For a decade, the Association of Research Libraries has promoted innovative methods of describing and evaluating the value of research libraries through its New Measures Initiatives. During this time, a suite of services has been developed by the ARL Statistics and Assessment program including LibQUAL+®, MINES for Libraries®, ClimateQUAL®, etc., that build upon the basic set of ARL descriptive statistics collected annually since 1907 for assessment and evaluation of North America’s major research libraries. Taken together, the historical ARL descriptive statistics and the new suite of services provide a robust set of methods and tools available to assess research libraries today delivered through a gateway known as StatsQUAL®.
When ARL directors were interviewed in 2005 and asked to describe a research library in the 21st century, there was general sentiment that even the ARL Statistics® and the toolkit of services offered through the ARL Statistics and Assessment capability were insufficient in answering the question. There was a need for greater flexibility in describing the research library today in qualitative and contextual terms that can capture the deep transformations that are underway. Textual narrative descriptions of collections, services, collaborative relations, and other programs, as well as physical spaces were deemed to be necessary if the essence of a research library is to be captured today.
Over 2008-2010, ARL member libraries submitted narrative profiles that offer an alternative way of describing research libraries in addition to the ARL Statistics®. The profiles stand alone as important descriptive information of the state of research libraries at the dawn of the 21st century. The Statistics and Assessment Committee members look closely at this information with an eye on revising the annual surveys that ARL conducts in 2011-2012, while identifying the most important and effective metrics that capture emerging essential characteristics of library collections, services, and collaborative relations. Further action may be initiated down the road for a periodic update of the narrative profile descriptions of ARL member libraries. The profiles also inform research currently underway in the IMLS supported Lib-Value grant, an effort to articulate library value.
The profiles allow for a creative approach with a focus on critical qualitative categories emphasizing research library aspects in terms of (a) services, (b) collections, and (c) collaborative relations.
Our sincere thanks to all of the institutions that contributed to this collaborative effort aiming at capturing the value of research libraries in new, meaningfully rich ways in the midst of a rapidly changing environment.