The role of the library as a community gathering place was stressed repeatedly at focus group sessions. Whether discussing concerts, classes, and other events, book clubs and other social groups, or simply a forum where people could come and sit, talk, and read, quite a few people expressed their appreciation that libraries stand alone in many communities as a gathering place. Although many towns also have community centers and parks, Wisconsin winters render such options unavailable a significant amount of the time. Many interviewees place a great deal of importance on the value of a comfortable public library facility where they can gather, especially as opportunities for social interaction have decreased in the wake of more people seeking out services online (p. 54).
Technology has become increasingly important, and the issue of a level playing field is particularly important in this regard. Although home computers and Internet service have gotten considerably less expensive in recent years than they were a decade ago, the fact remains that they are still a luxury that a sizeable segment of the population cannot afford. In 2003 (the most recent year for which data is available) 38.2% of Wisconsin households were without computers, and 45.3% of Wisconsin households were without Internet access. What was once a luxury has increasingly become a necessity, as many businesses, organizations, and individuals rely on websites and online resources. Certain job opportunities, events and programs, and other resources are primarily if not exclusively advertised and made available online, and libraries open the door for everyone to enjoy these opportunities even if they would be otherwise unable to afford to do so (p. 54).
Respondents were surveyed about their attitude toward public libraries and the extent to which they value the presence of public libraries in their communities. Almost all respondents felt that public libraries contribute in a meaningful way to the quality of life in their community, and that funding public libraries was a good use of tax revenue. These results are not surprising, inasmuch as the overwhelming number of survey respondents were regular library users. However, a recent statewide survey of Wisconsin residents, which was prepared for the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) included a random representative sample of both library users and non-users indicates that even among the population as a whole, the vast majority of Wisconsin residents value their public libraries ... Although the number of respondents who "strongly" agreed was higher among the NorthStar survey, which included fewer non-library users than the WPLC survey, more than 85% of respondents to both surveys agreed that libraries enhance quality of life, and support funding libraries with their tax dollars (p. 46).
The economic return to taxpayers is $4.06 per dollar of taxpayer support. The ROI is calculated by dividing the economic contribution of public libraries per capita ($134.16) by the public tax support per capita ($33.07). This return per dollar of taxpayer funds comes back to taxpayers in the form of the value of public library services and the direct economic contribution of public libraries to the state economy. In addition to the measurable services and expenditures that add value to the state economy, there are numerous other services that are valuable but at this time can’t be calculated from available data. The contributions of public libraries to overall literacy, to helping people with special needs, to supporting the efforts of K-12 schools, to providing community gathering space, and to supplying data needs of big and small businesses are additional and valuable contributions to the state economy (p. 33).
Public library economic activity also contributes to the generation of tax revenues. In 2006, the economic activity of public libraries in Wisconsin generated state income, sales, and property tax revenues of almost $23.9 million (p. 22).
The money that public libraries spend on payroll, benefits, construction, operating costs and services generates jobs for Wisconsin citizens. Jobs attributable to public library spending occur in four ways. The first is the direct staff jobs for people working for public libraries. The second job creator is the jobs generated by non-payroll library expenditures. The third job creator is the jobs that result from the people that serve the public library workforce in their professional and private lives. The fourth job creator is the jobs generated by visitor spending. Public libraries directly employ 3,222.42 full-time employees (FTEs). Public library payroll and benefits (staff spending), public library operating and construction spending, and visitor spending create an additional 3,058 jobs. The total number of jobs created in Wisconsin due to the presence of Wisconsin public libraries is 6,280 (pp. 20-21).
Library media staff in the top performing middle schools spent 25.4 percent more time providing staff development to teachers or other staff than the 25 lowest scoring schools (1.48 vs. 1.18 hours per week). Library staff in the top high schools spent more time on … collaboration … activities than library staff in the bottom schools. They are particularly more active in providing staff development to teachers and staff (1.31 vs. 0.35 hours per week).
Students in better staffed programs [i.e., those with more library media specialists and more LMS hours] scored 8.4 to 21.8 percent higher on ACT English tests and 11.7 to 16.7 percent higher on ACT Reading tests compared to students in schools where library media programs had fewer resources.
The library media programs in the 25 top scoring high schools [based on tenth grade performance on standardized reading tests] had … 14.9 percent more operating dollars per student [than the 25 lowest scoring schools] ($29.19 vs. $25.40). Students in high school library media programs with larger operating budgets scored [almost eight percent] better on ACT Reading and [more than 18 percent better on ACT] English than students in high schools with library media programs with smaller budgets. [T]he library media programs in the top [25 elementary] schools [based on fourth grade performance on standardized reading tests] had … 7.7 percent more library media program dollars per student [than the 25 lowest scoring schools] ($27.80 vs. $25.80).The library media programs in the 25 top middle/junior high schools [based on eighth grade performance on standardized reading tests] … had … 19.3 percent more operating dollars per student [than the 25 lowest scoring schools] ($24.76 vs. $20.76).
Principals, teachers, library media specialists, and students recognize the connection between students academic achievement and the skills and knowledge students derive from the library media program… The program gives students research and information technology tools and skills that they can use in all content areas. It develops their critical thinking ability and opens their eyes to a wide range of resources and information. It increases interest in reading and excitement about learning.