Thursday, April 07, 2011

Stop the Madness: The Insanity of ROI

James G. Neal, University Librarian at Columbia University, has just written a critical analysis of the current trend to adopt quantitative return-on-investment (ROI) measurements to determine the value of libraries.

His paper, entitled Stop the Madness: The Insanity of ROI and the Need for New Qualitative Measures of Academic Library Success, appears in the proceedings of the most recent conference of the Association of College & Research Libraries (March 30 - April 2, 2011 in Philadelphia). It discusses ROI in the context of academic libraries, but government and corporate libraries, including law libraries, all also trying to discover how to best measure service value:
"Return on Investment (ROI) has become the new mantra of academic libraries, a relentless and in many ways foolish effort to quantify impact in the face of budget challenges and the questioning of our continuing relevance to the academy in an all-digital information world. ROI instruments and calculations fundamentally do not work for academic libraries, and present naïve and misinterpreted assessments of our roles and impacts at our institutions and across higher education. New and rigorous qualitative measures of success are needed (...)"

"This paper is not a scientific study or a literature review or a reasoned analysis of the assessment literature on academic libraries. It is a polemic and a call to action. It is an appeal for the academic library to step away from inappropriate, unsophisticated and exploitable ROI research as a miscalculated, defensive and risky strategy. Certainly, academic libraries must embrace and advance rigorous assessment programs. We need effective and honest ways to explore issues like user satisfaction, the usability of systems and services, market penetration, cost-effectiveness, productivity, impact, and success in advancing institutional priorities. A focus on outcomes can link the academic library to more effective qualitative measures which help us to understand library contribution to successful graduates, productive faculty, and institutional advancement."
The full list of conference papers is available on the website of the American Library Association.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 7:15 pm


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neal makes some additional striking points in his article, including how libraries are now more about function than collection. The announcement of the new Ryerson library follows this idea, centering on the creation of wide open gathering spaces for students.


Thanks for a good read, as ever, Michel.


12:44 am  

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