About Kat Allen

Author Archive | Kat Allen

The economic value of public libraries

Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries

The Arts Council has just published an evidence review which looks at the economic contribution of public libraries. The report aims to be an ‘important first step’ in understanding the direct economic contribution that public libraries can make, as well as the indirect contribution generated by social and educational benefits for individuals and communities.

The report summarises the available evidence from a variety of international sources, and examines the methodologies which might be applied to what is clearly a complex issue. It does not try to establish a single monetary value for libraries, but instead looks at different ways of assessing economic contribution, for example ‘place-based’ economic development:

Libraries can be anchor tenants in mixed-use physical developments and regeneration initiatives, potentially boosting the footfall, buzz, image and profile of a neighbourhood or area … where specialist services are provided, they can also support local economic development through business advice and support for individuals, micro businesses and SMEs.

The report also looks at the wider educational and social impact of libraries across five key areas: Children and young people’s education and personal development; Adult education, skills and employability; Health and wellbeing; Community support and cohesion; and Digital inclusion.

The report notes that there are limitations and weaknesses in the existing literature on this topic, including a lack of longitudinal studies and surveys and studies with large sample sizes, and the difficulty of establishing causality between library usage and outcomes. At the same time, the report points out that

Evidence is already sufficient to conclude that public libraries provide positive outcomes for people and communities in many areas – far exceeding the traditional perception of libraries as just places from which to borrow books. What the available evidence shows is that public libraries, first and foremost, contribute to long term processes of human capital formation, the maintenance of mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusivity and the cohesion of communities. This is the real economic contribution that public libraries make to the UK. The fact that these processes are long term, that the financial benefits arise downstream from libraries’ activities, that libraries make only a contribution to what are multi-dimensional, complex processes of human and social development, suggests that attempting to derive a realistic and accurate overall monetary valuation for this is akin to the search for the holy grail. What it does show is that measuring libraries’ short term economic impact provides only a very thin, diminished account of their true value.

The Arts Council says that in the next 12 months it will be investigating further areas of impact and asking how libraries contribute to healthy lives and what that represents financially, working with partners such as the Society of Chief Librarians, the British Library and the Local Government Association.

You can download the full report here.

The Cost of Knowledge versus Elsevier

There has been much coverage recently of the website petition launched by Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers, winner of the Fields medal, to encourage academics to publicly declare that they will not support any Elsevier journal. According to The Cost of Knowledge website, more than 6000 academics have currently signed up. Robin Peek takes an in-depth look at the issues in this ITI Newsbreak.

10 best intranets of 2012 named

User experience and usability experts the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) have named their choice of the ’10 Best Intranets of 2012’. Among the winners are UK based companies Everything Everywhere and Logica, MAN Diesel and Turbo SE from Germany, and Sweden’s Skanska. Other winners include Genentech, NCR, LivePerson and Staples.

According to NNG, smaller companies are designing better intranets compared to previous years – of this year’s 10 winning intranets, 6 support fewer than 15,000 employees, with the smallest being LivePerson at 550. The average number of employees in this year’s winning organisations is 19,700, which is the smallest since the contest launched 12 years ago.

The size of the average intranet team size grew to 15 people — slightly less than 1 intranet specialist per thousand employees, with the smallest teams consisting of 6 people at both Everything Everywhere (15,000 employees) and LivePerson Inc. (550 employees). The largest team was 26 people at NCR Corporation (21,000 employees).

Although mobile intranets have looked promising in recent years, this year saw a decline in the number of intranets offering mobile versions – possibly because teams do not have the time or resources to do more than focus on the main intranet. At the same time, social media components seem to have really taken off with a number of organisations such as MAN Diesel and Turbo making the most of the social potential of people search functionality within their intranets.

More information can be found here.

Everyone is talking but is anyone listening? Using social media to promote info services

There’s no doubt that, in some quarters at least, social media are replacing more traditional methods of communication. Earlier this week it was widely reported that French IT services giant Atos which employs 80,000 people is planning to ban the use of internal emails in favour of communication via other channels such as social networks, instant messaging and microblogging. 

A panel in the European Librarians Theatre at this year’s Online Information show, organised under the auspices of SLA, debated how to use social media tools to promote library services. The international panel featured Jo Alcock from Birmingham City University, Dennie Heye from Shell Information Technology International in the Netherlands, and Katrin Weller from Heinrich-Heine University in Germany.  

Jo had carried out an informal survey to find out how librarians in the UK were putting social media to work, and found a trend towards consolidating accounts and tools in order to streamline the wide variety of tools and services on offer.

