Cost/Benefits Analysis Selected Measurement Tools and Bibliographic References

3.2 Reference Service and Program Effectiveness
Cost, benefit, and quality assessments of reference services provide meaningful and practical feedback for the improvement of services, staff training, and continuing education. To determine levels of service effectiveness, costs, benefits, and quality, data must be judged in light of specific library goals, objectives, missions, and standards. A variety of measures, such as quality or success analysis, unobtrusive, obtrusive or mixed observation methods, and cost and benefit analysis provide invaluable information about staff performance, skill, knowledge, and accuracy, as well as overall program effectiveness.

3.2.1 Cost/Benefits Analysis
In cost-benefit studies, costs are compared to the benefits derived by the patrons served. Patron benefits may be measured in terms of actual or perceived outcomes, such as goals and satisfaction achieved, time saved, failures avoided, money saved, productivity, creativity, and innovation.


Cost Effectiveness Measures (McClure, 1989). Use to measure the cost effectiveness of traditional desk reference service. The Reference Assessment Manual, 1995.

Cost Benefit Formula (Murfin, Bunge, 1977). Use with Reference Transaction Assessment Instrument (RTAI) success data to determine the cost of staff time in relation to the benefit of patron time saved. The Reference Assessment Manual, 1995.

Costing of All Reference Operations (Murphy, 1973). Used to generate profiles of departmental functions and create a dollar estimate for reference service functions. The Reference Assessment Manual, 1995.

"Helps" Users Obtain from Their Library Visits (Dervin, Fraser, 1985). Use to collect data on how library visits specifically helped users in the context of their lives. The Reference Assessment Manual, 1995.

Statistics, measures, and quality standards for assessing digital reference library services: Guidelines and procedures (McClure, Lankes, Gross, Choltco-Devlin, 2002). Includes a variety of assessment tools.


Abels, Eileen. Improving reference service cost studies. Library & Information Science Research 19 (2): 135-52, 1997.

Bunge, Charles A. Gathering and using patron and librarian perceptions of question-answering success. Reference Librarian 66:115-140, 1999.

Bunge, Charles A., and Marjorie E. Murfin. Reference questions--data from the field. RQ 27 (Fall): 15-18. 1987.

Marsteller, Matthew and Susan Ware. Models for measuring and evaluating reference costs: A Comparative analysis of traditional and virtual Reference Services. Virtual Reference Desk 5th Annual Conference, San Antonio, Texas, November 17-18, 2003.

McClure, Charles, R. David Lankes, Marilyn Gross, and Beverly Choltco-Devlin. Statistics, Measures, and Quality Standards for Assessing Digital Reference Library Services: Guidelines and Procedures. Information Institute of Syracuse, School of Information Studies; School of Information Studies, Information Use Management and Policy Institute, Florida State University, 2002.

Murfin, Marjorie. Cost analysis of library reference services. Advances in Library Administration and Organization 11: 1-36, 1993.

Powell, Ronald. Impact assessment of university libraries: a consideration of issues and research methodologies. Library & Information Science Research 14: 245-57, July/Sept. 1992.

This document is part of Measuring and Assessing Reference Services and Resources: A Guide prepared by the RUSA RSS Evaluation of Reference and User Services Committee.