Daniel Fujiwara Ricky Lawton Susana Mourato
1. Background and objectives of the study In 2014, Arts Council England commissioned SImetrica to conduct a study to value the health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries.
Libraries have an important role in society as providers of a range of services from book-lending and computer access to children’s activities, training courses and meeting space. But understanding the value of libraries is a complex issue due to the wide-ranging services that libraries provide and the inherently non-market nature of these services (most are free at the point of use).
This study looks at the value of the health and wellbeing benefits of library engagement measured through economic value, using methods that are consistent with the HM Treasury Green Book guidance. There are two key research aims of the study.
1. The value of engagement in library services in terms of the impact on people’s overall quality of life.
This is measured through the contingent valuation (CV) method. A large CV study with around 2,000 respondents is used to ask people directly their willingness to pay (WTP) for library services as represented by paying additional council tax.
The values from the CV study represent the value associated with improved wellbeing due to library services. Technically speaking, this represents the primary benefits of library services. Primary benefits are those that accrue directly to the individual (ie the impact on their wellbeing). We look at the value of services in libraries in England and how this value differs by service type and the socio-demographic characteristics of the individual. We also look at what factors drive the reported values, such as socio-demographic factors and aspects of service use.
This CV study fills an important gap in the literature. Previous related studies on libraries in England have sought to place values on individual institutions, such as the British Library (Pung et al., 2004) and Bolton libraries (Jura Consultants, 2005), or have examined the value associated with booklending and reading services (eg Morris et al., 2002). As far as we are aware, it is the first valuation of the broad range of services that are offered by libraries in England.
2. The value to society of the health benefits of library services.
Libraries may make a contribution to society though their impacts on health. We look at the potential savings due to reductions in medical service usage as a result of improvements in general health from library service usage. This is estimated using exchequer cost savings estimates. The aim is to add to the evidence on libraries and health costs, which BOP Consulting (2014) recognises as being weak in some areas in its evidence review.
Exchequer cost savings are known as secondary benefits. They relate to impacts that benefit society more widely which at some point may be an indirect benefit to the individual as well. This mainly encompasses impacts on the economy and public purse. These are benefits because they could lead to reduced public spending on health which could lead to lower tax rates or shifts in resources to other important policy areas. These types of benefits are often also known as the economic contribution. This forms one element of overall economic value. Economic value is the approach taken in the HM Treasury Green Book and Business Case model.
A full review of the literature can be found in the main paper.”