Return on investment is a common metric used to evaluate the value associated with organizational expenditures. Unfortunately, the majority of business leaders responsible for defending corporate library budgets are unaware of the benefits provided by the research function.
Corporate librarians should become familiar with basic methodologies needed to calculate the ROI for the library organization, as well as for specific library investments such as an integrated research solution. A necessary first step is to examine the company goals and then identify ways that the library contributes to those objectives.
At the most basic level, return on investment is a comparison of costs and benefits. Important metrics for calculating corporate library ROI include time saved for employees thanks to library resources, revenue increases due to library provided information, decreased research and development expenses, and more. The structured five step process articulated here will be particularly useful for corporate librarians as they create a business case to justify specific investments, such as an integrated research solution. This process requires librarians to:
- Articulate the business needs associated with an integrated research solution
- Define the current research knowledge environment
- Identify and prioritize user needs
- Evaluate deployment costs
- Summarize the results and identify the ROI for the top solutions
Demonstrating the Value of Corporate Libraries
In today’s business environment, leaders are continually required to justify their budgets to ensure that company expenditures are delivering value. The most compelling justifications are those which quantify the return on investment (ROI) for different functions and initiatives. Unfortunately, a recent report by the Association of College and Research Libraries found that more than 60 percent of managers responsible for evaluating special library staff and defending their budgets did not know what value special libraries deliver (Oakleaf, 2012).
Measuring the returns provided by corporate and other special libraries first requires a clear sense of the organization’s overall mission and objectives. Librarians must identify what the organization itself values. A useful approach is to examine the company goals and then identify ways that the library can contribute to them. ROI metrics that corporate libraries commonly use include: time saved for employees by utilizing library resources and expertise, revenue increases, decreased research and development expenses, productivity gains, and cost savings.
Management may ask corporate librarians to demonstrate the return on investment associated with the library function as a whole or with a proposed library investment. Methodologies for both scenarios are outlined below.
Calculating ROI for the Corporate Library
At the simplest level, return on investment is a comparison of the costs and benefits. For corporate libraries, time savings for the organization is one of the most credible and easily quantifiable benefits. For example, a 2007 study on corporate, government, and medical libraries conducted by Outsell, Inc. found that the average time saving for users was nine hours per library interaction (Lown, 2009).
User surveys are a good way to gather information about how corporate library services affect organization time and revenues. Below are examples of ROI related questions that may be included in user surveys (Strouse, 2001):
- In approximately what percent of instances did using the corporate library help you save time?
- On average, in each case, how much time did you save in hours?
- Approximately what percent of the time did using the corporate library help you to make money – for example, by providing information that led to launching a new product or service or closing a sale?
- On average, each time this was the result, how much money did you make?
- Approximately what percent of the time did using the corporate library help you save money – for example, by providing information used to troubleshoot problems or reduce operating expenses?
- On average, each time this was the result, how much money did you save?
When calculating the costs associated with a corporate library, it is important to include expenses that may not appear in the budget. Examples include IT infrastructure costs, as well as training costs. Training expenses should account for the time that employees spend in training and the cost of training materials.
Here is a sample ROI calculation for a corporate library:
Library ROI = Gross Estimated Benefits/Library Costs
|Gross Estimated Benefits: Time Savings|
|Number of research projects performed by the library||500|
|Average time savings for library end users for each projects||14 hours|
|Average hourly salary for library end users||$60|
|Yearly time savings = 500 projects x 14 hours saved per project x $60/hour||$420,000|
|Gross Estimated Benefits: Increased Revenues|
|Project Related Revenues
On 100 of the library’s projects, library-sourced information led to an average sale or increased sale of $40,000 Additional project related revenues = $40,000 x 100
Intranet Site Content Related Revenues
Additional Intranet content related revenues = $100,000 x 10
|Annual library budget||$2,250,000|
|IT Infrastructure costs||$150,000|
($420,000 + $4,000,000 + $1,000,000) / $2,500,000 = $2.168 return for every $ spent
Calculating ROI for a Library Investment
When corporate libraries want to implement an integrated research solution within the organization, they may be asked by management to develop a business case for the investment. The five step process outlined below is one way to approach a business case:
Articulate the business needs associated with an integrated research solution
The reasons why an integrated research solution is needed will differ from organization to organization. However, there are several issues that are commonly seen in companies.
