Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1998

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Personnel, Gate Count, and Hours of Operation in ARL Science & Technology Libraries: a Comparison with Medical School Libraries

Marilyn Von Seggern
Head of Reference, Owen Science & Engineering Library, Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-3200

Donna E. Cromer
Associate Professor and Coordinator of Reference Services
Centennial Science and Engineering Library, University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131


Information collected on personnel, gate count, and hours of operation in academic science and technology libraries for 1992-93 is discussed and analyzed. These data are part of a more comprehensive survey conducted by the ACRL Science and Technology Section's Committee on Comparison of Science and Technology Libraries. The data are then compared to similar data taken from the 1992-93 survey of academic health sciences libraries. Potential comparisons with other library surveys are briefly mentioned. Information reported by type of library includes


The ACRL Science and Technology Section (STS) Committee on Comparison of Science and Technology Libraries is charged with collecting, analyzing, and distributing comparative data on North American academic science and technology (sci-tech) libraries. In 1993-94 the Committee on Comparison of Science and Technology Libraries (hereafter "Comparison Committee") conducted its fourth general survey on organizational structures, collections, expenditures, staffing, services, and other data from 1992. This article summarizes the data collected on personnel, gate count, and hours of operation in academic sci-tech libraries and compares it with data collected from medical school libraries in 1992-93 Annual Statistics of Medical School Libraries in the United States and Canada. (Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors 1994) Comparisons with other statistical surveys are also explored.

Julie M. Hurd, Comparison Committee Chair in 1993-94, summarized other portions of the Sci-Tech Libraries survey and described previous general and specialized surveys (Hurd 1996). The results of some of the past Comparison Committee surveys have also been published in the library literature (Hilker 1987, Hilker 1988, Brekke, Douglas, and Roberts 1988, Roberts, Brekke, and Douglas 1991).

Reporting and analysis of staffing levels, gate count, and hours of operation in academic libraries is largely lacking in the literature. While there are a few other annual and biennial surveys that include some or all of the data elements reported on here, comparisons remain difficult due to different survey populations, inconsistencies in definitions, and differing data elements.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) annually collects data on numbers of professional, support, and student staff, but does not further delineate these categories by public, technical, and administrative services staff (Association of Research Libraries Annual). ARL also collects supplementary statistics each year (Association of Research Libraries Annualb). These questions change from year to year and may or may not cover some of the other data elements. The Association of College and Research Libraries conducts a biennial survey of non-ARL academic libraries, using the same ARL questionnaire (Association of College & Research Libraries Biennial). The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System includes a survey of academic libraries and provides data on staff, (once again, however, not separated into public, technical, and administrative categories), gate count, and hours (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Biennial). One publication derived from these data is Statistical Norms for College and University Libraries (Statistical Norms 1993). The data are presented in groups of libraries ranked according to size and type of institution.

Several surveys concentrate on specific topic areas within science and engineering. The American Mathematical Society conducted a mathematics library survey in 1990 and 1996-97 (Anderson and Rovnyak 1991, Anderson, Dilcher and Rovnyak 1997, Anderson, Dilcher, and Rovnyak 1997b). The Engineering Library Division of the American Society for Engineering Education annually collects statistics on engineering libraries, several of which have been published in the past (American Society for Engineering Education 1984, American Society for Engineering Education 1985).

Finally, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors produces an annual survey of medical school libraries. We have chosen to compare science and engineering library personnel data with those from the medical school libraries survey to provide contrast within the science-technology-medicine (STM) library type. Medical school libraries and sci-tech libraries are two unique interdisciplinary library groups which are similar in the broad scope of their subject materials and range of collection sizes.

Sci-Tech Libraries Survey

The 13 page, self-administered mail survey of academic sci-tech libraries was distributed to the 108 academic members of the Association of Research Libraries in the late summer and autumn of 1993. Comparison Committee members were assigned libraries in order to identify a contact person to whom to send the survey, answer questions the respondents might have, and receive completed surveys. Responses were received from 75 institutions for a 69% return rate.

