Determining library peers

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Kirsten Kinsley

Apr 17, 2024, 5:13:28 PMApr 17
Good afternoon,
I am curious about how your library determined your institutional peers.  In the past, we used the list of peers and aspirational peers provided by our Office of Institutional Research. They have since advised that we are best positioned to decide that from now on. I observed other institutions use the US News & World Report Rankings to look at peers near them in rank. We have used those rankings and coupled them with other university metrics.  

How have you determined your academic library peers?

If so, what metrics did you decide were important to pull to benchmark and compare your peers?

Who helped you decide on your peer list and its accompanying metrics?  

Thanks for your attention and input.

All the best,

Kirsten Kinsley (she, her, hers)
Assessment Librarian
Liaison (Criminology & Criminal Justice & Social Work)
Florida State University Libraries
Tallahassee, FL 32306

Joyce Chapman

Apr 18, 2024, 8:29:36 AMApr 18
to Kirsten Kinsley, ARL ASSESS

When we’ve done peer comparisons in the past, we typically just used the consortia that we are members of. For Duke Libraries that’s two consortia: the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) – a hyper local group of four universities (Duke, UNC-CH, NCCU, and NCSU), and the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation (IPLC) – 13 libraries around the country. Interested to hear other responses!



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Nancy B. Turner

Apr 18, 2024, 9:00:29 AMApr 18
to Joyce Chapman, Kirsten Kinsley, ARL ASSESS
At Temple Libraries, I've used various approaches, depending on the need.

The schools and colleges at the University have their own peer groups, and the University (as a whole) may also have different sets, depending on the question / or case being made: aspirational peers,  schools we share potential applicants from, schools in the Philadelphia area, or other public, urban institutions.

For the libraries more specifically, I might use schools that are similar in ARL rank, or schools with similar library expenditures.

I think it is important to clarify the criteria used and why that relates to the case you are making. 

Great question, Kirsten!



Nancy B. Turner
Director for Planning, Strategy and Organizational Evolution
Temple University Libraries
Charles Library Room 360
1300 Norris Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19122

From: Joyce Chapman <>
Sent: Thursday, April 18, 2024 8:29 AM
To: Kirsten Kinsley <>; ARL ASSESS <>
Subject: [External] [ARL-ASSESS] RE: Determining library peers

Harker, Karen

Apr 18, 2024, 9:51:25 AMApr 18

Our library has determined that the selection of peers depends largely on the purpose of the comparison.  When we are conducting collection assessments for routine institutional academic program reviews, we use a combination of standard peers (one set of state-wide institutions, since we serve mostly in-state students) and one standard set of national peers, selected from the CHE’s Who does your college think its peers are? site


When we are assessing our collection for enhancement purposes, we use the IPEDS College Navigator, selecting institutions with similar degree programs and other similar characteristics.  We are careful to select those institutions that are both current competitors, as well as those that could be considered modestly aspirational (i.e., we’ll never include Harvard). 


The point is that the purpose of each peer comparison is taken into consideration.  In other reports, we have used the institution’s own defined peers, but again, these change with the purpose of their comparison. 



Karen R. Harker, MLS, MPH

Collection Assessment Librarian

UNT Libraries

Applegate, Rachel

Apr 18, 2024, 10:20:13 AMApr 18
to Kirsten Kinsley,

The single most effective chart I ever made as a small college library director was about the topic of librarian-to-student ratio (teaching-oriented college).  It had what my non-library superiors considered their ‘working-group:’  Amazing State Private College Association.  A group that had subgroups of presidents, provosts, IT people, etc.:  that is, not numerically peers but we know these folks peers.


The graph was a column chart of ratios.


I labelled the columns with the names.  (Key item!  Many of our administrators were from the liberal arts and weren’t data oriented). 

We were way at the low end…in the company of ‘peers’ that I knew our president thought we were better than. 


On Mondays and Fridays please contact if you need immediate assistance.

Rachel Applegate

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs

Associate Professor, Library and Information Science

Office of Academic Affairs

University Hall (INAD), Suite 4008

301 University Boulevard

Indianapolis, IN 46202 





From: 'Kirsten Kinsley' via ARL ASSESS <>
Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024 at 5:13 PM
To: <>
Subject: [ARL-ASSESS] Determining library peers


Elizabeth Brown

Apr 18, 2024, 11:13:50 AMApr 18
to Kirsten Kinsley,
Hi Kirsten,
I did this last fall for our libraries and I created a chart with a variety of characteristics relevant to our library/institution, including:
  • collection size (print and electronic), staffing, # branch libraries, budget (ACRL)
  • ILS used, size of collection (, ACRL)
  • faculty status (we have faculty status/tenure track for librarians) (library status wiki, campus faculty governance webpages)
  • memberships, Carnegie classification of campus (ARL, AAU)
Not all factors had the same level of importance. The biggest challenge I had was getting equivalent data for all potential peers, and deciding which variable to use to start with the analysis. I started with ILS but really you could start with any variable. I found that site really useful as it had a lot of data in one place that was easy to share.

