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Appendix A
Literature Review

As discussed above, preparation of this report involved an extensive search of the published literature on the value of information and information services. The sources consulted included ERIC (Educational Resources Information) and LISA (Library and Information Science Abstracts). Several CD-ROM sources were also consulted: TRANSPORT, Compendex-Plus (Engineering Index), NTIS (National Technical Information Service), Computer-Select, ABI-Inform-Select, and MOVE (from the Society of Automotive Engineers). A summary of the results of this literature search follows.

The Value of Information and Information Services


The report of a task force of the Special Libraries Association (Matarazzo, et al., 1987), stressed that information professionals must be prepared to prove the value of their services through one or more of the following approaches: 1) measuring time saved; 2) determining actual monetary savings or gains; or 3) providing qualitative, anecdotal evidence of value. Employing these approaches, the task force cited a number of case studies demonstrating the value of information professionals to their organizations. For example, the Georgia Technical Institute installed a campus-wide on-line library system in 1986 and reduced the costs of its literature searches by $1.2 million a year. Another case study was the library at the Houston division of Texas Instruments. In a survey conducted by the library, users' responses indicated that the library saved the company $268,800 a year and increased users' job proficiency by a value of $523,000 a year. From an annual investment in the library of $186,000 a year, Texas Instruments netted $959,000 in benefits--a 515 percent rate of return.

In a separate report, Bernard Basch (1990), a member of the Special Libraries Association task force, pointed out that corporate information services compete for funds with a variety of other departments. Thus, information professionals need to gather qualitative evidence of their services' seemingly intangible benefits. It is also extremely important that they know the key decision makers in their organizations, Basch added, and become thoroughly familiar with the business of the organization and its competitors. To build customer loyalty, information professionals must continually monitor customer satisfaction and modify the product or service mix as required.

Matarazzo and Pruzak (1990) argued that, although top managers value the information their libraries provide, the majority have no means for measuring this value or for determining which services contribute to the firm's strategic goals. Their 1990 survey of 164 libraries foundthat upper management supported libraries because they felt that information was important to the company. When asked to identify services that added the most value, however, nearly two-thirds of the respondents did not know or chose not to respond. In a follow-up survey in 1995, Matarazzo and Pruzak interviewed 103 respondents who were either the director or the vice president to whom the librarian reported. (About three-quarters of the firms surveyed in 1990 participated.) When asked to identify the primary means used to assess the library's value, 36 percent named annual surveys or informal feedback from users, and 25 percent measured the volume of requests handled. Only 7 percent could evaluate the quality of the information provided. While nearly three-quarters of the managers believed the library contributed to the firm's corporate strategy, only one-third viewed the library as improving the information base used to make strategic decisions.

Kantor and Saracevic (TRB, 1997) developed a basis for documenting and measuring libraries' value to their supporting organizations. They argued that, although much is known about how top management views the special library, these managers rarely use the library directly and thus have an unclear understanding of its value. They focused on how actual users of the library value its services and how they express that value.

For their interviews at 10 special libraries, Kantor and Saracevic developed a detailed taxonomy of value of information services, which not only considered fiscal savings, but also encompassed the new corporate concept of the balanced scorecard. Through interviews with 218 users of these libraries, they determined that individual users evaluate their library in terms of its ability to provide what they need to meet some corporate goal or objective. They concluded that "users of special libraries discuss value in terms of whether, and to what extent, the library or information service meets or does not meet their expectations of it" (p.37). Users will have already internalized corporate goals and shaped their own behavior to advance them. They then approach the library in furtherance of these goals and judge it on how well it meets these expectations. This information is important for anyone who seeks to express the value of the library to senior managers, whose focus is the bottom line.

Marshall (1993) examined the positive impact of information on corporate decision making. Between October 1991 and March 1992, she worked with 299 randomly selected managers and executives from five major financial institutions in Toronto. As part of the study, participants requested from their library information related to a current corporate decision-making situation and then evaluated the impact of the information on that decision. Eighty-four percent of the managers felt that the information had led to a better informed decision. Forty percent felt that the information had made them consider a new dimension, while 54 percent said they probably or definitely had handled some aspect of the decision-making situation differently. In cases where the decision involved a financial transaction, 74 percent of the managers estimated the value of the transaction at over $1 million.

