The Value of the Special Library: Review and Analysis

Article excerpt


In the 1990s, the economic conditions have once again become tighter and less forgiving, with many organizations experiencing slow or no growth, undergoing reorganization and downsizing. In such a climate, for-profit organizations have become leaner, with internal divisions needing to prove their value to the parent organization, demonstrate their ability to rapidly adapt to a changing marketplace, and be quick to grasp new opportunities and reject redundant or inefficient situations. The special library or corporate information center is no exception, and is often under pressure to move out from under the corporate overhead umbrella and into the arena of proving its value and contribution to the corporate whole, worthy of its share of the corporate budget. This value needs to be presented in dollars so that the special library competes fairly with other divisions of a corporation in the eyes of financial controllers and executive management. Blagden and Harrington note loudly that "the trend in all organizations seems to be clear: justify your existence otherwise adequate resources will be difficult to obtain."(1)

This work will review and synthesize published literature concerned with establishing a monetary value for the special library. It will focus on principal methods and attempt to generalize values based on key publications. Two benefits are sought - first, to help support librarians who need to actively demonstrate their library's value to ensure that the special library can meet the organizational information needs with a sufficient budget; and second, to heighten corporate awareness of the monetary value of the special library in order to establish the usefulness and financial benefits of the special library service to the parent organization.

There is continued difficulty in determining the monetary value of a library to its parent organization, rather than simply assigning costs. Valuing the library is a critical part in the overall evaluation of a library and this work will always seek to highlight the dollar value part of an evaluation. Broader consideration of the value of in formation itself and the economics of information are part of the fundamental background of library value, but are beyond the scope of this work.

Matarazzo and Prusak(2) conducted a survey of senior managers at 164 large U.S. corporations about their corporate libraries. Their 1990 survey revealed that over 60% of the managers did not know (or elected not to give) a specific value to their library, which is a disturbing negative indicator of their knowledge of the value of the library. Nevertheless, an alternate selection of interviews of senior managers at firms with "excellent" special libraries or information centers by Matarazzo(3) concludes with "the feeling that information is extremely important and is central to or plays an important role in each firm." (p. 134)

It seems clear that no business will be run on a "feeling" and that sooner or later, clear evidence, in business terms and with monetary values, will be required from library managers to justify the budget portion taken by the special library.

The Literature Search

A search of the published literature was conducted across several databases. These included the ERIC database, the Expanded Academic Index, and Dialog's LISA database (Library and Information Science Abstracts). To try to capture literature which gave insight into technical special libraries and corporate information centers, the ASTI Index (Applied Science and Technology Index), Compendex-Plus (Engineering Index) database, and the NTIS databases (National Technical Information Service) were searched, as well as the Business Index and the National Newspaper Index. In all cases, the literature was screened as far as possible for relevance to this work, specifically the monetary value of special libraries, as distinct from a general evaluation of the special library, though frequently the distinctions are blurred in the literature. …