Cost Analysis

A common question to ALA is "How much does it cost a library to ...?" And it doesn't matter if the task is "to catalog a book," or "to answer a reference question," or "maintain a serial title," the answer is always, "It depends on how your library is structured and what you include in the cost factors." This page collects various references to costing methodologies and studies.

In general, questions about costs are a category of common questions for which there is no easy answer because each library is administered differently. It is also one of those areas where technology hasn't changed the basic process, though it has made certain aspects of gathering data easier. The subject of cost analysis has been addressed by a number of different committees within ALA over the years—and for as long as ALA has existed (see Charles A. Cutter, "Dr. Hagan's Letter on Cataloging," Library Journal 1 (1877): 219. It is also a common business function--and requires getting out your calculator, sharp pencils, and thinking skills.

In brief, what's entailed is determining what costs support a function (staff salaries and benefits, supplies, allocable building support costs, etc.) and over how many units of output (borrowing and lending transactions performed, for example) those costs can be applied to get the cost per transaction. In some cases the literature will report the ranges of costs found by different institutions, so that you can get a sense of whether your institution is "in the ballpark."


ALCTS Technical Services Costs Committee. "Guide to Cost Analysis of Acquisitions and Cataloging in Libraries." ALCTS Newsletter 2:5 (1991) pp. 49-52. The purpose of the Guide is to aid the user in arriving at a per unit cost for any acquisitions or cataloging function. Using pertinent budget and production statistics, plus the Guide to Cost Analysis of Acquisitions and Cataloging in Libraries table included in the article, the technical processing manager may arrive at a figure. Step-by-step instructions for using the Guide are included, as well as an extensive list of sample variables to be measured in technical services cost studies.

Bodycomb, Aphrodite and Megan De Del Baglivo. “Using an Automated Tool to Calculate Return on Investment and Cost Benefit Figures for Resources: The Health Sciences and Human Services Library Experience.” Journal of the Medical Library Association 100, no. 2 (April 2012): 127-130.

Dudden, Rosalind F. Using Benchmarking, Needs Assessment, Quality Improvement, Outcome Measurement, and Library Standards. New York, NY.: Neal-Schuman, 2007. This guide aims to explain the most important and popular assessment techniques in straight-forward language, and to use step-by-step instructions to teach the reader how to perform evaluation studies with skill and competence. Includes a CD-ROM.

Calvi, Elise, and Yvonne Carignan, Liz Dube, and Whitney Pape. Preservation Manager’s Guide to Cost Analysis. Chicago: ALA, 2006. Real world examples to illustrate how and when to apply cost analysis methodologies in a preservation program. Includes work analysis, quantifying resources, impact analysis.

Cervone, H. Frank.“Using Cost Benefit Analysis to Justify Digital Library Projects.” OCLC Systems & Services 26, no. 2 (2010): 76-9.

Ceynowa, Klaus and André Coners. Cost Management for University Libraries. München: Saur, 2003. (IFLA Publications 104)

Chambers, Joan. "Determining the Cost of An Interlibrary Loan in North American Research Libraries: Initial Study" 62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996.

Chao, Dolly. "Cost comparisons between bibliographic utilities and CD-ROM-based cataloging systems." Library Hi Tech 7, no. 3 (January 3, 1989): 49-51. Although comparing older technologies, this article discusses the major cost areas to consider when selecting an automated system for cataloging. These are: purchase/one-time costs; ongoing costs; and staff resource costs. Sample worksheets are included for calculating costs in each of these areas for either a bibliographic utility or a CD-ROM-based cataloging system.

Cooper, Michael D. "The Costs of Providing Electronic Journal Access and Printed Copies of Journals to University Users." Library Quarterly, vol. 76, no. 3 (2006): 323-351. Six models for analyzing costs options for the University of California.

Crane, Lisa L. "Cost Factors in Digital Projects: A Model Useful in Other Applications,"  In The Frugal Librarian: Thriving in Tough Economic TimesChicago: ALA, 2011.

Crumpton, Michael A. "Accounting for the cost of social media." Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances 27, no. 3 (November 2014): 96-100.

Daugherty, Richard M. "Costs" in Streamlining Library Services: What We Do, How Much Time It Takes, What It Costs, and How We Can Do It Better. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2008.

Dempster, Stuart and Catherine Grout. “Digitisation – trends in the economics of retro-conversion”, Chapter 9 in Digital Library Economics: An Academic Perspective, Oxford, Chandos Publishing, 2009.

Duong, Khue, Carol Perruso, and Hema Ramachandran. "Content Overlap and Replacement Cost Analyses: Tools to Evaluate Abstracting/Indexing (A&I) and Full-Text Databases in Science and Engineering." Science & Technology Libraries 32, no. 1 (January 2013): 84-94.

