Fun with numbers: reconsidering the ARL Preservation Statistics

Many of us know the season not by the weather or amount of daylight left when we emerge from our typically subterranean preservation offices and conservation labs but rather by whether we’re tallying up and filling out or reading the annual ARL Preservation Statistics.  While the last full report issued was the 2006-2007 ARL Preservation Statistics, you can download the machine readable files (aka the Excel spreadsheets) for the 2007-2008 ARL Preservation Statistics.

ARL has long ranked its member institutions on the basis of totals volumes, expenditures, staff, and the like.  ARL has also collected data on library expenditures as a percentage of total university. For the past few years I’ve pondered, as I’m sure many of you have, how the expenses for various aspects of preservation activities (overall expenditures, contract library binding, salaries) might compare against broad categories of library expenses.

After years of thinking about this and occasionally calculating the comparison stats for the institutions where I’ve worked, I’ve finally taken the time to put together an Excel spreadsheet that calculates the following comparisons for all reporting ARL Libraries:

  • Library expenditures on preservation (ARL Pres Ques 11) as a percentage of total library expenses (ARL Stats Ques 20) …. with rank!
  • Library expenditures on preservation (ARL Pres Ques 11)  as a percentage of total library materials expenditures for monographs, serials and periodicals, and other formats (ARL Stats Ques 15) … with rank!
  • Expenditures for “contract” library binding (ARL Pres Ques 8b) as a percentage of total library materials expenditures for monographs, serials and periodicals, and other formats (ARL Stats Ques 15) … with rank!
  • Salaries and wages for staff engaged in preservation activities (ARL Pres Ques 7) as a percentage of total library salaries and wages for professional staff, support staff, and student assistants (ARL Stats Ques 17) … with rank!
  • Number of library-wide staff engaged in preservation activities (ARL Pres Ques 5, in FTE) as a percentage of total library FTE (ARL Stats Ques 26) … with rank!

Download a PDF or the spreadsheet (.xls via Google docs).

How is this info useful?

Well, most libraries are competitive and recognize certain other ARL libraries as peers to which they aspire or like to compare themselves.  If your library is considering a dramatic reduction in your contract library binding budget, you might refer to this data to evaluate your contract library binding budget as a percentage of your library’s overall budget (or simply the materials budget — the funds used to purchase monographs, serials, periodicals, etc.) … and how that percentage compares to your library’s peers.

On the flip side, if you seek to congratulate (as opposed to shame) your library administration, you might send your University Librarian a thank you note for their commitment to preservation as demonstrated by the high percentage of total library staff engaged in library-wide preservation activities.


1. I’m a book conservator who enjoys stats and knows how to use Excel, not a statistician.

2.   It is interesting to note that of the 123 ARL member libraries that reported overall statistics in 2007-2008 , only 111 report Preservation Statistics.  Those institutions not reporting preservation statistics include:  University of Alberta, Auburn University, University of Georgia,  Howard University, University of Illinois at Chicago, Kent State, University of Louisville, University of Manitoba, Queens College, and Temple University.  Several organizations, including Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) and the Center For Research Libraries (CRL) do not have preservation programs.  Of those institutions who did report, Cornell University and University of California at Santa Barbara did not gather staffing and most expenditure data for 2006/2007, and other institutions declined to respond to various questions.

3.  Take the “ranks” I calculated (or any of the stats libraries reported) with a grain of salt.  We’re comparing someone’s Granny Smith apple to another’s Fuji apple to another’s blood orange.  For example:

  • Georgia Tech Library and Information Center “ranks” #1 in both the percentage of total library FTE enaged in library-wide preservation activities (18.70%) and the salaries and wages of staff engaged in library-wide preservation activities as a percentage of total library salaries (12.96%).  However, Georgia Tech has no preservation department or conservation lab, and no one there has the words preservation or conservation / conservator in their job title.  More likely, they’re counting staff engaged in their very exciting, cutting-edge digital collections management and digital preservation efforts.  So while the ARL preservation statistical categories and definitions haven’t changed much over the past digital decade, how libraries define preservation (and the pride with which they attach that word and report that work) certainly has evolved.
  • The Library and Archives of Canada spends a whopping 11.50% of its overall budget and nine times its materials budget preservation activities … which makes sense since they are probably in the business of acquiring donated, not purchased collections.  Additionally, they did not report a dollar of expenditures towards contract library binding.  I’ve kept the national libraries of the U.S. and Canada in the mix as they theoretically serve as national leaders in the area of preservation.

Happy number crunching!

3 Responses

  1. This is a refreshing way to look at the ARL data. I have a couple of wishes for ARL preservation data. First, I would like our community to truly consider what information we are collecting and how we use it. The preservation stats were implemented in 1984 and have changed very little since then. Around 2000 the number of items digitized was put on the form as an option under reformatting. I know I’ve had several conversations about what data we would better represent what we do.

    In the recent ARL paper Safeguarding Collections at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Lars Myer suggests some changes to the stats that I think is a good start to the conversation (see Appendix B, page 45-50).

    I would also like to be able to compare my lab’s output with other similar-sized labs. How many treatments are they doing? how many enclosures? where are our strengths and weaknesses? Sure, we compare ourselves to similar sized libraries, or to those libraries we have an affinity for or wish we were more like, but it is very hard to pull together apple-to-apple comparisons based on staffing models.

  2. Holly, this is a great resource for both reference and research. Thank you for compiling!

  3. […] blogger at Preservation & Conservation Administration News has now ‘reconsidered‘ the most recent figures (07-08): “After years of thinking about this and occasionally […]

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