With widespread use of the Internet, users expect streamlined, Google-like search tools with a single search box to be the norm. Research solutions in corporate libraries that conform to this search model are more likely to be used.
Corporate libraries find that offering many different research solutions generates islands of information. This is inefficient for employees and results in low research tool usage.
Offering multiple research platforms means more complex implementations and more costly employee training. As part of the business needs identification, librarians should identify specific business objectives that will be fulfilled by an integrated research solution.
Define the current research knowledge environment
A good first step is to identify where research knowledge currently exists. This should include both inside resources and outside subscriptions. Gather information from employees around two questions: (1) what percentage of their time is spent on search using existing research tools, and (2) what percentage of the time are they unable to find what they need using existing research tools?
Track the tools in a table which captures the information source, status, search effectiveness, number of users, and average time to obtain information.
Information Source Status Search Effectiveness Number of Users Average Time to Obtain Information Institutional Repository Dialog EBSCO Factiva
Identify and prioritize user needs
It is essential to talk with end users about their research needs. Questions to consider include how necessary it is to search across all desired resources with one research interface, how important full-text access is, and whether a simple research tool with one search box is required. Some users may also need features like alerts that identify when new content is available on particular topics.
Create a table which rates existing research tools shows their priority. Rating Scale 1 to 5, 1 is Unimportant and 5 is Essential.
User Group Unified Search Across Multiple Sources Full-Text Access Single Search Box Interface New Content Alerts Marketing Engineering Finance Sales
Evaluate the deployment costs
For the solutions that best meet the high priority user needs identified in Step 3, analyze the total cost of ownership. This should include factors like maintenance costs, platform fees, expenses associated with search customization, etc.
Solution Platform Fees Maintenance Costs Search Customization Fees
Summarize the results and identify the ROI for the top solutions
As discussed earlier, an ROI analysis compares the costs and benefits associated with an activity. To calculate the return on investment for the research solutions that best meet user needs, it is necessary to compare the deployment costs identified in Step 4 with the benefits of each option.
The analysis should incorporate benefits that are easily quantified, as well as ones that are less tangible. For instance, the library team should identify the time savings associated with shorter search times and more productive searches. Cost savings may be derived from reducing the hardware and software expenses for traditional on-site research solutions. Other benefits could be the potential for increased revenues if sales has access to the right information at the right time, as well as product development benefits associated with access to new ideas that spur innovation and collaboration.
EBSCO is a leading database and eBook provider for libraries and other institutions. We provide over 375 full-text and secondary research databases and more than 300,000 eBooks and audiobooks—all available via the EBSCOhost platform or integrated into the library’s own platform. EBSCO’s content serves the research needs of tens of thousands of customers representing millions of end users from K-12 students to public library patrons, from academic, corporate and medical researchers to clinicians and government officials around the world.
EBSCO understands the challenge faced by corporate libraries to illustrate ROI. We have developed several products and interfaces that streamline the content that librarians and their end users need the most. Our newly developed Navigator feature enables librarians to present EBSCO content in a way that encourages usage and optimizes relevant results, by creating custom topic lists to drive research queries. To promote use of all library content, EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) provides a unified index of an institution’s resources within a single, customizable search box allowing users fast, simple access to the library’s full-text content plus deeper indexing and more full-text searching of a higher number of journals and magazines than any other discovery service.
We have found that by simplifying the search process and preventing “islands” of information, end users are not only more likely to use the library’s services. Instead they spend less time searching for the information they need to do their job, and use library resource more willingly and more often. These factors combined with our robust reporting tools will allow you and your administrators to identify library ROI based on time saved, product usage, number of sessions, content downloads, top-used titles, and other metrics.
Lown, C. & Davis, H. (2009, April 1). Are you worth it? What Return on Investment can and can’t tell you about your library. In the Library with the Leadpipe. Retrieved August 13, 2012, from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpi...on-investment/
Mays, R. & Baker, G. (20011, April 29). ROI: Return on Investment. Future Ready 365. Retrieved August 13, 2012, from http://futureready365.sla.org/04/29/...on-investment/
Oakleaf, M. (2010, September). Value of academic libraries: A comprehensive review and report. Association of College and Research Libraries. Retrieved August 13, 2012, from http://www.acrl.ala.org/value
Strouse, R. (2001). Corporate information centers in the year of accountability. Online, 25(4), 86. Retrieved August 13, 2012, from Business Source Corporate Plus.