Eakin, Lori and Jeffrey Pomerantz. "Virtual Reference, Real Money: Modeling Costs in Virtual Reference Services." Portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 9, no. 1 (2009), p. 133-164.

Franklin, Brinley. "Managing the Electronic Collection with Cost Per Use Data." Presentation at the 70th IFLA Conference and Council, August 22-27, 2004.

Harris, George D. "Historic Cataloging Costs, Issues, and Trends." Library Quarterly 59:1 (Jan. 1989) pp 1-21. The author looks at cataloging costs from 1876 to 1986. He conducted a 1986 survey of 179 of the largest academic libraries; he had 117 responses. For these libraries, the cost of copy cataloging was used in finding the average costs of 34 libraries. Other libraries gave a range of figures; with these, the author used the lower figure. For libraries that gave one figure for both monographs and serials into one figure, the highest figure was $53.00 and the lowest was $14.67. For libraries giving separate figures for monographs, the range was from $32.00 for original cataloging at one university to a low of $6.43 at another. The study found the average cataloging costs for 34 libraries as $17.17 and the median as $15.00. The author cautions readers that "'cataloging costs' means something different at every single library in the country."

Hickox, Chessa Grasso, Rose M. Jackson, Gary W. Markham, and Christopher N. Cox. “Going Broke, Going Digital: A Preliminary Cost Analysis of Building a Digital Library.” Internet Reference Services Quarterly 11, no. 1 (2006):51–66.

Hirshon, Arnold and Barbara Winters. Outsourcing Technical Services: A How-to-do-it Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman, 1995. In order to determine whether outsourcing a function is the right decision, it is necessary to analyze all relevant costs.

Houghton, John. Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the Costs and Benefits. Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), (January 2009). Accessed June 20, 2018.

Intner, Sheila S. "Numerology 2: Technical Services Costs." Technicalities, Vol. 25, no. 5 (Sept./Oct. 2005 ): 1, 10-12. Costing of library technical services in lay terms.

Jackson, Mary E. "Assessing ILL/DD Services Study: Initial Observations" (PDF). ARL, No. 230/231 (October/December 2003): 21-22. Update to "Measuring the Performance" article in the December 1997 issue (see citation below).

Alternate citation: Jackson, Mary E. Assessing ILL/DD Services Study: Initial Observations. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, 2004.

Jackson, Mary E. Measuring the Performance of Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Services (PDF) ARL: A Bimonthly Newsletter of Research Library Issues and Actions Issue 195.(December 1997). Jackson found that on average, the unit cost to research libraries to borrow an item on interlibrary loan is $18.35, and the cost to lend an item is $9.48. Average borrowing turnaround time is 16 calendar days, the borrowing fill rate is 85%, and the lending fill rate is 58%.

Alternate citation: Jackson, Mary E. Measuring the Performance of Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery Services Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries, 1998.

Kantor, Paul B. Library Cost Analysis,” Library Trends Vol.38, no.2 (Fall 1989): 171-88.

Kingma, Bruce. The Economics of Information: A Guide to Economic and Cost-Benefit Analysis for Information Professionals. 2d ed. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 2001. This is a text-book treatment of economics as applied to examples in the field of library and information management, including publishing. There is a thorough discussion of fixed and variable costs, as well as marginal costs and cost/benefit analysis.

Kont, Kate-Riin. "What do Acquisition Activities really Cost? A Case Study in Estonian University Libraries." Library Management 36, no. 6 (2015): 511-34.

Kusack, James Michael. “Understanding and Controlling the Costs of Library Services.” Library Administration & Management 16:3 (Summer 2002): 151-155. Kusack reviews the reasons for preparing costs studies and provides a guide to using the resultant information of effective management decisions. His is a common-sense, narrative review of the steps involved in determining the costs of operations, services, or space.

Landesman, Margaret. “The Cost of Reference.” Library Journal Vol.126, no.19 (November 15, 2001): p. 8-10.

Leung, Shirley W. "Study of the Cataloging Costs at the University of California, Riverside." Technical Services Quarterly Vol.5, no.1 (1987): 57-66. This study was conducted at one University. While the figures cited are specific to that University at one particular time, the model can by used by other libraries to determine their own costs. For 1984, this library's average costs for all levels of cataloging (per unit) were $14.65, for original cataloging $44.53, for variant cataloging $17.61, for copy offline cataloging $10.40, and for copy online cataloging $8.22.

Machovec, George. "Calculating the Return on Investment (ROI) for Library Consortia." Journal of Library Administration 55, no. 5 (July 2015): 414-424.

McCain, C., et. al., Cataloging Efficiency and Effectiveness [time and cost data from 26 academic libraries]. Library Resources & Technical Services v.46, no. 1 (January 2002): 23-31

Mitchell, Betty Jo, Norman E. Tanis, and Jack Jaffe. Cost Analysis of Library Functions: A Total System Approach. Greenwich, Conn: JAI Press, 1978.

