Demonstrating Your Value

This article is an adapted excerpt from “Practical Tips to Help You Prove Your Value” by Amelia Kassel,Marketing Library Service 16, no. 4 (May/June 2002),

During recent years, information professionals in many settings have had to learn new skills and competencies not taught in graduate school, yet nevertheless necessary for most productive relationships, and even for survival. Significantly, many librarians now ask and talk about strategic and proactive measures that both create and prove value for their organizations.

Deconstructing ROI

Many of you may have heard the term ROI in your work context or in analyses of how businesses decide how they will invest internally. ROI means Return on Investment, and it is something managers want to understanding when they’re spending a large part of their budget and deciding how to allocate funding. With a strong focus on the bottom line, managers may be forced to have less emotional attachment to the various operations they oversee and are willing, or even anxious, to jettison a unit that doesn’t contribute in a tangible way …

Calculating the return-on-investment is simply a ratio comparing the cost data (budget, user time spent, other direct costs, etc.) with the financial benefits (user time saved, savings in consolidated buying, savings in direct costs, etc.). When the financial benefits outweigh the costs, a positive ROI is proven. To demonstrate how your actions contribute to a positive ROI, you must understand your own library’s culture and the larger culture that supports the library. This is of critical significance since the library may be asked to align its internal measurement efforts for ROI with larger strategic initiatives.

Saving money and time are ways that library workers contribute to ROI. The key is to be able to quantify your contribution, in the contexts of:

  • Services your customers value, as gleaned from user surveys

  • Financial goals of your library

  • Community/Federal issues the might affect future funding

Here are ways you save money, and affect your library or organization’s ROI by reducing the costs and increasing the benefits:

  • Fulfilling customer needs, thus saving them time (measured in hours and dollars)

  • Performing research

  • Training customers

  • Centralizing book ordering

  • Consulting about resources and techniques

  • Managing your Web presence

  • Partnering with other groups to provide services that save them time and costs

  • Centralizing corporate licenses

  • Making important resources available across the enterprise

  • Becoming a contract aggregator within the organization

  • Reinventing the library, its image, and services (for example, virtual library centers)

Tips for Being More Proactive

Once you know what you want to measure, determine valid and defensible ways to measure, and quantify how your work has an impact on the proverbial bottom line, it’s necessary to communicate the information to the powers that be. The skills, products, and services you provide often speak for themselves, at least when you’re preaching to the choir, but communicating your worth to managers, funders, trustees, and users is the final step. Ideas for proactive communication are listed below, many of which you may already be using. Please note that all ideas are not applicable in every situation, but there may be parallels.

  • Know and relate to influencers, decision makers, consultants, and strategic planners in your firm.

  • Monitor areas of research you can provide.

  • Call or e-mail clients regularly.

  • Pull together information clients require without their asking.

  • Make visits to offices, sites, and the cafeteria.

  • Go to functions hosted by, honoring, or relevant to your library.

  • Develop new employee orientations, letters of welcome, and packets explaining the great resources and services you offer.

  • Provide an organized plan with specific goals.

  • When you see something that is of interest to someone you know, alert him or her.

  • Track and monitor topics and competitors for your services.

  • Give potential users and clients what they didn’t know they needed.

  • Give up the old things like routing journals, maintaining collections.

  • Meet managers’ information needs for due diligence, company/competitor backgrounds, financial services, marketing and public relations, and human relations.

  • Cultivate relationships with administrative assistants who know what’s going on before anyone else.

  • Create time for planning new products and services.

  • Evaluate your and your organization’s core competencies.

  • Create time to network and learn as much about the organization as possible.

  • Who are the winners? Focus on them. Build relationships.

  • Some institutions reassign workers: If you are interested in applying your skill set in other environments, talk to everyone you can about how you do your job, how they do theirs, and what resources you offer.

  • Evaluate statistics.

  • Use soft data, such as testimonials, to express the library’s value.

  • Develop reports based on constituents’ priorities.

You Should Always Stay a Step Ahead

It may be necessary for you to think outside of your walls about the larger goals of your funders and users and brainstorm about ways to concentrate some of your individual expertise and resources to help them meet those goals. And be sure to communicate what you are doing! Your work may even act as a prototype or model group within a city/organization/institution. Others are thinking about what to do; librarians do it!