MDMLG Newsletter - Sample Article #1

Promotion of MDMLG Health Sciences Award

Reports and Statistics:  Communicating the Value of Hospital Libraries

Libraries located within health care facilities function in a very different capacity than any other type of library. As a result, medical and health sciences librarians have had to develop unique ways of analyzing resource and service usage to justify costs to hospital boards and CEOs. Generally, statistics kept in academic and public libraries are not useful for hospital libraries. In a health care environment full of busy clinicians, the Library is not necessarily a "place"ódoor counts do not accurately reflect how often Library services and resources are being utilized. Another factor to consider is that librarians in a hospital report to non-librarians. Hospital leadership and boards most likely do not have a grasp as to the function of the library within the organization. Too often, the hospital library is aligned with a public library, and this is a dangerous misconception. While some hospital libraries do serve the public, few exist for "pleasure" reading and leisure time. Hospital libraries exist to help improve patient care. They do this by providing timely, evidence-based and educational information to health care providers. Health sciences librarians do not read all day. Nor do we shuffle books about all day. So how can we break these stereotypes and set straight the misconceptions in order to communicate our true value?

The best answer is to provide hard facts and reliable statistics that will actually mean something to the hospital board. This means keeping statistics as if you were running a business that needed to justify expenses and log profit. These statistics should be different from the ones you keep for your own purposes, or at least they should be presented differently. The following are some tips gleaned from experienced advice, experience, and literature.

Determine what your "Profit" is
Hospital Libraries do not make money. What is the benefit to the hospital then? The answer is that hospital libraries save money. We do this in two ways:

  1. We save time for clinicians and health care providers, allowing more of their time (and therefore salaries) to actually go toward patient care.
  2. We improve patient care and reduce costs of care by providing timely, evidence-based information that has the potential to reduce the number of costly tests, decrease length of stay, and reduce the number of readmissions to the hospital, among other things.

Measure these profits the best way you can. How often you do research for a health care provider is a measure of need for information and a reason to renew those costly electronic resources that no one else but you understands.

Drop the "Library Lingo"
Do not use language in your statistical report that the average person cannot fully understand. For example, indicating interlibrary loan or ILL usage to a board means nothing. Lumping ILL stats in as "Article Requests" communicates in better terms. Try to transform your language into that of the business world. "Return on Investment" is just one term that is steadily creeping into librarians' vocabulary. See what other buzzwords or catch phrases your organization uses in its financial or budget reports. Use these terms to communicate better to those in charge of the money.

Report only what is useful to justify funding or costs
Pinpoint what board members or financial officers really care about. All statistics should relate back to something that costs money. Databases, journals, books, electronic resources must all be justified. But don't forget to include usage of services that require your time. For example, vendors frequently provide statistics for their products. Use only what is relevant to your cause. Hospital boards don't care how long the average search session lasts, how many new borrowing cards you issued this month or how many thank you emails you received. They care that they spent thousands of dollars on something called "databases." How can you justify renewal?

  1. Show how often hospital staff use the resource.
  2. Show how often you use the resource to help hospital staff.
  3. If you can, demonstrate how much time (and therefore money) the resource can save the organization.
  4. Demonstrate how much more it would cost the hospital to obtain the same information from another source, or without the use of the Library.

Submit a simple and brief report
If you have to submit a monthly, quarterly, or yearly report, remember to keep it as concise and simple as possible. The report should be largely visually based. Yours will not be the only report read during this time. It will be glanced at, so make your information available "at a glance":

  1. Use bulleted points and reduce sentences and paragraphs.
  2. Use well-organized tables for numbers.
  3. Use a graph or chart.

Hospitals and health organizations like terms such as benchmarking and balanced scorecard. Try to rework such organizational standards to fit the Library. Using the tools the hospital uses to measure clinical services with obvious value, will help to align library value with essential patient care services. Whether you like it or not, your library may be compared with other hospital libraries. Do your own research. Don't wait to have the numbers provided for you as this rarely works in your favour. If you can, compare your services and resources to other libraries and vendors of information in a way that benefits you.

Buy a business management or report/business writing book
If anyone has any suggestions for great books you have discovered, please send me your finds ( and I will summarize in the next newsletter.

Suggested Reading:
Check out the bibliographies of the three articles for other excellent resources.

Abels, E.G., Codgill, K.W., Zach, L. (2004). Identifying and communicating the contributions of library and information services in hospitals and academic health centers. Journal of the Medical Library Association 92 1: 46-55.

Blecic, D., Fiscella, J.B., Wiberley, S.E. (2001). The measurement of use of Web-based information resources: an early look at vendor-supplied data. College and Research Libraries 62 5S: 434-453.

King, D.W., et. al. (2003). Library economic metrics: examples of the comparison of electronic and print journal collections and collection services. Library Trends 51 3: 376-400.

Portugal, F.H. (2000). Valuating information intangibles: measuring the bottom line contribution of librarians and information professionals. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association.

Christina Wallace 
Windsor Regional Hospital


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