In assessing the monetary value of information services, Griffiths and King (1993) drew upon 27 studies performed with 16 companies and 7 government agencies, as well as 4 national surveys of professionals, with a total of over 10,000 responses. They found that libraries cost between $400 and $1,000 a year per professional (in 1993 dollars) and that, due to economies of scale, companies require 50 to 75 professionals to justify one full-time librarian. Small firms without libraries spend about two to four times as much to acquire information as larger firms with in-house libraries. And it is 2.3 times more expensive to provide information from alternatives to special libraries than from an in-house library service.

Griffiths and King argued that the cost of a professional user's time and effort to obtain information elsewhere far exceeds the cost of providing a library. These estimated savings increase significantly if obtaining the library material prevents the need for primary research, provides confirmation of research, stops an unproductive line of research, modifies a research design, or modifies a method of analysis. In these cases, the estimated savings are $310 per journal article, $650 per book reading, and $1,090 per internal report. Griffiths and King concluded that the overall return on investment for supporting an in-house library ranges positively from a low of 7.8 to 1 to a high of 14.2 to 1.

Keyes (1995) evaluated techniques for determining the monetary value of special libraries and, in particular, benefit-cost methodology. She stressed that determining the monetary value of a library to its parent organization is a critical part of the library's overall evaluation. She pointed out that the corporate library, like other divisions within an organization, is under pressure to tie its value to that organization's strategic mission. This value needs to be presented in a monetary sense so that the library can compete with other departments. Keyes presented a four-step approach to valuing the special library: 1) extract all cost data for operating informa tion services; 2) collect user estimates of the value of beneficial library services; 3) record the impact of the special library, measurable in qualitative terms and countable, if not easily converted into dollar values; and 4) analyze the cost and benefit information gathered and determine benefit-cost ratios.


Griffiths and King also assessed the value of information in terms of time savings and work quality. Surveys conducted in eight organizations asked professionals to indicate whether reading journal articles, books, or internal reports saved them (or their coworkers) any labor time or other resources. Table A-1, below, reports the percentage of these documents for which users reported time savings and the specific reasons given for the savings.

Table A-1. Information and Time Savings (%)
Reason for Time Savings Journal Articles Books Internal Reports
Overall time savings 26 42 50
Avoided primary research 49 22 51
Stopped unproductive research 10 21 22
Modified a research design 12 13 19
Modified an analysis method 16 30 9

To measure the impact of information on their work performance, the professionals were asked to indicate if their last reading of a journal, book, or internal report resulted in higher quality work. The table below shows how they rated the quality of their own work, on a scale of 1 to 7, both with and without these materials.

Table A-2. Information and Quality of Work (Scale of 1 to 7)
  Journals Books Internal Reports
With Information 5.82 5.68 5.78
Without Information 4.04 3.57 3.52

Koenig (1992) investigated studies that demonstrated the correlation between expenses of information services and corporate productivity. Among these, he detailed a study performed at Exxon in the mid-1970s that showed a benefit-cost ratio of 11 to 1 and a NASA study conducted in the late 1970s that reported a benefit-cost ratio of 7.6 to 1. Koenig found that all of these studies showed a remarkable consistency: the most conservative estimate revealed the benefits of information services to be almost double the costs incurred. He concluded that information services are cost-effective investments and that information-dependent organiza tions should substantially increase investments in such services.

Information as a Competitive Corporate Strategy

McGee and Prusak (1993) argued that information is more than collected data; rather, information represents data that are organized, ordered, and imbued with meaning and context. Information must inform, they held, while data have no such mandate. Information must be bounded, while data can be limitless. For data to become useful to a decision maker as information, it must be presented in such a way that he or she can readily relate to it and act upon it.

For McGee and Prusak, the key to corporate competitiveness is the ability to acquire, manipulate, interpret, and use information. They argued that information is the basis of competition and provides the greatest potential payback to organizations. Information is an asset, and it requires management. Unlike other assets though, information is reusable. It does not deteriorate or depreciate, and it has a value that is determined solely by its users.

Information Needs of State and Local Agencies

In March 1997, FHWA, BTS, and the Federal Transit Administration held a conference to assess the information needs of State and local transportation decision makers in the 21st century. The conference provided a forum for participants to 1) identify the types of data that are collected, discuss data-collection requirements, and exchange ideas about the appropriate roles of Federal, State, and local agencies, and 2) review the impact of technology on data collection and dissemination.

