You are here

Making Data-Driven Decisions in Libraries

Roger Schonfeld of Ithaka S+R shares methods and opportunities to gather evidence to inform strategy.


July 8, 2014—Roger Schonfeld, Ithaka S+R’s program director for libraries, users and scholarly practices, joined a Harvard Library Strategic Conversation to discuss how libraries can gather and apply user information to make data-driven strategy and planning decisions.

Ithaka S+R has surveyed thousands of faculty members and hundreds of library deans, and over 30 academic libraries across the US have used Ithaka’s surveys for their own fact-finding. From all of this data, Ithaka has identified several opportunities to hear from library users and address questions like:

  • Is there a sustainable role for the library in support of discovery?
  • Should the library richly support non-institutional collections?
  • Should the library move from collections-centric to engagement-centered models—and how can it?

Answers to these questions are unique to each community, Schonfeld said, and the role libraries play in research is individual to each researcher—some value their libraries for the resources they can purchase; others for their function as archives, or as a gateway to other resources.

Schonfeld observed that bringing together a variety of types of data and new analytical methods can be helpful to libraries in planning services and strategy. “Market share is one of the least studied and most valuable things that libraries could study,” said Schonfeld. “It’s not a very ‘library’ way to think about the problem.” He suggested exploratory interviews, design workshops, and evaluating the competitive landscape, such as leaders in areas such as discovery, to figure out what users’ needs are and build services to support them.

“So how does a library make everybody happy?” asked Barbara Meloni, public services archivist at the Harvard University Archives. When the laughter died down, Schonfeld smiled.

“Every library has its own decision-making culture, but data must have a role.”

The Harvard Library plans to survey faculty members and graduate students in fall 2014. Schonfeld’s full presentation can be viewed here.