Study Reveals Libraries Run an Efficient Organization

Posted: January 26, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Fran Rensbarger

A report released by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2004 shows George Mason University Libraries makes the most of a dollar. The university’s overall staff costs per hour for activities related to print and electronic periodicals were the lowest of the 11 colleges and universities participating in a study of JSTOR, a digital archive collection of core scholarly journals.

“We have an extremely productive staff,” says John Zenelis, university librarian and associate vice president of information technology. “For most measures involving expenditures, Mason is reflective more of the large institutions which realize lower unit costs due to economies of scale, even though Mason’s collections are not so large.”

Mason was one of a small group of academic institutions invited to participate in the comprehensive study conducted by JSTOR and the associated research group Ithaka. JSTOR, a nonprofit organization, keeps the complete digital archives of journals in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.

Though the purpose of the study was to benchmark costs, not to compare institutions, interesting information about Mason’s libraries emerged, Zenelis says. “For all comparative measures, Mason charts out where we would expect or hope to be. The only real surprises were pleasant ones reflecting upon the efficiency of our operations. For example, in addition to having the overall lowest staff costs per hour, we have the third-lowest print periodicals back file operations costs.”

The CLIR study investigated one aspect of digital transformation, the costs of library collections and operations for journals. The study for the first time gathered extensive data on costs associated with every aspect of maintaining periodicals collections other than the cost of the subscriptions themselves, and “looks into the future of electronic dissemination of scholarship through the lens of experience.”

During April 2003, more than 90 percent of the Mason library staff—92 individuals—kept detailed logs of periodicals-related activity, and two library collections staff members compiled extensive statistical information to accompany these staff logs. John Walsh, associate university librarian for Resources and Collection Management Services, directed Mason’s participation in the study.

In addition to Mason, the participating libraries were those of Cornell, Drexel, New York, Suffolk, Western Carolina, and Yale Universities; Bryn Mawr, Franklin & Marshall, and Williams Colleges; and the University of Pittsburgh.

Results of the study were first published in January 2004 online in D-LIB magazine, and then in June 2004 in a research report by CLIR.

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