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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Evaluating the Success of Academic Libraries in an Evolving Landscape

Academic libraries have traditionally played a central role in supporting higher education institutions' teaching, learning, and research activities. 

Over the last 15-20 years, however, the landscape has changed dramatically, with rapid advancements in technology, shifting user preferences, and the expanding roles of libraries within higher education. As the information environment evolves, academic libraries must adapt their strategies and services to maintain their value to stakeholders and the academic community. 

A critical component of this adaptation involves reevaluating the metrics used to measure the success of these essential institutions. Understanding how libraries have historically measured their success and identifying ways to update these measures to reflect their role and effectiveness is crucial for ensuring the continued provision of meaningful and relevant services in an ever-changing landscape.

Traditional Success Metrics in Academic Libraries

Traditional Metrics of Success

Over the past fifteen to twenty years, academic libraries have used various metrics to gauge their success. These metrics have primarily fallen into two categories: input and output measures.

Traditional success metrics often need to capture the full scope of the services and resources provided by modern academic libraries. Historically, academic libraries have relied on quantitative measures such as collection size, circulation statistics, gate counts, reference transactions, and library expenditures to assess their performance. 

For example, they may need to adequately account for digital resources, online services, and collaborative spaces that have become increasingly important in recent years.

Additionally, these metrics prioritize quantitative data over qualitative information, which can lead to an incomplete understanding of how well the library meets the diverse needs of its users and the broader academic community.

  • Collection size:

The library's number of physical and digital resources, such as books, journals, and multimedia.

  • Circulation statistics:

The frequency of resource borrowing and usage.

  • Reference transactions:

The number of interactions between librarians and users to provide research assistance.

  • Instruction sessions: 

The number of library-led workshops or training sessions.

These traditional measures have been crucial for several reasons:

These measures have been necessary for demonstrating the libraries' value to stakeholders, such as university administrators, funding bodies, and accreditation agencies. 

And have also served as indicators of the libraries' commitment to providing robust collections and services to meet the needs of their users.


Quantitative metrics allow libraries to explain their value and justify budget allocations to university administrations and funding agencies.


Libraries can compare their performance against similar institutions, enabling them to identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.


Metrics guide collection development, staffing, and service provision by helping libraries understand user needs and preferences.

Input Measures

Input measures focus on the resources invested in the library, including:

  • Budget allocations

  • Collection size

  • Staff numbers

These measures have been necessary for understanding the level of financial support and resource allocation the library receives, which can impact its ability to provide comprehensive services.

Output Measures

Output measures track the results produced by the library, including:

  • Circulation statistics,

  • Reference transactions

  • Library instruction sessions

These metrics have been essential for assessing the immediate impact of library services on users and their perceived value by the academic community.

The Need for New Measures

Standard input and output measures have been valuable in understanding the resources and services provided by academic libraries. However, these metrics have limitations in capturing the evolving roles of these institutions within the broader intellectual landscape, particularly in light of the technological advancements that have transformed libraries over time.

Historically, libraries have transitioned from primarily physical spaces, housing print materials and focusing on in-person services to digital resources and technology. This shift began with the introduction of computerized library systems and the digitization of catalog records in the late 20th century. The advent of the internet and the proliferation of electronic resources, such as e-books and digital databases, further accelerated this transformation.

As libraries evolve from repositories of physical materials to information creation and dissemination hubs, it becomes increasingly important to accurately gauge their success using measures that reflect these changes. The rapid advancements in digital technology, the growing reliance on electronic resources, and the evolving roles of libraries necessitate the adoption of new success metrics that consider the following aspects:

  • Emphasizing the user-centric approach:

  • New metrics prioritize the needs and experiences of library users, ensuring that libraries remain relevant and responsive to their communities.

  • Capturing qualitative dimensions: 

  • Evaluating library services and resources based on user satisfaction, learning outcomes, and research impact provides a more nuanced understanding of the library's value.

  • Personalized services: 

  • By evaluating user satisfaction and preferences, libraries can tailor their services to serve individual needs better.

  • Research impact: 

  • Measuring the library's role in supporting and enhancing faculty research productivity and quality.

  • Learning outcomes: 

  • Assessing the library's contribution to developing students' information literacy and critical thinking skills.

  • Community engagement: 

  • Evaluating the library's outreach efforts and partnerships with various stakeholders within and beyond the academic community.

  • Support for research and learning: 

  • By assessing learning outcomes and research impact, libraries can continually refine their instructional programs, workshops, and research support services.

  • Digital Resource Usage:

  • As digital resources become increasingly important, measuring their usages, such as e-book downloads and database access, can provide a more accurate picture of the library's role in the digital age.

  • Technological Infrastructure:

  • Assessing the library's technological infrastructure, including hardware, software, and network capabilities, can help determine how effectively it adapts to technological advancements and serves its users in an increasingly digital environment.

  • Digital Literacy and Support: 

  • Evaluating the library's efforts to promote digital literacy through workshops, tutorials, and other support services, can demonstrate its commitment to empowering users in the digital age.

  • Online Services and User Experience:

  • Analyzing the quality and effectiveness of online services, such as virtual reference, digital repositories, and user-friendly interfaces, can offer insights into how well the library is meeting users' needs in a digital context.

  • Collaborative Initiatives

  • By measuring community engagement, libraries can build strategic partnerships and expand their reach to serve diverse populations and address societal challenges.

  • Participation in interdisciplinary research, partnerships with other institutions, and community outreach programs can demonstrate the library's commitment to fostering collaboration and engagement beyond its walls.

The Benefits of Adopting New Metrics

By adopting these new success metrics, academic libraries can more effectively demonstrate their impact on users and the broader academic community. In addition, these measures provide a more comprehensive understanding of the library's role in supporting research, teaching, and learning and its ability to adapt to changing user needs and preferences.

By adopting new success metrics that account for the technological history and ongoing evolution of libraries, academic institutions can better assess the impact and effectiveness of their libraries in the digital age, ensuring their continued relevance and value to the academic community.


Coffee Please!