ROI in Academic Libraries

In the current climate of economic downturn, ROI is a way for libraries to assess and evaluate the value of e-collections. Libraries are pressured with an increasing need to account for the money that is being allocated towards their collections and services, and to prove that what is being purchased is actually being used. Return on Investment is a way for libraries to “quantify” the value of these collections. While prices for library services are increasing, academic institutions are looking closer and closer at the ways in which academic libraries are using their budgets. Carol Tenopir looks at these issue on her article on ROI in academic libraries: “The value gap occurs when the cost of library collections and services increases over time, while the perceived value declines” (Tenopir 2010, 40).

Tenopir reports that ARL libraries have begun a major project to determine better ways of looking at ROI in academic libraries. While public libraries have many ways to study ROI, academic libraries are just getting started and have not yet adapted the necessary tools for an adequate ROI process. ARL statistics are being collected and analyzed internationally. The University of Illinois started this case study by looking at “the value of the library in the grants process through proposals, the return in grant funding, and grants reporting” which will allow them to see a definable source of library income and how it impacts library budgets (Tenopir 2010, 40). The project will continue to look at grants among more institutions and then, finally, look at other sources that show libraries’ return on investment.

Tenopir concludes: “What we hope to show as the studies progress is that the library’s products and services help faculty be successful, help students be successful, and generate both immediate and downstream income that provides good return for the investment” (Tenopir 2010, 46). When I first heard of ROI, I was almost offended. When purchasing collections and databases for the library, the immediate need and use is not always quantifiable. After further reading, I don’t think that ROI is a bad thing and I think Tenopir explains why very adequately with her conclusion. We are spending large amounts of money for these products, which does in turn affect our services. Why spend money on collections that are not enhancing services to our patrons? I think that ROI is probably a good means of proving the effectiveness of our spending, and is a good way to prove to administration and other library funding services that what the library has to offer is creating a wide and immediate impact. Perhaps in an era where we don’t have to pinch pennies, this wouldn’t be as important. But in today’s academic atmosphere, ROI could become an important tool in proving the importance of the budgets allocated to the library.


Tenopir, Carol. 2010. “Measuring the Value of the Academic Library: Return on Investment and Other Value Measures.” Serials Librarian 58, no. 1-4: 39-48. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2015).