Montgomery, Carol Hansen and Donald W. King, “Comparing Library and User Related Costs of Print and Electronic Journal Collections: A First Step Towards a Comprehensive AnalysisD-Lib Magazine  Vol.8, no. 10 (October 2002)

Morris, Dilys E. "Staff Time and Costs for Cataloging." Library Resources & Technical Services Vol.36, no.1 (Jan. 1992): 79-95. Morris reports on the first three years of a longitudinal study begun in 1987 by the Iowa State University Library Technical Services Division. The purpose of the study was to investigate changes in task times, staffing patterns, and personnel costs as automation was expanded. During sample weeks, technical services staff recorded the time worked according to defined tasks grouped within cost centers. Salary data was also recorded for the sample weeks. Results show the proportion of time spent at tasks, trends and changes over time, and per-title cataloging time and costs.

Oldfield, William R. "Cataloguing and Catalogue Maintenance: Functional Cost Allocation System." Technical Services Quarterly Vol.5, no.2 (1987): 55-65. The author describes a functional cost-allocation system applicable to any university library through the identification of 11 generic cataloging functions. An annual unit cost for each function allows the rate of increase or decrease to be monitored.

Outsourcing Cataloging, Authority Work and Physical Processing: A Checklist of Considerations. Chicago: ALA, 1995. Among the points on the checklist is a thorough understanding of the costs.

Payne, Hannah. "Time and Cost Analysis for Repository Deposit: the Welsh Repository Network Mediated Deposit Bureau." ALISS Quarterly 6, no. 3 (April 2011): 10-13.

Piorun, Mary, and Lisa A. Palmer. "Digitizing dissertations for an institutional repository: a process and cost analysis." Journal Of The Medical Library Association Vol.96, no. 3 (July 2008): 223-229.

Poll, Roswitha. "Library Management with Cost Data." Presentation at the 70th IFLA General Conference and Council, August 22-27, 2004.

Rathmel, Angie, Lea Currie, and Todd Enoch. "“Big Deals” and Squeaky Wheels: Taking Stock of Your Stats." Serials Librarian 68, no. 1-4 (January 2015): 26-37.

Riemer, John J. "Reality Check: ROI for Bibliographic Control." Technicalities, Vol. 31, no. 3 (May/June 2011): p. 1, 6-9. See also Final Report of the Task Force on Cost/Value Assessment of Bibliographic Control' submitted to the Heads of Technical Services in Large Research Libraries Interest Group, June 18, 2010.

Robinson, John. “Spinning the Disks – Lessons from the Circus”, Chapter 12 in Digital Library Economics: An Academic Perspective, Oxford, Chandos Publishing, 2009. 

Roche, Marilyn M. ARL/RLG Interlibrary Loan Cost Study: A Joint Effort by the Association of Research Libraries and the Research Libraries Group.  Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, 1993.

Saffady, William. "The Cost of Automated Cataloging Support: An Analysis and Comparison of Selected Products and Services." Library Technical Reports 25:4 (July-August 1989). This issue of LTR is primarily devoted to automated commercial cataloging products and services and their comparative costs. The author describes the major commercial products (i.e., bibliographic utilities, cataloging via online information services, CD-ROM cataloging systems, and microfiche and printed cataloging tools) and creates a model through which the costs of cataloging with these systems can be directly compared.

Schroeder, Rebecca and Jared L. Howland. "Shelf-ready: A cost-benefit analysis." Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services 35, no. 4 (December 2011): 129-134.

Smith, G. Stevenson. “Cost Concepts and Decision Making”, Chapter 2 in Managerial Accounting for Libraries and Other Not-for-Profit Organizations, Second Ed. Chicago, ALA, 2002.

Snyder, Herbert and Elisabeth Davenport. Costing and Pricing in the Digital Age. A Practical Guide for Information Services. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1997.

Stalberg, Erin, and Christopher Cronin. "Assessing the Cost and Value of Bibliographic Control." Library Resources & Technical Services 55, no. 3 (July 2011): 124-137.

Tabacaru, Simona, and Eric Hartnett. "How Academic Libraries Provide Value Through Course Readings." Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship 29, no. 1 (January 2017): 24-36.

Task Force on Cost/Value Assessment of Bibliographic Control. Final Report, submitted to the Heads of Technical Services in Large Research Libraries Interest Group. [Chicago, 2010]. 

Torbert, Christina. "Cost-per-Use versus Hours-per-Report: Usage Reporting and the Value of Staff Time." Serials Librarian 68, no. 1-4 (January 2015): 163-167.

Wilson, Thomas C. "Purchasing and Total Cost Analysis," in his The Systems Librarian: Designing Roles, Defining Skills. Chicago, ALA, 2008, p. 105-121. 



Last updated August 2018