The health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries

Daniel Fujiwara Ricky Lawton Susana Mourato March 2015 “Executive Summary 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.” Stephen

Public libraries provide access to critical e-government information

The public library has become a key means of “access to Federal, State or County government” for many library patrons, as “it provides a service where some business can only be conducted via the Internet.” Many libraries recognize that the Internet access they provide is the only way that some patrons can interact with e–government services. One Texas library explained, “As government entities increasingly turn to Web–based applications to service clients, a large proportion of the community is relying upon the Library for access to and instruction/assistance on using the Internet.”In early 2006, many people relied on the public library for an important interaction with e–government — signing up for the mandatory Medicare prescription drug coverage plans. Though enrollment for these programs was not limited to online forms, the government encouraged seniors to register online, and much of the information about the program was primarily available online. As a result, many seniors relied on Internet access in libraries to research the drug plans and to sign up for them. A number of libraries, particularly those in areas with higher concentrations of seniors, indicated that they had become well–versed in the plans by helping seniors. A South Dakota library spoke for many by writing, “During the last few months this library has been able to help many older citizens sign up for the Part D medicare drug program.”The reliance on the public library’s public access computing and Internet access to research tax information and complete online tax forms has also become commonplace. As one library explained, “Our connection also allows us a lifeline to government documents — we wouldn’t be able to provide tax forms this year without it.” The ability of patrons to complete taxes online at the library is important in many communities around the country.

The value of the UK's public library service in providing leisure opportunities from a user point of view

The benefits go far beyond simply enjoyment and amusement, to being an essential form of relaxation for some people, helping to relieve stress, providing a break from the pressures of everyday life, and assisting others with the treatment of an illness. (p.138) The opportunities offered by libraries, in addition to providing access to books and other recreational materials such as videos, further enhance people's leisure time by giving them the chance to socialize and by providing access to activities many others in society take for granted because they can afford them. (p.139)

Health and wellness

People rely on public library computers and Internet access for two of the most critical aspects of their lives: health and wellness. Users are logging in to find ways to improve their diets, find doctors, research their own or others’ illnesses, locate health care insurance, and track down discount medications. In fact, libraries have become a nontraditional, and perhaps overlooked, component of the national public health system.The expansion of the Internet is creating a growing number of vital links between access to information technology and personal health at a time when health care stands as one of the nation’s biggest public policy issues that impacts the welfare of citizens as well as the financial solvency of the nation’s largest social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.Indeed, meeting health and wellness needs was one of the most frequently reported uses of public access technology, with 37 percent of users reporting having looked for health information, treatment options, care givers, or ways to improve their health; 56 percent of these users also reported seeking out these types of information for relatives, friends, colleagues, and others. (p.97)
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