Spread the Word: There’s New Evidence of Libraries’ ROI

January 19, 2011

The promise of a fresh start is part and parcel of the beginning of a new year, particularly when hardship has darkened your door in the year just past. Although no one in the library community realistically expected their institution’s fiscal standing to magically move from strapped to solvent, a new study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government adds bottom-line evidence that the return on investment in library service more than justifies the costs.

The first-ever economic impact study about the Philadelphia’s public libraries, The Economic Value of the Free Library of Philadelphia (PDF file) concludes that the library created more than $30 million worth of economic value to the city in FY2010. Particularly noteworthy is the library’s impact on business development and employment, which has rightfully become an ongoing national concern. Survey respondents reported that they couldn’t have started, sustained, or grown an estimated 8,600 businesses without the resources they accessed at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Direct economic impact: Almost $4 million.

Librarians have come to expect that data will back up their positive effect on the creation of jobs (1,000 found work thanks to FLP resources, pumping $30 million in salaries into the economy) and tax revenue ($1.2 million) in a given community. The Fels study also offered a pleasant surprise: Researchers found that Philadelphia homes located within a quarter-mile of a branch library were worth an average of $9,630 more than homes outside that radius.

“Until now, there hasn’t been a way to know exactly how much we help in dollars and cents,” FLP President and Director Siobhan A. Reardon stated. “Through this groundbreaking study we put a figure to our services, providing hard evidence that we are more than a nice community resource—we’re an integral economic engine for the city of Philadelphia.”

The bottom-line figures may vary, but what’s true on the East Coast is undoubtedly just as true throughout Libraryland, and boosters in California would do well to point that out to newly sworn-in Gov. Jerry Brown, among whose first acts was proposing that lawmakers triage the state’s fiscal hemorrhage by cutting off entire state-level programs that help keep public libraries afloat. Both the California Library Association and the American Library Association were quick to issue statements decrying the proposal.

Trending across the pond

As stressed as U.S. libraries have been by the economic downturn, the crisis seems to pale in comparison to public libraries in Britain, whose ministers have told local governing councils to slash millions from their budgets with the goal of saving £6.5 billion nationwide beginning in April; simultaneously the interpretation of regulations that require the maintenance of library service have been loosened. Protests are growing against the possibility that more than 375 libraries could close. For example, the  creation January 16 of a #savelibraries hashtag trended to number four that same day on the United Kingdom Twitter stream as thousands expressed their love of libraries.




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