In October 2013 the American Association of Law Libraries issued a Request for Proposal  seeking consultants to deliver a report on the economic value of law libraries. The RFP specifically stated that “When complete,
the report should offer law librarians and the institutions and businesses they
serve important metrics (italics
added) that can help them calculate the
return on investment law libraries provide. AALL set the bar high. I and many
others in the organization expected a report that delivered actual ROI
metrics.  The final Economic Value of Law Libraries report is 42 pages
long. It does not attempt to calculate the value of law libraries or law librarians at all.
 AALL leaders previously indicated that one
of the key reasons for selecting the HBR consulting firm was that they were
well known to the legal community and therefore the metrics delivered in the “value
report” would have credibility with law firm partners and  law school deans. Unfortunately this report
contains no data which would ever be shared beyond the members of
AALL. In fact the report is devoid of “important metrics.”

If the Australians Could do it…?In April 2014 a consortium of Australian  Library
organizations including the Australian Law Library Association hired a consultant SGS Economics and Planning which, developed a
methodology and then conducted surveys which actually generated a  financial metric on the value. According to
their study  Putting A Value on Priceless, the ROI of information resources and services is $5.43 for every
dollar invested.

What Kind of
Report is This?
  I am still puzzled.  It
is too simplistic to be called a blueprint. It is really a collection of rubrics
and best practices for a “do it yourself” project. The recommendations in this
report simply validate the kind of advice that is routinely given in management
programs at the AALL annual conference: “Align yourself with your
organizations strategy,” ”adjust your message to your audience,” “ determine
your stakeholders communication preferences,” “don’t use library jargon when
speaking to management.”   We needed a consultant to tell us that? The
only thing report does is to validate common sense and good management
practices with some stakeholder data.

What this Report is Not. Many of us already collect sophisticated service metrics. What we needed was a tool or a formula  or a methodology for converting that data into a dollar value. The report doesn’t deliver anything at that level of sophistication. The report is a theoretical narrative which is short on math and statistical analysis. The report doesn’t follow one of it’s own quantitative recommendations:

“Go beyond the mere measurement of activities and utilize
methods that measure and demonstrate success or impact on organizational

This report never moves from measurement to methodology or impact.  

One size does not fit all. The biggest flaw that
becomes apparent in reading the report is that the 3 major constituencies in
AALL: private firm, academic and Government/court law libraries operate in drastically
different environments supporting stakeholders with dramatically different
support needs and service expectations. All of the data provided in the report aggregates
the responses from all 3 types of organizations. The institutional  differences invalidate the aggregated
responses. For example, the aggregated data indicate that “business
development” activities are not highly valued. Anyone who works in a law firm
will disagree with that assessment. But two thirds of the respondents work in environments
(academic and Government/Court) where this type of service has no meaning.  Unfortunately there is no attempt to report
data based on organization type.

The report
suggests that  since there was no easy way
to measure value across all organization types, HBR and the committee threw up their
hands and decided not to try. They use these known differences as an  excuse for not delivering a real ROI metric.  I don’t buy that. They could have and
should have been able to develop 
methodologies and metrics for individual types of organizations. If it
could not have been done all at once, AALL should have allowed the Academic,
Private Firm and Government and Court Library SIS’s to work with HBR or another
consultant to develop a custom study  for
each type of organization. Maybe that needs to happen in the future.

These flaws were completely foreseeable  and  I would
have expected a prestigious organization like HBR to recommend a survey
methodology to  overcome this kind of
problem. That issue should have been obvious at the time they responded to the

Do it Yourself? Really? The bottom line is that AALL and
HBR have produced a report that says “we couldn’t figure out how to measure
your value – we hope you have better luck on your own.“ Given the  reduced staff and time pressures we all face,
this is an absurd recommendation.  Of
course we will all continue to try to hone our own metrics but we expected
a  report that reached well beyond what
we are able to do as individuals. We expected AALL and HBR to do some heavy
lifting and instead they have passed the problem back to the members. 

I do not
disagree with many of the report’s recommendations… I simply disagree that they delivered the
kind of report that was needed and expected by many members… especially members who have already undertaken
the kind of initiatives and activities recommended in the report.

Who Needs To Read This Report If you have never attended an AALL conference  and if you don’t  read professional literature, don’t follow any
 professional blogs and never speak to
your colleagues, this report will  be a
real shocker. 

Is there is anyone out there who doesn’t currently report
on the activities of their organization? 
Thirty percent of the responding directors  (in all types of organizations) indicated
that they do not provide any reports to management because they are not
required to do so. That is a dangerous and naive place to be.  For that 30% this report should be a “wake up
call” and the report will provide valuable guidance on beginning the process of
thinking about how to communicate with management and what services are worth

Here are the key findings of the report:

Qualitative Information

1. Employ both formal and informal communications regularly.

2. Provide context with qualitative data.

3. Use testimonials to highlight the impact of delivered services.

4. Tailor the value message to stakeholder preferences.

Quantitative Information and Analysis

1. Go beyond the mere measurement of activities and utilize
methods that measure and demonstrate success or impact on organizational

2. When reporting metrics related to specific library activities,
report them in the context of the larger frame of importance to the

3. Define the measurements within your organization used to
demonstrate value to their stakeholders (clients, elected officials, board of
trustees) and adjust library metrics accordingly.

4. Identify the external resources used by stakeholders to
evaluate organizational success and especially law library success. Adapt
internal processes as appropriate.

5. Identify current formal valuation methodologies used within
your organization. Evaluate the applicability of that method for use by the law
library and adjust the related processes accordingly.


1. Determine your stakeholder’s information delivery preferences,
including distribution channels through a collaborative process with the

2. Create a schedule of reporting that fits into the strategic
planning and decision making cycle of the organization to ensure that critical
library data is delivered in a relevant timeframe.

3. Refrain from using library jargon when sharing qualitative

4. Find or make opportunities to present the information in formal
meeting settings.

5. Determine the communication styles that match organizational
preferences and get comfortable with different communication styles that can be
easily adjusted to formal and informal settings as well as stakeholder

Comprehensive Best Practices

1. Form strong interpersonal relationships with stakeholders.

2. Employ short, frequent communication through existing channels
as defined by stakeholder preferences.

Create templates that highlight the key considerations for current strategic
initiatives in both narrative and numerical formats.

Adjust information delivery to meet a mix of demands and expectations.

Define foundational library services and emerging service opportunities within
your organizations through a collaborative strategic process with stakeholders.

Embrace the leadership responsibilities and expectations of the management and
director role.

Draw your own conclusion.

I encourage everyone to read the report and draw their
own conclusion. I was expecting a lot more from AALL and HBR. If this report
meets the needs of a substantial number of members  then it will have been worth the time and cost invested. 

This report  does not break new ground or  “move the ball forward”  for many professionals who have already developed metrics and effective communications.  A grand slam would have been the development of a formula for converting service metrics into dollar values. I would say that this report stops at “first base.”