Advocating for Library Workers During Uncertain Times series introduction:
The recent public health situation has created much uncertainty for higher education funding. Libraries are finding themselves in increasingly more complex fiscal situations, with layoffs, furloughs, and budget reductions being announced and anticipated. In this three-part series on Advocating for Library Workers During Uncertain Times, library leaders from institutions of all sizes discuss practical strategies for engaging campus administrators in conversations that emphasize the importance of supporting library employees and the critical work they are doing for their students and organizations. Additional information is available in the recording of our recent ACRL Presents webcast.
In our second post. Devin Savage, Dean of Libraries at the Illinois Institute of Technology, discusses "Collecting and Presenting Meaningful Library Impact Data." Contact Devin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collecting and Presenting Meaningful Library Impact Data
There are a number of ways to collect and present data, and having an understanding of the mission of one’s parent institution is a good first step in starting any data-based advocacy project. If there are goals related to community engagement, research excellence, or distinctive scholarship, then the argument and the data I provide will need to speak to the priorities of the institution. My institution is focused on student success, so I have utilized data from both national and local studies of library services and resources correlated to student retention, achievement, and/or graduation rates. This is a difficult topic, and I only hope to briefly share my own musings here on the different ways I try to use data as evidence in an attempt to advocate for the good of my institution and my workforce.
These are some of the different types of arguments and data usage that I employ in regards to advocacy at my workforce.
Benchmarking comparison: Statistics from the IPEDS, ACRL, and/or ARL surveys can be very useful to demonstrate your library’s relative strengths and weaknesses. I have made arguments based on a group of peer institutions whose average numbers are relatively similar to my own, or even better, relatively similar with a notable difference in the area of average salary or FTE numbers.
Status elevation or maintenance: In the past, I have used comparison of statistics from ARL, ACRL, IPEDS, etc. against either a group of aspirational peers (“look how close we are!”) or realistic peers (“look how close we are to dropping out”). One good follow-up to this argument could be having status-raising job descriptions at the ready to either add, to migrate, or to protect.
Meeting rising demands: Although this is a time where almost every sector of higher education is being asked to tighten its belts, I want to exploit every opportunity to preserve and eventually restore our capacity. Data from service statistics, and student and faculty surveys and/or focus groups are the best sources to use to make these arguments.
Seizing opportunities offered by rising revenue: If I become aware of increased institutional funds from tuition, endowment, etc., I can take a look at the library’s budget as a percentage of the university’s overall budget (available through IPEDS). If my library expenditures are on the low end of a 2-4% range of that total, I may have an argument that my library is underfunded and will have capacity issues for supporting the institution.
Alignment with strategic priorities: My institution also values research excellence, so I like to have good data on hand regarding Institutional Repository use and support, data regarding interdisciplinary collaborations, and even plain old collections use data. I do need to connect this data to the people doing the work, as providing a human face can go a long way in helping a story to land, and making data meaningful – i.e. “It’s not just that thousands of objects were digitized to demonstrate our unique and distinctive history to the world, thousands of objects were processed by Claire’s team, who is really positioned to achieve some great things, if we can continue to support her.”
Financial responsibility: This is all about having a good sense of expenditures you may be saving from breakage, and providing examples of fiscal discipline in other areas may be a good way of building political capital and trust in advance. However, if I run a tight budget but the pain of that austerity isn’t known, my belt-tightening may become taken for granted.
Library expertise: I must articulate what the library staff is uniquely able to provide, in order to save time, expenses, and/or resources. Interlibrary loan, research consultations, digitization, archival research, etc. all should provide significant statistics that demonstrate demand, and technical activities to make available electronic resources is extremely valuable in an online or hybrid environment.
Finally, as I value context, I have to remind myself to communicate succinctly and put a summary of my proposals up front with clear and simple visuals. These are some of the ways that I use existing data, or data sourced specifically for a particular project, to demonstrate the impact of the library and its workforce on campus.