Value of Academic and Research Libraries

Gold drop of value

Change across all facets of society—including demographic, technological, and economic change—has the potential to greatly impact higher education and the academic library. As we move further into the 21st century, it is important to pay attention to the surrounding trends to inform our thinking about where institutions of higher education and their libraries are headed.

Value of Academic Libraries Initiative

Since 2009 the Board of Directors of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has been working to determine how best to help members demonstrate the value of academic libraries to the academy. ACRL is interested in developing research that will support advocacy efforts for libraries with decision-makers and funders in higher education. After an invitational meeting in July 2009, ACRL took the first step of issuing a request for proposals for a comprehensive review of the quantitative and qualitative literature, methodologies and best practices currently in place for demonstrating the value of academic libraries. Subsequently, Dr. Megan Oakleaf was selected to carry out this work.

Value of Academic Libraries Report coverThe Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report, along with a separate executive summary and bibliography, was issued in September 2010. The primary objective of this comprehensive review is to provide academic librarians with a clearer understanding of what research about the performance of academic libraries already exists, where gaps in this research occur, and to identify the most promising best practices and measures correlated to performance.

In April 2011 ACRL adopted a new strategic plan with the Value of Academic Libraries as one of three goal areas and in May of that year the Board charged the VAL Committee.

In September 2011, ACRL was awarded a National Leadership Collaborative Planning Grant by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the project “Building Capacity for Demonstrating the Value of Academic Libraries.” The grant funding of $99,985 supported ACRL – in partnership with the Association for Institutional Research, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Council of Independent Colleges – in convening two national summits. In the first, a wide range of participants from the higher education sector discussed the data campus administrators would like libraries to provide and what collaborative assistance is available through institutional research offices. In the second, librarian participants addressed strategies to prepare the library community to document and communicate the library’s value in advancing the missions and goals of their colleges and universities. A white paper about the summits, Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits, summarizes key themes and makes recommendations for action.

In September 2012, ACRL was awarded a National Leadership Demonstration Grant of $249,330 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for the program “Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success” (AiA). Part of ACRL's Value of Academic Libraries initiative, AiA was undertaken in partnership with the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). The grant supported the design, implementation, and evaluation of a program to strengthen the competencies of librarians in campus leadership and data-informed advocacy. The success of this program led to its model being transformed into a one-day RoadShow.

ACRL reports and white papers about the value of academic libraries

Academic Library Impact: Improving Practice and Essential Areas to Research (September 2017)
Developed for ACRL by OCLC Research, this valuable resource investigates how libraries can increase student learning and success and effectively communicate their value to higher education stakeholders. It demonstrates how libraries are now measuring library contributions to student learning and success, and recommends where more research is needed in areas critical to the higher education sector such as accreditation, student retention, and academic achievement. This action-oriented research agenda includes:

  • a report on all project phases and findings;
  • a detailed research agenda based on those findings;
  • a visualization component that filters relevant literature and creates graphics that can communicate library value to stakeholders;
  • a bibliography of the literature analyzed;
  • and a full bibliography of the works cited and reviewed.

Action-Oriented Research Agenda on Library Contributions to Student Learning and Success: Initial Report (November 2016) (PDF)

How Far Have We Come and What Do We Do Next? Now more than ever, libraries in higher education must demonstrate their value. ACRL has been at the forefront of supporting libraries as they demonstrate this value and recognizes that more research is needed to address an area critical to the higher education sector - institutional priorities for student learning and success. OCLC was selected to support this ongoing work after an open and competitive request for proposals issued by ACRL to investigate this area. The major outcomes of the project will aid librarians in communicating their value by focusing on both the current and potential future contributions of the library to student learning and success, with the overarching goals to:
  • depict current library value studies,
  • anticipate future work, research questions, and contributions to student learning and success, and
  • help academic librarians to effectively communicate their value with others in higher education.

Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate VAL summit reportConnect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summits (June 2012) (PDF)
A report on two invitational summits supported by a National Leadership Collaborative Planning Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as part of ACRL's Value of Academic Libraries Initiative. The report – co-authored by Karen Brown, associate professor at Dominican University, and ACRL Senior Strategist for Special Initiatives Kara Malenfant – summarizes broad themes about the dynamic nature of higher education assessment that emerged from the summits.

Value of Academic Libraries Toolkit (October 2010)
This Toolkit complements Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report by Dr. Megan Oakleaf. The Toolkit provides academic librarians access to articles, web sites, best practices, and assessment tools in one convenient location on the ACRL website. An important component to the Toolkit is access to documents and samples (statistics, newsletters, reports, etc.) that libraries have employed as part of an intentional strategy to demonstrate value to their college or university communities.

Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians reportFutures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025 (June 2010) (PDF)
For academic librarians seeking to demonstrate the value of their libraries to their parent institutions, it is important to understand not only the current climate. We must also know what will be valued in the future so that we can begin to take appropriate action now. This document presents 26 possible scenarios based on an implications assessment of current trends, which may have an impact on all types of academic and research libraries over the next 15 years. They are organized in a “scenario space” visualization tool, reflecting the expert judgment of ACRL members as to their expectations and perceptions about the probability, impact, speed of change, and threat/opportunity potential of each scenario. The study draws out implications for academic libraries and includes an appendix with a suggested activity, also available as an editable document so that you may customize this activity for use in your library. Additionally, listen to a discussion with the report's authors about how to stretch your imagination and why considering possible futures is worthwhile.

Confronting the Business Lens for Accountability of General Education, presentation at the 2009 ACRL National Conference (.mov file)
Marilee Bresciani, Associate Professor, Administration, Rehabilitation, and Postsecondary Education, San Diego State University

Articles and Studies Related to Library Value (Return on Investment)
Developed by the ALA Office for Research & Statistics

ACRL 2009 Strategic Thinking Guide for Academic Librarians in the New Economy
Distinguished panelists will discuss the questions presented in this document at the ACRL 14th National Conference in Seattle, March 13, 2009, during a program session “Brother Can You Spare a Dime? ACRL 2009 Strategic Thinking Guide for Academic Librarians in the New Economy.” It is intended to spur strategic conversation, planning, and action in academic libraries.

21st Century Academic Libraries in Higher Education
This document was prepared by Julie Todaro, ACRL President, 2007-2008, for a presentation at the American Association of State Colleges & Universities (AASCU) Academic Affairs Winter Meeting, February 8, 2008, Tempe, Arizona.

What Chief Academic Officers Want from Their Libraries: Findings from interviews with Provosts and Chief Academic Officers (PDF)(October 2007)
This is the central finding from a recent survey of Provosts and Chief Academic Officers conducted on behalf of the Association for College and Research Libraries by Leigh S. Estabrook and the University of Illinois

The Future of Higher Education: A View from CHEMA (PDF)
A report presented by Council of Higher Education Management Association (CHEMA) and Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR), with generous sponsorship from Carter & Burgess, Inc., and produced for CHEMA by APPA.

Campus of the Future Poster session (PDF)
Poster session presented by ACRL President, Pamela Snelson, and ACRL Executive Director, Mary Ellen K. Davis, July 8-11, 2006, at The Campus of the Future, a joint conference sponsored by AAPA (Serving Educational Facilities Professionals), NACUBO (National Association of College and University Business Officers), and SCUP (Society for College and University Planning).

Top Issues Facing Academic Libraries for the Future of Academic Libraries and Librarians
This article from the June 2016 issue of C&RL News outlines the primary issues facing academic libraries today, including recruitment, education, and retention of librarians. The findings in the article are the results of research conducted by ACRL's Research Planning and Review Committee.