Marketing Toolkit for Academic Law Libraries
Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section
American Association of Law Libraries
Reports in Academic Law Libraries
Kristin A. Cheney
Executive Law Librarian
Seattle University Law School Library
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"No single publication of a library can do more to enhance its reputation and
increase its budget than its annual report."
Annual reports come in all shapes, sizes, and formats, and often include: 
- objectives for the year just completed
- accomplishments or significant occurrences
- statistical and narrative summaries of departmental activities
- financial reviews
- summaries of staffing or other personnel issues
- discussions of problems, issues or concerns
- future goals
- comparative data with other libraries
- major gifts
Is an annual report appropriate for your library? Although an annual report can be a
powerful tool within your marketing arsenal, you will need to gauge how effective it will
or will not be in your particular institutional setting. While some directors
favor periodically scheduled meetings with the dean and faculty, others
find that an "on the spot discussion" approach or monthly/quarterly
reports summarizing the library's activities works best in their institutional
setting. Operational or strategic plans that include an overview of the
year's achievements, but which have a forward focus on short- and long-term
goals, are another option to consider in lieu of generating a formal report.
However, for many an annual report can be an excellent medium to disseminate your
message, to tell your "story," to a selected audience.
What information you choose to include in your annual report will depend to a large extent
on the goals and objectives of your report and to whom the report is directed. So it is
important at the onset to
- determine what you are trying to accomplish by generating this document
(i.e., what are your goals and objectives?), and
- identify your target audience.
Annual Report Objectives
The goal or purpose of your annual report can be general in nature (e.g.,
provide a summary of the year's activities), or specific (e.g., educate
reader regarding the library's role in achieving the law school's mission).
Annual reports generated by academic law libraries are often a combination
of both general and specific objectives.
An annual report can function as a vehicle to:
- showcase major accomplishments and special projects -- transition to new
bibliographic system completed; teaching responsibilities doubled in the past year;
faculty liaison program fully implemented;
- highlight significant library events – new library inaugurated; hosted a
major conference/reception; received award or professional acknowledgement;
- introduce future endeavors – expansion of document delivery capability; create
Friends of Library group; offer a spring summer associates workshop.
It can also serve as a tool to educate your target audience regarding what it is that
you do, how your services benefit them and what resources are necessary to accomplish your
objectives. By identifying future goals, you can alert your audience to significant
challenges that your library is facing (e.g., budgetary, personnel, space), and thereby
lay the foundation to discuss these future needs.
In addition to serving as a communications and educational tool, your annual report
can also fulfill a variety of managerial purposes. As a compendium of the year's
activities, the report's data provides a mechanism for the library director to objectively
review the year, analyze statistics, gauge accomplishments and reallocate resources.
Comparisons to previous years' data allows the director and/or supervisor to identify
trends (e.g., public patron usage has increased each year for the past three years) and
can serve as a benchmark to measure service activities and performance (e.g., number of
online reference interactions reflect a 60% increase since new website unveiled;
implementation of new interlibrary loan system has resulted in a 38% increase in
student/faculty borrowing requests). As a historical record, the annual report may prove
a useful tool in long range planning for both library and law school administrators
as well as provide present and future library staff with a valuable overview of library
Once you have determined the goals of your annual report, it should be fairly easy to
identify your primary audience, which may include one or more of the following:
- deans and administrators within law school or university
- general public
Most annual reports are quasi-public or public documents and are distributed to a
variety of audiences. However, in certain instances annual reports are written to a
one-person audience (e.g., dean requests report addressing specific personnel and salary
issues). Because your report may necessarily contain confidential or sensitive information
it's important to determine as best you can who will eventually read this report and the
future use of that information. Comments pertaining to personnel situations are
inappropriate if the report will be read by staff, students, etc. In most instances,
situations involving confidential or sensitive information are better addressed in a
"special purpose" memo, rather than included in a more widely disseminated
Organization of Annual Report
As goals change from year-to-year, so will the content and organization of your annual
report. For example, an inaugural annual report might focus on providing more general
overview and background library information, while the next year's report may highlight
technology's integral role in library operations. Annual reports can be organized in
whatever way suits your needs. Some typical organizational structures include:
- departmental headings, such as Administration, Public Services, Technical Services,
- topical subject headings, including Financial Summary, Library Collection, Library
Services, Staffing, etc.;
- genre headings, like Highlights of the Year, Review of Objectives, Budgetary Review,
- headline headings, for instance Library Resources Meet Community Needs, Who Uses our
What organization structure you choose for your report will be shaped by your
particular goals, your readers, and your institution.
Compiling and Producing Your Report
The size of your staff and, consequently, the amount of time that can be allocated to
this project will often influence how you approach compiling an annual report. Drafting
this document need not be a one-person venture, although an overall organizer should be
designated. Many schools use the individual librarian/departmental report method to
compile their annual report. Under this method, the organizer meets with librarians and
department heads at the beginning of the year to determine who is responsible for
supplying what types of information at the end of the year. Individuals then have the
opportunity to compile this information as the year progresses. At the year's end, the
designated organizer then serves as an editor/compiler of these separate reports.
Libraries are not static organizations and as living entities their goals change from
year to year. Depending on the number and diversity of goals, the library may find that
several audience-specific report versions are necessary. For example, although
all of your report versions include a summary of that year's library activities
that highlight major accomplishment and special projects, the Dean's version
may additionally include more specific budget and expenditures information,
a discussion of need for additional staffing, an assessment of current
Until recent years, the idea of generating multiple versions of an annual report was
unthinkable, if not impossible. However, the technological resources now available in
most, if not all, academic law libraries provide the capability to produce online
annual reports geared to a variety of audiences. Each reader can choose
to view the basic summary and highlights version of the report or, when
desiring additional information, expand the report to include more detailed
discussion, supporting tables and charts, etc.
The physical appearance of your annual report can be as important as the information
it contains. You may ultimately decide that the variety of goals and diversity of
audiences will require producing an annual report in several formats. While an online
version may play well with your students and faculty, a more formal print
publication may prove more effective with your alumni. While not all libraries
may have the resources to create a detailed online version or pay for outside
production, it is paramount that your annual report be an accurate, professional
As you can see, an annual report's content and design will vary greatly from one
institution to another. What information you ultimately choose to include in your document
and the way you present that information will be based on what you think will best
achieve the goals of your report.
 When you are assessing your report,
it may be helpful to consider the following:
What is the overall impression given by your report?
What is the tone of your report?
What information stands out clearly?
What were the main sections?
What types of headings did you use?
Did you make effective use of tables and graphics?
What points do they make?
What motivates the reader(s) to read the report?
Do you use library jargon or a plain-English vocabulary?
The following examples reflect the diversity of content, structure and presentation
found in academic library annual reports. Many court libraries, as well as
public, county and state libraries, produce annual reports which are available
on the web and can also serve as examples of what types of information you
may want to include in your annual report. (Caveat: These examples reflect
reports available in 2003; more current versions may be available at the
time of this article's publication.)
Click here to see examples of Annual Reports.
 Jean Holcomb, Annual Reports Speak
Up, in 4 Law Librarians in the New
Millennium 1 (Thomson West, Nov/Dec/2002).
 See Bradley, supra note
2, at 231-232 for examples of annual report organizational structures.
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