13 July 2012).
Booth, A. (2006). Counting what counts: performance measurement and evidence-based practice. Performance Measurement and Metrics 7 (2): 63-74.
Eldredge, J. (2006). Evidence-based librarianship: the EBL process. Library Hi Tech 24 (3): 341-354.
Iivonen, M. (2012). Näyttöön perustuva kirjastotyö menetelmänä [Evidence-based librarianship as a method]. Signum, 45(1), 4-8.  Available at  (accessed 13 July 2012).
Lehto, A. Toivonen, L. & Iivonen, M. (2012). University library premises: The evaluation of customer satisfaction and usage.  In J. Lau, A.M. Tammaro & T. Bothma (Eds), Access to Knowledge.  In Press.
Lehto, A. Poteri, E., Iivonen, M. & Matthew, G. (2012). Evaluation of space and use. Introduction to evaluation of space and use; a case study from Finland. In G.  Matthews & G. Walton (Eds), Space and University Libraries. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd. In Press.
Tenopir, C. (2011). Beyond usage: measuring library outcome and value. Library Management 32. (1/2): 5-13.
Tenopir, C. & King, D.W. (2000). Towards electronic journals: Realities for scientist, librarians and publishers. Special Library Association, Washington, DC.

Mirja Iivonen
Chief librarian, Tampere University Library

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