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Librarians Demonstrating Value

By Erica Anderson, Research Librarian, Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Canada

Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Canada

When I first agreed to write about the topic of librarians “demonstrating value” for my local law librarian association I have to admit that I didn’t really know what it meant, and the more I researched it the more the definition of value seemed to slip from my grasp.  How do you demonstrate what is impossible to define? Well after some reading, reading and more reading, a few ideas bubbled to the surface. Those ideas are offered in an article that I wrote for the Toronto Association of Law Libraries’ TALL Quarterly, Winter 2011 issue. I hope these ideas, and the summary below, adds to the Library of the European Parliament’s exploration of the value of Parliamentary libraries.

Show Me the Money

When we think of value we often equate it with money. There is a history of libraries trying out business quantitative value measurement techniques like “return-on-investment (ROI),” and seeing how much their services are worth in monetary terms. However, these numbers could easily be ignored by stakeholders, and even do more harm than good by representing all that hard work in a single unimpressive number. It is more important to understand what is important to the user – what defines success to them and how can librarians contribute to that? Statistics and numbers should be carefully chosen to show how they support the user’s goals.

It’s All Relative

Parliamentary libraries are not immune from the cultural shift in information and austerity measures around the world, so the Library of the European Parliament blog’s exploration of value is critical. A look at other kinds of libraries may inform this exploration. The ACRL report Value of Academic Libraries reveals that academic libraries are all serving universities with very different goals, and successful academic libraries are strategically aligning their services with the particular goals of their institution. Similarly, a Parliamentary library should align their services with the goals of the Parliament. To this end the Ontario Legislative Library is taking a close look at how the library, research, information management, and information technology departments can work together to better serve the goals of the Members and Parliament. This process has just begun with a reorganization to find new areas of collaboration between previously separate departments.

Perception is Reality

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario Coat of Arms

Librarians could learn from the world of marketing. Marketing creates value in the minds of customers by striving for something beyond costs and numbers; it is communicating a vision, a dream. Libraries have long relied on the public’s goodwill towards them and the general understanding of libraries’ “societal benefits.”  This vision has served libraries well;  and by all means let’s use it while it works, but the reality is changing. Information is readily available beyond library walls, and so there is an opportunity now to reinvent this vision.

With shrinking physical book collections the challenge remains to imprint a vision of libraryless librarians on the wider world.  Without those warehouses of books how do users perceive this new vision of librarians? Reinvention is not a straight-forward task, but librarians are forging these new paths already – by teaching, digitizing, and creating unique resources and websites. They are integrated or embedded in the users’ workflow, analyzing information and creating information maps.

Integrated Librarians

Locally, the University of Toronto, Bora Laskin Law Library librarians are co-teaching, or embedded, in the law school legal research course, giving the librarians visibility and cementing them in the workflow of the students and faculty. The embedded librarian concept is also popping up in law firms where librarians are situated near lawyer’s offices in the various practice areas. At the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Research Officers (part of the Library and Research Services) are members of legislative Committees and have traditionally held this “embedded” role in the Committee workflow. One way Legislative Library librarians integrate into Members’ work, and still maintain their non-partisan role, is by taking an active role training Members and their offices. Librarians are also working in other areas of the Parliament permanently and on secondment – in the fields of information management, information technology, digital publishing and Hansard (recording the debates). Librarian skills are in demand beyond the library walls.

Shout It Out

Librarians are speaking out and shaping the new digital information world. In addition to these service innovations it is also important to advocate librarians’ value;  every librarian should be prepared to tell their own personal story of value to their organization and beyond.  When librarians at the Legislative Library of Ontario introduce themselves or provide training to Members we make sure to tell an individual story of how our work supports the Member’s office, rather than giving a generic description of our jobs.

One thing that I take away from my research is that the best definition of value is the one that matters to your clients. This strategic alignment of user and library goals, reinforced with vision, visibility and advocacy will help Parliamentary libraries to demonstrate value.

Erica loves social media for making the world a smaller more interesting place, and she cautiously tweets, blogs and generally exposes her life on various social media platforms so as not to embarrass her husband and two young sons or her extraordinary place of work where she is a Research Librarian at the Legislative Library, Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
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