A number of categories were offered to respondents as options in describing the diverse physical arrangements of sci-tech library organization. Because institutional statistics are gathered in a variety of ways respondents were allowed the option of completing one survey for their science and technology collections or multiple surveys if data existed for separate science and technology collections. Those totally integrated with social sciences and humanities collections could report their organizational structure but not separate data.

The following definitions of organizational structure were used:

a separate, multidisciplinary science and technology library housed in its own building
a science and technology division, with separate statistics, housed in a main library
multisubject departmental
a divisional library with more than three discrete subjects in its collection housed with science and technology departments
collections comprised of one or two subjects housed in a department (some closely related subjects sharing a library were counted as a single subject)
a library system with three or more subject-departmental libraries and no major multisubject collections
a science and technology collection non-separable from an entire library collection with no separate statistics
various combinations of divisional, departmental, and integrated collections not fitting into the above categories, i.e., other.

Medical School Libraries Survey

The 1992-93 survey of medical school libraries by the Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors was mailed to "all libraries of medical schools holding 'institutional' or 'affiliate institutional' membership in the Association of American Medical Colleges, and to all osteopathic medical school libraries in the United States" (Association of Academic Health Sciences Library Directors 1994, iii). Data from 10 medical school libraries and 7 osteopathic medical school libraries are missing (89% return rate).

Of the 141 library respondees, approximately 77% serve a full medical school and graduate biomedical sciences or full medical school plus other schools such as nursing, dentistry, or veterinary. Those which are biomedical libraries (a medical library that serves the health sciences and undergraduate and graduate programs in the life sciences) amount to 14%. The remainder, approximately 9%, are either science libraries or serve a clinical sciences program only.

Breakdown of respondees by reporting line of the director provides further organizational information. Those reporting to medical schools total 34% while 32% report to a health sciences center. Approximately 26% report to a university library. The remaining 9% report to a medical library, governing board, or other organization.


The Sci-Tech Libraries Survey collected data on 9 categories of full-time equivalent (FTE) staff. Professional staff, support staff, and hourly wage personnel FTE were requested for public service, technical service, and administration categories. Professional staff was defined as

staff members doing work that requires professional training or skill in the theoretical and/or scientific aspect of library work, as distinct from its clerical aspects; also persons who though not librarians are in professional positions normally requiring at least a bachelor's degree (e.g., curators, archivists, computer specialists, subject bibliographers, media specialists, etc.)

Table 1 summarizes professional, support, and hourly wage FTE data on sci-tech libraries (five organizational types) and medical school libraries. The sci-tech libraries are separated in two groups for easier comparison: decentralized, main-divisional, and stand-alone are common overall organizational structures whereas departmental and multisubject are almost always part of a larger system of decentralized or hybrid (with other possible combinations).

Decentralized library systems report a high of 31.3 FTE staff with main-divisional at less than half that number (12.4 FTE). As discussed by Hurd, library size probably influences physical and organizational structure, and decentralized libraries tend to be larger Association of Research Libraries members as demonstrated by a mean ARL rank for that type (33.4). Institutions of stand-alone and main-divisional libraries are at a higher mean rank, 50.2 and 51.5 respectively, indicating a smaller relative size, "taking into account the number of volumes held, the number added during the previous fiscal year, the number of current serials, total operating expenditures, and the size of professional and nonprofessional staff (excluding student employees)" (Hurd 1996, 149).

While a departmental library serves users of one distinct or two very closely related subjects, a multisubject library can vary considerably in range of subjects and staffing up to the size expected of a multidisciplinary stand-alone library. The departmental libraries reporting in this survey averaged about 5 FTE staff whereas multisubject sci-tech libraries averaged 17.6 FTE.

The Medical School Libraries Survey utilized slightly different categories of staff and functions than the Sci-Tech Libraries Survey. For purposes of comparison the library specialist paraprofessional staff category was combined with support staff, and the functional areas of collection development (acquisitions, cataloging, collection selection, and materials processing) and automated systems were equated with technical services. Those areas defined as public services were information services (resources interpretation, education, LRC/computer services, outreach) and collection distribution (circulation, ILL, photocopy, and stack maintenance). Mean FTE staff in medical school libraries totals 32.9, slightly more than the largest of the sci-tech libraries.

