The Medical Library Association Benchmarking Network: Development and Implementation*
Dudden, Rosalind Farnam, Corcoran, Kate, Kaplan, Janice, Magouirk, Jeff, et al., Journal of the Medical Library Association
Objective: This article explores the development and implementation of the Medical Library Association (MLA) Benchmarking Network from the initial idea and test survey, to the implementation of a national survey in 2002, to the establishment of a continuing program in 2004. Started as a program for hospital libraries, it has expanded to include other nonacademic health sciences libraries.
Methods: The activities and timelines of MLA's Benchmarking Network task forces and editorial board from 1998 to 2004 are described.
Results: The Benchmarking Network task forces successfully developed an extensive questionnaire with parameters of size and measures of library activity and published a report of the data collected by September 2002. The data were available to all MLA members in the form of aggregate tables. Utilization of Web-based technologies proved feasible for data intake and interactive display. A companion article analyzes and presents some of the data. MLA has continued to develop the Benchmarking Network with the completion of a second survey in 2004.
Conclusions: The Benchmarking Network has provided many small libraries with comparative data to present to their administrators. It is a challenge for the future to convince all MLA members to participate in this valuable program.
Historically, hospital and other special library members of the Medical Library Association (MLA) have had neither the organization nor the impetus to gather ongoing statistics on their activities. Such statistics could be used to compare services, establish best practices, make management decisions, or conduct research projects. Local and regional surveys have been done in the past and sporadically reported in the literature . In 1986, the Hospital Libraries Section (HLS) created a Task Force on Hospital Library Statistics to "collect, synthesize and make available statistics on hospital libraries nationwide" . It became apparent, however, that it would be too costly an undertaking for HLS to do a survey. This activity inspired the American Hospital Association (AHA) librarians to push for a survey of hospital libraries. AHA agreed to do this as part of its annual survey in 1990 . AHA survey results reported the type of services in hospital libraries but not any measures of activity of those services. In 1991, the continuing HLS Task Force on Hospital Library Statistics reported on the cooperation with the AHA survey and their activity with other MLA committees in submitting a grant proposal to the National Library of Medicine to create a database of libraries in the health sciences that "stressed the continuity of collection and maintenance of statistics pertinent to health sciences libraries" . While the grant was approved in February 1991, it was never funded.
The development of MLA standards for hospital libraries in 1984, 1994, and 2000 pointed out the need for better statistics for hospital libraries to better identify and present best practices [5-8]. Concurrent with this ongoing need, the new technologies of the microcomputer and the Web developed. Also, in the late 1990s, health care economic forces caused many hospital libraries to be closed. The development and implementation of the MLA Benchmarking Network came about at the intersection of these needs, economics, and new technologies.
The MLA Benchmarking Network was born in an environment of managed care. During the last decade of the twentieth century, the health care industry, especially the hospital sector, was transformed by marketplace factors. Because of managed care's emphasis on cost control, many hospitals embraced plans for merger as a strategy to decrease costs [9, 10]. It was reported that in 1996 a record number of 768 hospitals merged . As more hospitals merged, many departments were consolidated across hospitals.
This departmental consolidation trend affected hospital libraries. …