Baseball, Apple Pie and Elsevier: Playing “Moneyball” in Librarianship


Playing “Moneyball” in Librarianship:The Winning Strategy of Gap Analysis

By Tommy Doyle
Senior Vice President, Elsevier


Data, driving high-quality decisions, can be a powerful vehicle for change. By empowering librarians with fact-based analytics, their libraries can become more prominent and valuable. Such “gap analysis” provides librarians greater visibility into usage behavior, as well as their institution’s and the world’s research trends – allowing librarians to provide greater access to the content library patrons want, and elevate their own stature within an institution.

Anyone familiar with the book or movie, Moneyball1 also knows the term, “sabermetrics.”2 When the Oakland A’s started to assemble its Major League Baseball (MLB) team for the 2002 season, it was facing limited revenues and the departure of three marquee players. Billy Beane, the team’s general manager, decided to abandon the time-honored but mostly subjective process of choosing players based on certain statistics used since the 19th century. Beane and his staff adopted an analytical, evidence-based approach to assembling a competitive team. This system empowered them to choose players with great potential who had been overlooked by other teams. They filled the gaps in their line-up based on careful research, not just gut feelings.


Despite initial criticism from multiple fronts, sabermetrics has been credited with taking the low-budget A’s to the playoffs in both 2002 and 2003 – and several times since then. Beane caught the attention of new Boston Red Sox owner John Henry, who tried to lure him away from the A’s at the end of the 2002 season. While Henry didn’t succeed in signing the Oakland general manager, he embraced Beane’s approach to evaluating and selecting players…and just two years later had created a team that brought a World Series championship to Boston for the first time in 86 years.

Many librarians find themselves in a situation not unlike the one Beane faced in early 2002. The long-accepted ways of acquiring new content are hard to shake, as is the dated perception of librarians as “curators.” They are also coping with small or decreasing budgets that force them to spend less on books and there is heavy scrutiny of all expenditures.

At the same time, researchers and academicians are increasingly requesting access to more content, such as eBooks, that complements primary research. With limited funding, librarians often find it difficult to provide access to all the content patrons – researchers, faculty and students – would like at the level expected in the 21st century. And when librarians do spend money on content, it can be a risky proposition due to a lack of good insight into actual researcher needs.

But if librarians think in a new way – move toward data-driven acquisition like Billy Beane – they just might be able to provide greater access to the foundational and interdisciplinary content patrons want, and elevate their own stature within an institution.

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