Executive Management: Considerations for Focusing on the F&A Future—Part 4: The Evolution of The Library Infrastructure

COVID-19, campus shutdowns, shrinking budgets, and F&A rate extensions require that administrators consider the investment in research and impact on future years’ F&A rates. More than ever before colleges and universities are planning for the next rate proposal and examine techniques to identify and optimize cost allocation to benefitting activities. For example, many institutions took advantage of the opportunity to defer F&A proposals based on FY20 until FY21. In this four-part blog series, we examine the considerations of four important initiatives including: a diagnostic review to improve costing processes via a dry run exercise; the benefits of proper utility metering; updating capital asset depreciation expense; and the evolution of the library infrastructure.

Part 1: Why Dry Runs are Important

Part 2: Understanding Your Utility Costs During COVID-19

Part 3: Fixed Asset Depreciation Reporting Exigency

Part 4: The Evolution of The Library Infrastructure

Academic research libraries support their educational institutions’ missions to conduct research, including sponsored research. Colleges and universities have performed library cost analysis studies, typically employing user surveys, for at least thirty-five years to quantify the extent to which their libraries support sponsored research. The Library cost pool is uncapped and included in the Facilities component of the F&A rate. This has given institutions an incentive to measure the extent to which their academic libraries support sponsored research.

In the absence of a library cost analysis study, the standard allocation methodology prescribes that library expenses shall be allocated to the institution’s major functions first on the basis of primary categories of users, including students, faculty and professional employees, and other users.

The purpose of the user surveys is to estimate the percentage of total library use associated with organized research for each of the library’s major activities. Each cost center identified has a corresponding allocation base with usage data collected from the library user surveys (e.g., circulation costs are allocated based on circulation usage reported during the user surveys).

The surveys involve the selection of a random sample of time periods for conducting each survey distribution and collection of surveys and an estimation of the proportion of library activities which are attributable to benefitting activities including organized research.

Academic libraries vary in their support of research, however, science, medical, and engineering libraries services and collections exhibit the most support for organized research at different universities. Journals and interlibrary loan/document delivery are consistently the most highly used collection and service in support of research. In most cases, electronic services use approximates traditional services in its level of use to support research.


As institutions transition in this new environment, there are various ways to create greater efficiency and improve margins associated with research services such as evaluating facilities related costs, implementing space productivity analyses for research programs, and/or recovering as much cost as possible from the F&A function. Institutions that do not act will likely see margins continue to shrink, making it difficult to facilitate cost recovery or generate the funding necessary to support productive programs.

Note: This article was first published in the January/February Issue of the NCURA magazine. Download the PDF here.

About the Author

Mark Davis, Attain Partners

Mark Davis is a Partner and founding member and leader of Attain Partners. He has been consulting for 35 years and has worked as a key business advisor to more than 100 major research universities and academic medical centers, nonprofits, and hospitals. Mr. Davis is experienced in federal cost policy, reimbursement and regulatory compliance, research finance, and grants management. Mr. Davis assists institutions to accomplish strategic, organizational, and financial goals, and manage risk and compliance.