Academic libraries must find ways to measure and demonstrate the value of their collections and services to all of their stakeholders. Academic library collections (both print and electronic) and library services provide value in many ways, including value to research, teaching, and student development. Return on investment (ROI) is one way to quantify the value of the library. This study examines the ROI of the library in one functional area—ROI in all stages of the grants process. This project expands and tests a case study conducted with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Luther, 2008) which developed a methodology for calculating the library’s ROI to the university through grants received. This new study expands that methodology to 8 institutions in 8 countries to see if the methods are widely applicable in academic research libraries worldwide. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected, including surveys of faculty, interviews with university administrators, and data on grant proposals, grant income, and the library budget.
The results demonstrate the value of the library to the institution in improving grant proposal and report writing and in helping to attract grant income. Library e-collections especially play a vital role in all aspects of grants, from proposal writing to final reports. The study across countries also shows how some specific factors within an institution (such as subject focus) or factors within a country (such as sources for grants funding) can influence the ROI for grants income. This report continues the ongoing discussion of ROI and academic libraries. Expansion of this research to include other aspects of ROI will be conducted under sponsorship by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The study, Value, Outcomes, and Return on Investment of Academic Libraries (“Lib-Value,” grant number LG-06-09-0152-09), is a 3 year project which began in December 2009 and is being led by principal investigators Carol Tenopir and Paula Kaufman.
- For every monetary unit invested in academic libraries, the parent institutions received a return on investment of between 15.54:1 to 0.64:1 in research grant income. In 6 of the 8 countries, the ROI for grants is more than 1:1. ROI for grants varies according to the goals of the institution (e.g., research-intensive vs. teaching-focused, or emphasis on science/technology/medicine vs. emphasis on social sciences and humanities) and the availability of competitive funding sources. This ROI was calculated using the entire library budget. If the portion of the library budget that is just related to e-collections is used, the ROI rates range from 155:1 to 6.4:1.
- In two North American universities, regression analysis using 10 years of data shows that an increase in the library budget is correlated with an increase in grant funding.
- Faculty survey respondents cite averages of 7.5 to 41.2 books or articles in each grant proposal they write, 14.9 to 26.5 in each final grant report, and 22.0 to 42.2 for each article they write. The amount of reading, and therefore value, goes far beyond what is cited. For each article or book cited, respondents report reading between 18.0 to 40.2 other books or articles. Faculty members who receive grant funding cite more and read more on average than those who receive no funding.
- At least three-fourths of survey respondents in all institutions and over 90% in 5 of the 7 institutions state it is “important,” “very important,” or “essential” to cite references to journal articles or books in their grant proposals.
- Most respondents access at least half of the articles and books they cite in grant proposals, reports, and publications from their institutional library e-resource collections.
- Survey respondents report that they spend at least 3.5 hours per week finding and accessing articles, and at least 9.8 hours reading articles. This investment in time shows that articles are important to them.
University administrators said in interviews at each institution that their long-term goals include attracting and retaining productive faculty, fostering innovative research, facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration, and raising the university’s prestige. Comments and data from the faculty surveys indicate that, in addition to helping generate grant income, the library also serves these administrator goals.
Return on investment in the grants process is one important and convenient way to quantify the value of the academic library, but it underestimates the total value of the library. The time invested by faculty in finding and using scholarly literature is an indication of the value of collections to both teaching and research. Time savings and improved efficiency made possible by library collections are another component of value. Qualitative comments by faculty and administrators demonstrate in terms of ROI the importance of electronic access to the core functions of the faculty and the institution. ROI calculations should be expanded beyond grant income to include the value of all key library products and services that support the mission of the institution.
Note: The PDF download was updated on April 27, 2012 to address two minor errors:
- Page 17, Table 11: The table header was relabeled "Funded Respondents" (rather than “All Respondents”).
- Page 19, Table 13: University 5 was changed to "0.8%" (rather than “8.0%”).