ACRL and PLA Launch Benchmark, a Library Data Analysis Tool

The Association of College & Research Libraries and Public Library Association have launched Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends, a new digital resource for data analysis and visualization designed to “help libraries plan, make informed decisions, and tell the story of their impact.”

Logo for benchmark. It is purple and yellow.The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) and Public Library Association (PLA) have launched Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends, a new digital resource for data analysis and visualization designed to “help libraries plan, make informed decisions, and tell the story of their impact” according to a joint announcement. Available at, the tool is based on a centralized collection of data from a variety of sources. For public libraries, this includes PLA surveys, U.S. census data, and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) data and surveys. Academic libraries also have access to ACRL Academic Library Trends and Statistics Survey data.

Benchmark replaces the Public Library Data Service (PLDS), which was discontinued in 2019 following requests from the library field “for better peer comparison data, user-friendly interfaces for data analysis and reporting, less redundancy in data collection, and improved data training related to community indicators” according to the announcement. In response to those needs, PLA’s Measurement, Evaluation, and Assessment Committee invested in the development of Benchmark, beginning over two years ago.

To bolster the underlying datasets, PLA will field “three rotating surveys annually, and those will change topically from year to year,” Larra Clark, deputy director of PLA, told LJ.  For example, “last year we did a technology access survey.... This year we just launched a salary and diversity survey…. And then there will be a third, unique [survey] that we will be collecting in 2022.”

ACRL became involved with the project’s development because “we had over 20 years of longitudinal academic library statistics, and we wanted to make that data more usable for academic libraries that were doing self-studies, preparing for accreditation, doing budget justifications, doing strategic planning,” and other related work, Mary Jane Petrowski, associate director of ACRL, told LJ. “We wanted to bring our current data product into the 21st century and provide more ease of use and more visualization [features]…. And we also folded into the platform the capability to administer our annual survey to…about 3,700 academic libraries in the U.S.”

Petrowski added that the two organizations have prior experience partnering on similar projects. Many academic libraries used PLA’s Project Outcome tool to create their own surveys and analyze library impact and outcome data, so eventually ACRL worked with PLA to clone the tool and tailor a version for academic libraries. Working together on that development had led to PLA officials inviting ACRL officials to the Good Tech Fest conference, where Petrowski said she came away impressed with a few data analysis and visualization tools.

“I thought ‘our data could look like this,’” Petrowski said. “Our data could really have a lot more impact.”

So the two organizations worked with Build Consulting, which matches nonprofits with developers. Build, in turn, put them in touch with Proximo, the developer that helped create Benchmark.

“Instead of throwing an RFP out to the world and hoping we were going to get responses, [Build Consulting] was a middle-man, if you will, to do the vetting and bring us only highly qualified prospects” who could fulfill their vision for Benchmark, Petrowski said. “That was a really critical step in our collaboration. PLA and ACRL were just hand-in-glove during that phase one work.”

Clark added that ACRL and PLA “are always looking for these opportunities to align as much of our work as possible to provide the greatest member value possible…. Project Outcome was kind of a perfect starting point and sandbox…. We know that our communities have different needs and uses of data…but we have so much in common in terms of what we’re trying to do [with] continuous improvement and advocacy and data-informed decision making. This is a really robust area for us to collaborate.”

ACRL members can obtain login credentials for Benchmark using their Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) ID or by emailing PLA members can use their Federal/State Cooperative System (FSCS) Key as their ID, or email

All public libraries will have free access to summary pages with “selected metrics and visualizations for the library, its primary peer group, and all libraries nationwide,” according to PLA’s website. They will also be able to “see the library’s responses submitted to past PLA and PLDS surveys. View and complete open surveys. Manage the library’s contact information and contact preferences to ensure your library receives invitations to participate in future surveys. [And] access resources about the data, the surveys, and how to use Benchmark.”

All academic libraries will have complimentary access to the platform as well, with the ability to “view and complete open surveys. Review responses to past ACRL Academic Library Trends and Statistics surveys and provide corrections or missing data. View a summary page with selected metrics and visualizations for the library, its Carnegie classification, and all libraries nationwide. Manage the library's contact information and preferences to ensure your institution receives an invitation to participate in future surveys. [And] access resources about the data, the annual survey, and how to use Benchmark,” according to ACRL’s website.

Additional features, including “A robust set of interactive data dashboards with visualizations and filters. A custom report builder that includes historic metrics [back to 2002 for public libraries, and back to 1998 for academic libraries]. And the ability to create custom peer groups for benchmarking,” require a subscription. One-year subscriptions to Benchmark are currently priced at $400 per public library (inclusive of multiple branches); $600 per academic library; $3,000 for consortia, state library agencies, and other groups of up to 10 libraries ($200 for each additional library); and $1,800 per year for companies, vendors, or other organizations. Discounts of 10 percent will be applied to organization members, while individual public and academic libraries can also receive an additional 10 percent discount for participating in ACRL and PLA surveys.

ACRL will be hosting webcasts to showcase the new tool and answer questions regarding its features on Wednesday, November 10 at 1 p.m. Central.

“This innovative joint project with ACRL and PLA aligns perfectly with the association's new pivot strategy,” American Library Association (ALA) Executive Director Tracie Hall said in an announcement. “This timely collaboration to provide current meaningful data to library thought leaders comes at a moment when there is an urgent need for this kind of deep, high-quality data that can guide decision making. I expect Benchmark to have a profound impact on the field, empowering library workers to analyze and advance the financial health of their institutions through good decisions based on reliable data.”

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Matt Enis


Matt Enis ( is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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