The panellists agreed that were a number of obstacles that could impede the implementation of social media tools. Jo noted that senior management could be cautious, particularly given the experimental nature of some social media initiatives. Implementation can be time consuming, and this problem is exacerbated when staff don’t see the importance of the project. And in some settings, access to social media is banned altogether.

Katrin echoed the focus on experimentation and trial and error – a willingness to try things out and learn as you go is key to success in social media. There isn’t a manual!

From Dennie’s point of view, making the business case to senior management was all important. At Shell, they have introduced enterprise social network Yammer to enable communication between people working in different teams and offices. By focusing on its use as an IT support tool,  they were able to make a strong business case by showing that using Yammer freed up time for IT support staff.

Jo pointed out that librarians will need to exercise professional judgement in choosing the right tool for the job – for example public libraries will want to communicate with their patrons in specific ways which will be very different to the approach taken by a corporate information service; and there will be a difference between internal and external communications.

The panellists agreed that flexibility and personality were both key to the successful implementation of a social media strategy. Jo pointed out that you need to be able to adapt to changing expectations. Dennie recommended being yourself – an authentic, ‘human’ voice is much more effective than a personality-free corporate voice. For those wanting to take the plunge, Katrin suggested that you start by asking yourself ‘what will success look like’ so that further down the line you have something to measure against. This will also provide a touchstone to use when faced with choosing between the enormous range of social media tools out there.

Online Information in the snow

London in the snow with tube trainThe Information Today Europe team made it in to Olympia despite snow in London, lots of people have done the same. Makes for a good atmosphere!

SerialsSolutions Breakfast at ILI

The networking started early on day 2 of Internet Librarian International as delegates gathered for the SerialsSolutions Summon focused breakfast and to hear a short presentation from Graham Stone of University of Huddersfield.

Public Libraries in Finland – where did it all go right?

Imagine a world where:

  • Library issues per capita are increasing
  • Annual state grants support the development of web services and other innovative library services
  • Public libraries have a central role in facilitating the networked knowledge society and linking citizens to information
  • Legislation ensures a level of professionalism in all public library staff
  • Libraries and library policy have top level political support

At Internet Librarian International 2010, Babro Wigell-Ryynanen painted a compelling picture of the success of the public library service in Finland.  The library’s role in supporting community and citizenship is a foundation of this success.  The user is placed at the centre of all library thinking and this is what ensures a range of innovative services and new ways of using library spaces and collections.

For more information visit the tri-lingual sites www.minedu.fi or www.libraries.fi

Joining the Debate at Internet Librarian International

Information Today Europe eNews will be blogging from Internet Librarian International this week. The conference kicked off last night with a drinks reception sponsored by SLA Europe and Infotrieve where there was lots of debate around using social media to ‘amplify’ conferences in order to involve those who are unable to attend. We’ll be reporting on the hot topics and key issues on this blog and website so join in the debate here!

Spotlight on Scitable – a Social Network for Science

ITI NewsLink’s Paula Hane takes a closer look at Scitable, a social network for science research and education from Nature Publishing Group (NPG), publishers of Nature and Scientific American.

Scitable is an educational website designed for biology and genetics faculty and undergraduate students and provides a free library of high quality vetted content and tools. A mobile version has just been launched.

UK Medical Students Issued with iPhones for Study Purposes

The University of Leeds has announced that it is issuing smartphones to all fourth and fifth year medical students. The iPhones will provide access to progress files, assessment modules and educational materials.

According to the University, this is the first time a UK medical school has provided undergraduates with all the tools they need to study off campus via mobile phone technology.

520 medical students will be loaned an iPhone 3GS 16GB for the remainder of their course. The phones will be pre-loaded with a range of apps that will enable students to record notes on interesting cases whilst still on the wards, and test their knowledge of procedures they have just observed.  Key medical textbooks and reference works, including guidelines on administering prescription drugs, will also be distributed as iPhone apps. A range of other relevant medical apps that can be downloaded free-of-charge or purchased will also be available.

Students will not be able to use the devices to access confidential patient databases and any case notes added to progress files will be anonymised.  Lost or stolen phones will be wiped and disabled remotely. All devices are to be returned to the medical school before students graduate.

“Patient safety has been our primary aim in this development,” said Dr Richard Fuller, Director of the University of Leeds MBChB course. “By linking workplace learning and assessment in mobile technology formats, we have a groundbreaking opportunity to provide instant, timely and detailed feedback to students in practice from patients, peers and clinical staff.  By recording this feedback, it allows students to review, plan and ‘feed-forward’ with tutors to ensure their development as safe, effective doctors.”