Staffing Ratios

A different perspective on these somewhat diverse organizational types can be gained by calculating ratios of professional staff to support and hourly staff. Here also can be added staff ratios derived from the ARL Statistics, using the university median numbers of professional, support, and hourly staff (Daval and Brennan 1994, 39). (Table 2). Decentralized libraries employ 1.5 support staff and 1.7 hourly wage staff, while stand-alones employ 1.7 and 1.4 hourly wage, for every professional staff member. Multisubject libraries also show relatively high support staff per professional at a ratio of 2 to 1, but reverse the trend with only .9 hourly wage staff to every professional. ARL libraries are similar, with a support to professional staff ratio of 1.9 to 1, and .9 to 1 ratio of hourly wage staff to professional.

Main-divisional sci-tech libraries, where more staff functions may be shared with other divisions in the same facility, show .7 support staff and .6 hourly wage staff for every professional. In departmental libraries the ratio of professional to support to hourly wage results in a nearly equal balance: 1 to .9 to 1. Medical school libraries appear to use fewer hourly wage staff than any of the sci-tech library types, only .5 for every professional staff, while the support staff to professional staff ratio is closer to decentralized and stand-alone organizational types (1.8 to 1).

Functional ratios of administrative to public and technical service staff provide another comparison among organizational structures. (Table 3) Medical school libraries appear to employ fewer public service staff for every administrator than any of the sci-tech library types but also have one of the highest technical service to administrator ratios. Because such a high percentage is administered through the medical school or health center campus of the institution, medical school libraries may tend to be more self-contained in terms of technical services, interlibrary loan, and automated systems than are sci-tech departments. Among sci-tech libraries far less variance is shown in the administrator to technical service ratio than in administrator to public service staff where main-divisional libraries employ over 22 public service staff for every administrator.

Gate Count and Hours

Table 4 displays gate count and hours for organizations for which there were sufficient responses. Gate count statistics on the Sci-Tech Libraries Survey were frequently listed as unavailable or remained unreported by respondents, but enough data were reported for departmental, multisubject, and stand-alone libraries to make comparisons possible. Multisubject and stand-alone libraries are at approximately 3 and 4 times, respectively, the gate count of departmental libraries. Medical school libraries average slightly over half the gate count of stand-alone sci-tech libraries. Stand-alone sci-tech, main-divisional sci-tech, and medical school libraries were open an average of 96-98 hours/week. Multisubject libraries are open an average of 89.8 hours/week and departmental libraries an average of 20 hours/week less.

One additional measure which may indicate relative staffing levels among these libraries is number of staff per hour open, also shown in Table 4. There is a steady progression from .07 staff for every hour a departmental library is open to .29 staff for every open hour in stand-alone libraries and .34 staff in medical school libraries. It would appear that larger libraries may be able to offer more services while open in addition to being open more hours.

The sci-tech libraries survey also requested data on reference hours but because the question was interpreted in different ways the responses were unusable. Future surveys will attempt to collect comparative data on this standard library service which could also be compared with reference hour data provided by the Medical School Libraries Survey.


Although falling below main-divisional and stand-alone libraries in average number of hours open per week and average gate count per year, medical school libraries as a group appear to employ a larger staff than any of the sci-tech library types. Conjectures are that, though all STM libraries operate under the imperative of high demand, timely response, and up-to-date services, health services libraries have an additional urgency factor. They also have the support of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, a national infrastructure for rapid and convenient access to health care and biomedical information. Since 1980, federal funding for health research and development has been higher than any other category except for national defense (National Science Foundation 1998), and well-equipped, -supplied, and -serviced medical libraries are needed to sustain this level of inquiry. Continued comparisons of sci-tech and medical school library data may show interesting results in fluctuating funding levels of materials, staff, and services.


It is a turbulent time for academic libraries, especially in the subject areas of science, technology, and medicine, due to seemingly unstoppable growth in the literature, continued high inflation in these materials, the move to provide more information through electronic networks, and relatively flat budgets. Tracking trends in these areas will provide insight into the kinds of decisions sci-tech libraries are making as to collection management and personnel. The Science and Technology Library Survey, continued at regular intervals for the same population, will provide increasingly reliable and comparable data about changes in organization, personnel, funding, and services.


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