The Medical Library Association Benchmarking Network: Results*

Article excerpt

Objective: This article presents some limited results from the Medical Library Association (MLA) Benchmarking Network survey conducted in 2002. Other uses of the data are also presented.

Methods: After several years of development and testing, a Web-based survey opened for data input in December 2001. Three hundred eighty-five MLA members entered data on the size of their institutions and the activities of their libraries. The data from 344 hospital libraries were edited and selected for reporting in aggregate tables and on an interactive site in the Members-Only area of MLANET. The data represent a 16% to 23% return rate and have a 95% confidence level.

Results: Specific questions can be answered using the reports. The data can be used to review internal processes, perform outcomes benchmarking, retest a hypothesis, refute a previous survey findings, or develop library standards. The data can be used to compare to current surveys or look for trends by comparing the data to past surveys.

Conclusions: The impact of this project on MLA will reach into areas of research and advocacy. The data will be useful in the everyday working of small health sciences libraries as well as provide concrete data on the current practices of health sciences libraries.


The need to report the activities of nonacademic health sciences libraries by gathering statistics has been discussed since the early 1980s. Various regional efforts have taken place [1], but the actual measures of activity have not been reported for a national survey since 1972 [2]. The development and implementation of the Medical Library Association (MLA) Benchmarking Network is reviewed in a companion article [3]. This development has now produced the first set of statistical measures of library activity in one class of nonacademic libraries, the hospital library. Efforts of the initiative have expanded to other types of libraries. This paper reports the results of the Benchmarking Network 2002 survey and demonstrates various uses of the data.


In an economic climate of managed care and cost cutting in health care, hospital libraries have come under pressure to cut their programs. Some libraries have been eliminated altogether. In 1999, the MLA Board formed the Benchmarking Task Force to develop a way to assist libraries nationwide in gathering comparative statistics. This effort involved many teams and many volunteer hours on the part of MLA members and specific cost outlays in terms of staff and contracts by the association, as reviewed in Dudden [3].


In the summer and fall of 2001 and during the data entry period, all MLA members were asked to submit their data unless their data were included in the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) survey [4, 5]. The Web-based data entry form was open for data collection between December 15, 2001, and March 4, 2002, in the Members-Only section of the MLANET Website. The questionnaire was developed starting in 1999 and beta-tested by seventythree members during a four-month period in early 2001.

A total of 385 MLA members submitted data via the Web. Participants were from each of the fourteen MLA chapters. Thirteen participants were eliminated because they provided no data in the measures section. Two were eliminated because they were AAHSL libraries. Twenty-six more were excluded because they were not hospital libraries. Eight libraries were from research institutions and 18 from other types of special health sciences libraries. Because these libraries had no bed size or other parameters of size comparable to hospital libraries, the team decided to restrict the analysis to hospital libraries, leaving 344 participants. While there is no definitive source for the number of hospital libraries in the United States and Canada, 3 estimates were located. Wakeley reported 2,167 hospital libraries in 1990, which would mean a 16% return [6]. …