The conferees stated the need for a clearinghouse that would store and disseminate all publicly available transportation data and provide technical assistance to its customers. They also called for the creation of an effective coordination process for data exchange, one that relies on common formats, flexibility, aggregation, sampling, and methods. Participants agreed that differences in data-collection and analysis methods among transportation agencies hinder the exchange of information. They felt that the problems faced by transportation data profes sionals are rooted less in the data itself and more in the absence of clear, concise, and compel ling ways to demonstrate the data to decision makers.

The Role of the Information Professional

In their study of 12 major corporations, Owens and Wilson (1997) found that senior executives view the creation of an information culture in an organization as a critical step toward ensuring continued success. In fact, top managers' commitment to information as an asset is a major factor in the implementation of successful information systems. Through their interviews with senior executives, Owens and Wilson determined that the role of the traditional information specialist is being overshadowed by information technology personnel, who frequently put emphasis on the effective storage and retrieval of information rather than the quality of the information itself. They endorse a new set of attributes that information professionals need to survive, including political ability; business acumen; and skills in information technology, communications, innovation, and negotiation.

The Special Libraries Association is keenly aware of the changing information world. In 1996, the association published its report, Competencies for Special Librarians of the 21st Century (Marshall, 1996). The report affirmed the value that the information specialist adds by providing efficient and effective information services for a defined group of customers. The box below shows the two sets of skills that the association considers to be crucial for information specialists in the next decade. As defined by them, "professional competencies" relate to knowledge of information resources, information access, technology, management, and research--and the ability to use these areas of knowledge as a basis for providing library and information services. "Personal competencies" represent a set of skills, attitudes, and values that enable information professionals to work efficiently, communicate effectively, and survive in the new world of work.

Competencies for Information Specialists in the 21st Century
Professional Competencies Personal Competencies
  • Has expert knowledge of information resources
  • Has specialized subject knowledge
  • Develops and manages convenient, accessible, and cost-effective services
  • Provides instruction and support for information service users
  • Assesses information needs and designs services to meet these needs
  • Uses appropriate information technology
  • Uses appropriate business and management approaches
  • Develops specialized information products
  • Evaluates the outcomes of information use
  • Continually improves information services
  • Is effective member of management team
  • Is committed to service excellence
  • Seeks out challenges and opportunities
  • Sees the big picture
  • Looks for partnerships and alliances
  • Creates an environment of mutual respect and trust
  • Has effective communication skills
  • Works well with others and recognizes the value of networking
  • Provides leadership
  • Plans, prioritizes, and focuses on what is critical
  • Is committed to lifelong learning
  • Has personal business skills and is flexible

Two leading high-technology companies, Microsoft and Digital Equipment, are preparing their library staffs for the future.

According to Jennifer Choate (1997), Microsoft's training program focuses on preparing its information staff for the company's fast-paced and ever-changing business environment. The staff recognizes that new technologies and complex pricing schemes demand that they have the technical knowledge required to do thorough evaluations of new technologies and the business acumen to perform complex cost comparisons. Additionally, as their customers became more information-savvy, the need for quality, value-added information services increases. In response to a corporate challenge to stay ahead of the curve, the research group of the Microsoft library designed a training program that provides guidelines and measurable performance criteria for all staff, from entry-level to senior members. Core competencies include basic research abilities, customer service skills, and work flow management. Once specialists master the entry-level program, they are assigned to one of three researcher roles: agents, navigators, or partners. Each level has its unique training program and skills to be mastered. Requirements in addition to the training program include presentations to library staff and attendance at outside professional-development events.

Digital Equipment also is responding to information specialists' changing roles (Kennedy, 1997). The Corporate Library Group at Digital met the challenge of the information explosion with a Web-based solution on Digital's Intranet: the Web Library. Staffed by interdepartmental teams, the Web Library evaluates, analyzes, synthesizes, qualifies, and disseminates externally created information. The library staff provides the expertise to carry out the Web Library's work and to validate its relevancy and content.

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Electronic version of Publication No. FHWA-SA-99-038
This page last updated August 18, 1999

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