by Jan Ison LTLS Executive Director
Library Systems in Illinois have been partners in the library landscape for more than 40 years. As organizations that do not traditionally directly interact with individual library user it is sometimes confusing to the “person on the street” what the investment benefit of a library system is.
There are several simple metrics that can be used to tell the multitype library system cooperation story. The first is a very simply stated Return on Investment (ROI). The state of Illinois provides $15,624,382 for multitype library systems in Illinois and the people of Illinois received a minimum of $17.86 for every dollar invested. This is fairly easy to calculate and was calculated using the information provided in the remainder of this article.
A second simple metric would be to measure cost savings or cost avoidance made possible by library systems. To be a true cost savings the service would have to result in real cash payment reduction. When using a cost avoidance metric the institution avoids the cost of essential services by not having to pay for them at all or at a greatly reduced cost. In looking at the two definitions it is clear that systems primarily support libraries in cost avoidance.
There are other metrics that can also be used when looking at the value of the services of systems. The most important of these metrics is the Key Performance Indicator (KPI), which is used to help an organization define and evaluate how successful it is. The KPI is beyond dollars and cents and can be determined by answering the question, "What is really important to different constituents or customers?” This is used to measure activities that are difficult to measure. An example is – how do you measure the leadership business that systems provide or how to measure the library development service of systems. More often these are services that are essential to members but provide less mensurable elements.
Directors of multitype Library Systems have been working diligently in that last 5 years to collect identical data in order to provide demonstrable dollars and cents ROI or Cost Avoidance information for our funding agencies and our members as well as the communities of people we serve. As a result the following information provides some amazing data on what library cooperation through Illinois Library Systems provides to the residents of Illinois.
Multitype Library Systems in Illinois received $15,624,382 in funding during the 2008 fiscal year. With this funding and with the cooperation of the more than 2100 member library agencies, we were able to deliver cost savings and a great return on this investment.
Library Systems provide physical delivery of materials
to directly to local libraries for use by library users. During FY
2008 the system delivery personnel picked up and delivered 23.9 million
items. It is estimated that it costs $1.90 per item to ship these materials
via the United States Postal Service not including the cost of the shipping
bags. The cost for that shipping would have been $45.4 million cash.
While delivery is the service that brings the resources to the library, the actual resources that libraries lend and borrow represent another cost savings to libraries and to funding organizations. In the state of Illinois public libraries in multitype systems loaned 8.7 million materials through reciprocal borrowing. To purchase all of these materials using an average cost per item of $20.08 (a number derived by using average cost of all media from the following website http://www.lincc.org/calexplanation.html) Illinois taxpayers would have spent over $175 million. Even if you consider that not every item would have been purchased perhaps 50% of the items – the cost would have been $87.5 million. This is a tremendous cost avoidance for all of us. Reciprocal Borrowing is just one piece of the resource-sharing puzzle – there is also the Interlibrary Loan piece. Libraries in Multitype systems using the shared online catalogs loaned 4.3 million items. Again using a cost per item of $20.08 the actual cost of purchasing those items would have been approximately $87 million. What is most impressive is that not only does cooperation save real money it actually promotes good stewardship of our dollars. Personnel in local libraries and governing officials of local libraries are to be commended for recognizing that these efforts help make all libraries better and also support improved literacy for our constituents.
These three services alone prove the cost benefit of the funds for systems and that we are good stewards of dollars. There are many more of these types of services. For example systems received more than $75,000 worth of value from the volunteer service of system board members and advisory committee members. In education and training systems supplied more than 66,000 contact hours of training. Based on a very low cost of $25 per hour this amounted to $1.65 million worth of programming for library staff and board in member libraries. Another final example in this article is the shared purchase and management of local library system automation projects. There are 1100 libraries that participate in these programs and those libraries share the cost of these shared online systems. Currently there is not sufficient data on what it would cost for each individual library to do this alone, however, it is clear that it would cost millions more in real dollars to support a standalone system for each library that is part of a shared system. This system service is a real cost savings for the funding organizations.
There are many other services that systems provide and it is important to continue to refine this information to consider what is possible with a small investment of funds by the state of Illinois used effectively by local system boards to support library and information service for the people of Illinois. However, even without the additional information system boards and staff can easily demonstrate the value of the services. Within this article alone I have identified more than $ $268 million dollars of cost avoidance and return on investment of the $15 million dollars contributed by the state of Illinois. All of us in cooperation pride ourselves on being good stewards of the funds given us and this demonstrates our commitment.