Like all businesses and service providers, libraries compete, explicitly or implicitly, with other entities for market share. At the heart of this idea is that library leaders should care about the share of user needs they are fulfilling, even if the language of business is not always the most comfortable for them.  Take content delivery–to what extent do users turn to Amazon over the library for books, and how is this changing with the development of ebooks? If we see a shift away from libraries, what are the implications and how should librarians respond?

Ithaka S+R has been trying to estimate academic libraries’ changing market share for some functions, such as discovery, for many years, principally through our US Faculty Survey but also by gathering usage data from a variety of sources. As the share of academic searches starting from library-maintained sources appears to decline, we have raised the question, how should the library allocate its resources in response to its changing position with the overall discovery environment?

In my view, market research approaches, including measures of market share, are very powerful diagnostics even in non-traditional settings like the academic library, with value not only to track trends nationally but also as a management tool. We have grown accustomed to using service quality as a tracking metric, but one can be satisfied with a service while using it less in favor of its competitor. While we may not find it realistic for the library to have a market share of 100% in very many areas given today’s complex information environment,  it is still quite valuable to gain a handle on how market share is changing. Understanding market share offers an important complement to the arsenal that managers and leaders can use to assess the academic library.

For this reason, over the past year, my colleague Alisa Rod and I developed a market research module as part of Ithaka S+R’s Local Faculty Survey. Any college or university can run our local surveys on faculty members, graduate/professional students, and undergraduates, and the market research module is one of 18 from which libraries select in order to develop their questionnaire. As we have designed it, the market research module allows libraries to track where their market share is increasing or decreasing across a variety of key service areas, and also to develop some hypotheses about the causes.

Have you tried to measure or track market share for any services that your library offers?