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Exploring the cause and effect of library value

Danuta A. Nitecki (University Libraries, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)
Eileen G. Abels (College of Information Science & Technology, iSchool at Drexel, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 12 April 2013




The purpose of this paper is to validate a proposed framework of library value as the relationships between diverse stakeholders’ perceptions of valued effect of a library and of causes for the effect. It does so through adaptation of the “five whys” inquiry, a tool for uncovering root causes used extensively for process improvement. A “library value wheel” graphically illustrates a diverse set of stakeholders (i.e. faculty, students, university administrators, librarians, donors, and library employees) and their perceptions of the most valued effects of the library. To begin this exploration the researchers have selected faculty as the initial stakeholder to study because of their important influence in the academy. The following research questions guide the study: What effects of the library do faculty most value? What are perceived causes of these valued effects? What effects of the library do faculty perceive other stakeholders [e.g. students and administrators] most value? What variations among the causes faculty identify for valued effects emerge from use of the five why inquiry?


This qualitative study consists of a series of individual and group interviews with faculty members representing different academic disciplines and rank at one US university. Adapting the “five whys” inquiry, the researchers conducted sufficient individual interviews to reach data saturation (typically 15 to 30 interviews) to identify root causes that address perceptions about value the academic library provides to faculty. The interviews were audio taped and transcribed for data analysis; the results were sent to the interviewees for a member check. In addition, the results of the analysis were validated in a focus group session with faculty members of the library advisory group. Lastly, the identified valued library effects and their causes were compared to elements of value identified in the literature.


Several root causes of perceived value were identified, with caution to generalize; among these are: increase my productivity; expand student ability; do my job; save money; indulge intellectual curiosity; not feel frustrated; meet accreditation criteria; and change the University.


The study emphasizes that value involves the stakeholders in the identification of the valued effect of the library. The “five whys” inquiry delves deeply and arrives at a root cause of value that will allow librarians to take steps to maximize an institutional perception that of the value the library provides its community. It is often difficult for stakeholders to articulate why the library is or is not of value and this approach will help them do so. In addition to eliciting the perceived value of the library to the faculty, the study also gathered faculty perceptions of causes of valued library effect on students and administrators. The study also introduced the “library value wheel” which broadly defines the causes of valued effects on stakeholders of libraries. The study's empirical data will be integrated into this framework in subsequent studies. Since value is a political tool, involving the faculty and focusing on their perceptions will be important for advocating library support. This study will communicate to librarians reasons faculty perceive the library to be of value. In essence, this approach partners influential stakeholders with librarians to develop strategies for maximizing the value of the library.



Nitecki, D.A. and Abels, E.G. (2013), "Exploring the cause and effect of library value", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 17-24.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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