How do I really know my library sucks?
March 3, 2011 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Academic library standards and/or benchmarks, what are they, where are they??

I am looking for benchmark data for academic (college) libraries in the United States. Something along the lines of these made up examples:

1 librarian = poor
3 librarians = fair
4 librarians = good
5 librarians = optimal

10 books/FTE = poor
25 books/FTE = fair
40 books/FTE = good
60 books/FTE = optimal

I am interested in benchmarks for 4-year public colleges with FTEs of 4,100, and highest degree granted is bachelors.

I have a lot of raw data and averages. But I want to qualify it.
posted by wandering_not_lost to Education (7 answers total)
I don't think you're going to find anything that clear-cut. As far as I know, the Association of College and Research Libraries Standards (which you can take a look at here) mostly ask things like "How does this library compare to its peers?" So libraries will make reports like this one from Morehead State, comparing themselves with other college libraries in their "market", for lack of a better term.

The regional accrediting body that your college is accredited by may also have some guidelines.
posted by mskyle at 4:45 PM on March 3, 2011

How are you defining librarian? People with MLS?MLIS?

Are you going to break it down by librarians' roles? As a reference/instruction librarian I'd be curious to know ratios for ref/instruction to student.

The other complication is that some smaller colleges may have a variety of connections with larger ones. I'm at a small 4 yr state college- 1,500. FTE. We share some database subscriptions with other public colleges in the state. The main state university library also provides some collection development. How do you break that down?
posted by mareli at 4:48 PM on March 3, 2011

Librarians are not terribly big on saying 'X is poor and X+N is optimal.' Rankings tend to be more implicit. Thus, I do not think that already crunched data like that exists, not in the form that you are looking for. Some data may be found through outside sources--especially, as mskyle suggested, accreditation bodies--but from the profession itself? I doubt it, but will be watching this question in case I am proven wrong.

Worth checking out, in addition to ACRL, is ARL. Even academic libraries (such as my own) which are not members report statistics to ARL. The ARL data does have some tables that classify high, medium, and low for certain categories (including number of books, though putting that into a ratio against FTE would have to be done by you) and you could start your benchmarking from there.

Our other major reporting body is NCES. You could use the Compare Libraries tool to look at various libraries, and this does rank by staff/FTE (note that this is STAFF, which intermingles professional folk such as librarians with MLIS/MLS, with paraprofessional folk, who generally do not have that degree). You'd have to build comparison tables, though, or use their raw data if you don't already have it.

Finally, I should note that *public* bachelors-granting institutions with an FTE of less than 5000 are not thick on the ground (you note an FTE of 4100 exactly--did you mean to indicate an FTE of 4100 and BELOW? those two numbers are quite different). Carnegie classes such schools as M4NR (/R/HR) and there's a maximum of 248 schools according to a quick and dirty search (and you'd have to knock most of them off the list because their FTE is much higher than 4100). I'd be surprised if it took that long to crunch the numbers yourself.
posted by librarylis at 5:15 PM on March 3, 2011

Oh jeez, I forgot to talk about peer institutions, which is basically what mskyle is talking about. I would suggest ranking your library (which you seem quite adversarial about, judging by your post title) as compared to your university's peer institutions' libraries. That's a lot less data and you've got the peer institutions already laid out for you and half your work's done.
posted by librarylis at 5:22 PM on March 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.

I have statistics from ACRL and can roll my own comparison, but it will be based on averages, not whether those averages are good or bad. I am looking for something more black and white, since that is was administrators like.

I would rank my library with other libraries at my university, but this library is unique (or odd). The university's libraries are either community college libraries or doctoral granting libraries. The school my library is at only grants bachelor degrees and lower (associate, certificates). So there is no valid comparison.

Other university library directors have said our library is way understaffed. I agree. But our administration is asking how do you prove that? What are the standards? Who is to say that the average library is not overstaffed?

Also I made and error, our FTE is 1800, our body count is 4100.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 5:33 PM on March 3, 2011

Hmm. I confess that I do not totally understand your update--this sentence, "The university's libraries are either community college libraries or doctoral granting libraries," in particular baffles me--but I dug around a little more and wonder if this will help (you may have already tried this path, so forgive me, but I'm unsure how else you would get this data).

If you use the Carnegie Classifications, given your revised FTE and looking at primarily non-residential (I'm assuming you've got a mostly commuter campus), you get 68 results. Some of those are associates/bachelors mixes (Carnegie has this data in the listings).

Cross that with NCES' Library Comparison Tool, which has a category I missed the first time ("Librarians and Other Professional Staff Per 1,000 FTE Students") and also has data on books etc. ("Books, Serial Backfiles, Other Paper Materials Per FTE Student") and you can easily generate a list of libraries including your own and do some comparison charting. I honestly thinking rolling your own would be the best thing you could do in this instance. A chart listing X number of similar-in-FTE and degrees-granted libraries (20?) with your library ranked would seem to be a smart way to go about it.

FWIW, when I looked into it, it seemed like the average number of library staff for universities with your FTE was around 6, with 2-3 librarians being standard.

"Who is to say that the average library is not overstaffed?" is essentially bullshit and I would say you could diplomatically call them out on it and provide academic literature to back yourself up. In this climate, university administrations (and especially library administrations) are very conscious about using what 'salary savings' they can to plug in holes in their budgets so excess staff positions are quickly cut or more likely not filled when people leave. By the same token, this isn't the best time to be asking for more staff positions, as I'm sure you know.
posted by librarylis at 7:03 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Peer institutions were really helpful to me, in this kind of question. I asked my academic department for their peer institutions, and then compared our library to those libraries, and was able to say "the faculty want to be at this level, and we're way the heck down here. Do you hate our faculty?"

This is most useful if your academic department has true peer institutions. There are some departments who will only say that their peer is MIT or Harvard, in which case a comparison is less meaningful.

I'll just throw this out there, in terms of increasing staff: if you can run some sort of campus survey asking people what new services they want, you can then point out that if you had XYZ staff you could provide ABC services. That has helped us maybe 7% of the time at my institution.
posted by lillygog at 5:23 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

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