As one info pro I spoke with commented, “To find ROI, look at impact, not function. Ask yourself why you’re doing this, not how.” By changing how we see the library’s role from an information place to an information service, we can maintain a healthy perspective about our most important roles.
Often, the most tangible role info pros can play is saving professional time and budget. A 2007 study by Outsell1 found that an average library interaction saved the user nine hours, and there is no reason to believe that number has changed in the last decade. By calculating the average hourly cost of an info pro and that of a strategic library user, a powerful case can be made for the ROI of information services.
If you assume that most of the users of information are knowledge workers or professionals and that their annual salary averages $120,000, the full cost of an information user’s time is $79/hour.2 An info pro’s time, with a salary of $100,000, is $66/hour. Add in the fact that an info pro usually takes far less time to find, analyze and distill information than a user would, the savings can be dramatic. The following table shows how to calculate the annual savings from having info pros handle research projects. You can insert your own values in the shaded boxes to see how much your information center saves your organization in direct time savings.
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In addition to the time savings, there are direct savings from strategic centralized purchases of information when compared to ad hoc and personal credit card purchases. An experienced information center manager can negotiate an enterprise-wide agreement that provides cost-effective access to the key information sources researchers need. When you also factor in the time saved by users using a professional online service rather than the open web, the ROI of information services is even more compelling.
Another assumption is that research conducted on a fee-based online service will save at least 30 minutes of fruitless searching on the open web. Assuming that the full text of articles downloaded from a professional online service would cost an average of $25 to purchase or obtain through interlibrary loan, the direct savings add up quickly. You can insert your own values in the following table to calculate the direct savings you realize from bringing in a professional online information service.
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In some settings, information centers can tie revenue directly to their services by identifying client groups involved in income-generating roles. By conducting informational interviews3, you can learn about opportunities to contribute to efforts to increase sales, improve quality, shorten the time to get a product to market, or identify new market opportunities. There may even be outside organizations the library can partner with to provide library services, such as a business incubator providing embedded library services at local companies it is supporting. This can foster strong relationships with your stakeholder community, which adds value to your organization as well.