There was no single library/institution that met all of our criteria but the ones that were the most similar or had aspirational factors were selected (5 true peers, 5 aspirational peers). I shared drafts lists with our administrative leadership team, and we had a couple of discussions to finalize choices. Based on discussion, I would say size, budget, campus goals (memberships, Carnegie class, etc.) and library benchmarks/services/collections were the most important factors.

I'm happy to talk more about this if you have any questions,

Smith, Gregory

Apr 18, 2024, 1:01:10 PMApr 18
to Kirsten Kinsley,



I’ll begin my response by stating that I think the uses of benchmarking have evolved significantly over the course of my career. Both peer groups and points of comparison are subject to change. Relative to what things were 20 years ago, many of us may find less value in assessing local operations via the same metrics against the same set of peers year after year.


I would echo Karen’s argument “that the selection of peers depends largely on the purpose of the comparison.” Prior to taking the directorship of a law library, I had repeated occasion to do benchmarking as a university library associate dean. The criteria that I used to identify peers varied; they might include factors such as mission, Carnegie classification, control/sector, geographic location, and the concerns of my intended audience.


In addition to looking at purely quantitative metrics (i.e., those capable of being subjected to statistical analysis), I also engaged in qualitative comparison. As academic libraries have become more differentiated in the scope of their missions and the means employed to pursue their missions, I often found that useful data often wasn’t available from a national, longitudinal source. Sometimes I had to probe for that information myself, and sometimes the insights were qualitative rather than numerical.


I would also state that, over time, I’ve found institutional administrators less susceptible to the influence of benchmarking data. Finally, you might consider looking at to help identify peer institutions.


Gregory A. Smith, Ed.D.
Ehrhorn Law Library

(434) 592-4892

Signature pic law logo

Liberty University  |  Training Champions for Christ since 1971

From: 'Kirsten Kinsley' via ARL ASSESS <>

Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2024 5:13 PM

Subject: [External] [ARL-ASSESS] Determining library peers


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Devin Savage

Apr 26, 2024, 2:57:32 PMApr 26
to Smith, Gregory, Kirsten Kinsley,
A couple of thoughts have been kicking around my head regarding these questions - but here's a couple of answers to your questions:

How have you determined your academic library peers?

In various assessment roles, I've been at a couple of interesting institutions that weren't shaped like the schools that most people immediately think of as peers: one was a private institution that was normally affiliated with a bunch of public land-grant institutions. For that, I created a list of other schools in similar sort of situations (aka R1 private institutions that were in various consortiums with largely public land-grant institutions). At my current institution, I was able to leverage the AITU list to create a peer list (excluding the very biggest and the very smallest institutions) rather than a previously geographically oriented list of peers. To rebut a peer list created by external consultants on one occasion, I had to specifically look for STEM-oriented universities that also contained a law school.

If so, what metrics did you decide were important to pull to benchmark and compare your peers?

Triangulating the size of budgets, student FTE, and # of faculty were the things that often first hinted the list of so-called peers were actually different sorts of institutions then I was at. The measures I've observed as useful in the articulating value conversation (especially when comparing against peers) are:

  • e-usage numbers vs collections cost (responsible resource stewardship and research support)
  • instruction/presentation, transactions, consultation numbers, and gate count (measures of student touchpoints and engagement)

Who helped you decide on your peer list and its accompanying metrics?  

I was largely on my own, but as I mentioned I did have to examine and then rebut external consultants at one point.

A couple of additional thoughts:
1) As budgets have tightened, I have heard from colleagues that the benchmarking effort does seem to be less effective in terms of convincing higher administration for investment or to spend money in similar ways to aspirational peers. I would suggest that it still might be helpful to have in hand when talking about the value that an academic library provides and what will be lost with budget stagnation or cuts.   

2) Maybe it's just the institution I'm at now, but I've not found a lot of value in that Chronicle tool other than novelty. It's a measure of perception, which sometimes is tied to useful measures of competition (student recruitment perhaps, or research grants), but really didn't give me any further insights. That said, it was at least interesting to see what schools looked at my institution as an aspirational peer.  That's anecdotal, so grain of salt, etc.

Great to see the question and responses here!

Devin Savage
Dean of Libraries
Illinois Institute of Technology

Paul V. Galvin Library
35 West 33rd Street
Chicago, IL  60616
(312) 567-3615
(pronouns: he, his, him)

Kirsten Kinsley

May 1, 2024, 4:07:13 PMMay 1
to Devin Savage, Smith, Gregory,
Hi everyone!
Thank you so much for your insights on determining library peers. I learned a great deal.  I compiled the responses in one document.  Hopefully, I did not leave anyone out.  

All the best, (you all are the best)

From: Devin Savage <>
Sent: Friday, April 26, 2024 2:57 PM
To: Smith, Gregory <>
Cc: Kirsten Kinsley <>; <>
Subject: Re: [Ext] RE: [External] [ARL-ASSESS] Determining library peers
Aspirational Peer Analysis (2) (1).pdf
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