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The Libraries Advance in the ARL Investment Index

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Library Investment Index announced its annual survey that calculates a summary measure of relative size among the university library members of the Association.

The results of the ARL Library Investment Index for 2020, compiled from data provided by 124 colleges or universities, were released in November 2021. Washington University Libraries earned an index number of 35 among 124 member institutions, rising eight places in the rankings over the previous year.

The ARL determines relative size by a combination of four variables:

  • Total expenditures
  • Salary expenditures
  • Materials expenditures
  • Professional plus support staff

However, the investment index does not attempt to measure a library’s services, quality of collections, or success in meeting the needs of users.

The advancement in ranking indicates an impressive growth in research collections and support services, as well as the strong support granted to the Libraries by the university. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the Libraries have been able to advance innovative learning and the academic success of students and collaborations with faculty on research, teaching, and scholarship.

Jessica Kleekamp, head of assessment and analytics at the Libraries, and Carol Mollman, assessment and analytics coordinator, explain how index scores are summarized and present an analysis of the survey outcomes.

What does an index score mean in the context of the Libraries and how is it used to determine institutional ranking?

Jessica: The ARL Library Investment Index calculates principal component scores and the analysis is based on all university member libraries’ data. The Index scores are rounded to two decimal places, which may give the appearance of identical scores for some institutions; in fact, when the complete principal component score is calculated, it is extended to higher precision decimal places. Each institution has a unique score in the Library Investment Index.

 In comparing any individual library to ARL medians or other ARL members, evaluations must always be made within the context of local goals and characteristics.

Why is the ARL index important and what are some of the implications of a high index score?

Carol: The ARL Index looks at the scale of a university’s investment in their libraries. More broadly speaking, it’s an indicator of how much the Libraries invest in the materials, services, and spaces that our faculty and students need for research, teaching, and learning.

Why is the ARL index a meaningful measure of success?

Carol: It’s an important measure of success because it demonstrates the university’s funding commitment to library success, compared to other elite research libraries. Even in a year of re-envisioning our services due to COVID-19, Washington University Libraries managed to advance in the rankings. That means the university held to its strong support of the Libraries in very difficult times, and that the library staff made their tight budget count.