Annual Reports in Academic Law Libraries

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Marketing Toolkit for Academic Law Libraries
Academic Law Libraries Special Interest Section
American Association of Law Libraries

Annual 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." [1]

Annual reports come in all shapes, sizes, and formats, and often include: [2]

  • 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. [3] 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

  1. determine what you are trying to accomplish by generating this document (i.e., what are your goals and objectives?), and
  2. 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 operations.


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
  • faculty
  • staff
  • students
  • alumni
  • donors
  • 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 annual report.

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: [4]

  • departmental headings, such as Administration, Public Services, Technical Services, etc.;
  • topical subject headings, including Financial Summary, Library Collection, Library Services, Staffing, etc.;
  • genre headings, like Highlights of the Year, Review of Objectives, Budgetary Review, etc.;
  • headline headings, for instance Library Resources Meet Community Needs, Who Uses our Library, etc.

What organization structure you choose for your report will be shaped by your particular goals, your readers, and your institution. [5]

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 services, etc.

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 looking document.

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. [6] When you are assessing your report, it may be helpful to consider the following: [7]

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.  

[1] Roy Mersky, Administration in Academic Law Libraries, in Law Librarianship: A Handbook, Vol. 1, 33, (Heinz Mueller & Patrick Kehoe eds., 1983).

[2] Jana Bradley & Larry Bradley, Ch. 11, Annual Reports, in Improving Written Communication in Libraries, 231-232, (American Library Association, 1988) [hereinafter Bradley & Bradley].

[3] Jean Holcomb, Annual Reports Speak Up, in 4 Law Librarians in the New Millennium 1 (Thomson West, Nov/Dec/2002).

[4] See Bradley, supra note 2, at 231-232 for examples of annual report organizational structures.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. at 352.

[7] Id.


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