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Cost efficiency in ARL academic libraries

E. Stewart Saunders (E. Stewart Saunders is Collections Coordinator for the Humanities, Social Sciences and Education Library of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA.)

The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 1 March 2003


Examines 88 academic member libraries of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) to determine their relative cost efficiency, using stochastic frontier regression and data envelopment analysis (DEA) methods. Both methods give average ARL cost efficiencies of around 80 percent. This places academic ARL libraries in the same range of efficiency as other institutions, including for‐profit and non‐profit institutions. Many libraries are above 80 percent efficiency. For those below, some speculation is given for the lower efficiency. The lack of an output measure for the use of electronic sources may contribute to lower efficiency for a few libraries. Large staff size and a large number of serial subscriptions do predict lower efficiency, but this is not a necessary consequence. The DEA model allows us to determine increasing, constant, or declining returns to scale for research libraries. From this, it appears research libraries with expenditures between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000 are operating at the most efficient scale. Since the methods used are outside the repertoire of most LIS research, a conceptual explanation is provided.



Stewart Saunders, E. (2003), "Cost efficiency in ARL academic libraries", The Bottom Line, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 5-14.




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