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Value of Special Libraries

Having spent many years working in special libraries, I am very aware of their position. You are under constant pressure to justify your services, role and budget in the specialized environment in which you practice.

For example, just take health librarianship as one example:

Two studies which I particularly admire were done by Joanne Gard Marshall. The Rochester Study of 1991 sought to discover the impact of the medical library on the decisions of doctors. Physicians asked questions related to a current clinical case and then evaluated its impact on the care of their patients. The reported changes in:
• Diagnosis 29%
• Choice of Tests 51%
• Choice of Drugs 45%
• Reduced Length of Hospital Stay 19%
• Advice Given to the Patient 72%

Physicians also noted an impact their ability to avoid the following:
• Hospital Admission 12%
• Patient Mortality 19%
• Hospital-Acquired Infection 8%
• Surgery 21%
• Additional Tests or Procedures 49%

Yes! You do see in these data that working with librarians shows reduced patient mortality. Librarians save lives! Excitingly, the physicians rated the information provided by the library more highly than that provided by other information sources such as diagnostic imaging, lab tests, and discussions with colleagues.

Professor Marshall also did another impact study for SLA. In 1995 she studied the impact of the library on corporate decision-making in five major Canadian banks. This study showed the impact of corporate research and library services which often changed the course of the research of the end user and/or saved significant money (i.e. over $1 million CDN).

Again, there is too little hardcore research and study, but what is out there is very compelling.

Special Libraries Selected Resources and Studies

Joanne Gard Marshall’s studies on the impact of special libraries:,25,References

Marshall, Joanne G. The impact of the special library on corporate decision-making. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association, 1993.

SLA Information Resources (Library) Resources on Marketing/Value (SLA Members Only)

These webliographies and the staff at the SLA library are just one of the great benefits of membership. So join already.

Benchmarking in Information Centers/Libraries

Information Center Marketing

Opinions and Perceptions of the Library Profession

Value of the Information Center

Free to all from SLA:

The SLA Alignment Project (2 years worth of detailed research on communicating the value of special librarians and information professionals in specialized settings.)

Competencies for Information Professionals of the 21st Century

Special librarians are more about communicating the value of the individual professional and the profession than the actual physical library (although that can be part of it). It can be all about the personal and professional relationship of trust and respect with your management, end-users and colleagues and that isn’t always measurable while it can still be very powerful!


Posted on: April 7, 2010, 3:26 pm Category: Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Marydee Ojala said

    It’s also about being able to find relevant information from non-traditional sources, the stuff they don’t teach you in library school.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Value of Special Libraries – a review of publications « SLA PHT Division Blog linked to this post on April 7, 2010

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