Valuing Corporate Libraries: A Senior Management Survey

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Valuing Corporate Libraries: A Senior Management Survey

Background and Methodology

The Special Libraries Association, in a report from its Task Force on the Value of the Information Professional, highlighted a need for additional research on how the corporate world values its libraries and information centers. Specifically, the Task Force recommended a further study of the value placed by upper-level executives on both the information professional and the corporate library/information center. This study was conducted in response to that recommendation.

The survey focused on two needs: to enhance the body of research on how work traditionally associated with special libraries is valued, and to identify emerging trends for special libraries. The questions posed to corporate officials were selected to shed new light on these subjects across a broad spectrum of the United States' business and industry. Hopefully, the findings will assist corporate librarians in formulating plans and strategies.

In conducting the survey, we followed an approach different from that commonly found in today's self-referential professional literature. That is, rather than interview the librarians, we interviewed those individuals to whom the head of the library reports. These corporate officials represented various functions and have different titles. The most common functions reported were finance and administration, marketing, and information services. Titles ranged from manager to senior vice president. Only two of the interviewees had any library experience or library education, an interesting fact in itself.

The survey sample of 164 companies was developed by the authors from an analysis of contributions by the for-profit sector to the gross national product (GNP). Selected firms, chosen by the size of the firm or by its importance to a specific industry, thus represented significant contributors to the major sectors of the U.S. gross national product. The process also gave us a sample representative of United States business while avoiding undue concentration on "information intensive" industries or, conversely, on struggling industries with libraries under obvious survival pressures. As noted in the appendix to the report, the interview list developed has a range and balance that reflect adequately the scope of businesses in the Unit-ed States.

The study focused on larger companies because they were judged as more likely to have fully functioning libraries and to have had these services for a reasonable period of time. We selected this approach because we wanted thoughtful and seasoned commentary from those interviewed.

Our expectations were met. Because the executives interviewed must frequently justify the libraries to senior management or to a board of directors, many already had given some though to our questions and were well prepared to answer them. Their responses focused on issues of library organization, staff sizes, values of services and staff, primary users, and ways to measure a library's value. Trends projected for future roles also have been summarized.

Library Service Organization

The libraries in the 164 companies follow no common organizational scheme, although use of a central library, in some form, proved most typical. Of the libraries surveyed, 31 percent have a central library with satellites, 24 percent maintain a central library only, and 20 percent support a central library with an archieve. On the other hand, 21 percent of the corporations surveyed reported only satellite libraries, and 5 percent have libraries serving a small unit or individual in the organization or collecting specific forms of literature.

Size of Staff

Staff sizes at these special libraries clearly tend to be small. The majority (55 percent) have staffs of five full-time equivalents or fewer. Another 21 percent of the libraries in our sample have staffs of five to ten full-time equivalents. …