The State of America's Libraries
Macey Morales
Manager, ALA Media Relations

Next   Table of Contents

Public libraries are a good investment

Measurement of benefit-to-cost ratios, cost-effectiveness, impact and return on investment is not usually applied to the not-for-profit sector, in part because of the difficulty in quantifying benefits from non-priced goods and services that can differ from use to use and user to user   — 

or from library to library, whose mix of service offerings may vary.


But a comprehensive scientific study conducted in Florida demonstrates conclusively that public funds spent on the state’s public libraries are a good financial investment that pays real and measurable dividends not just for library users but also for the people of Florida as a whole.


Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries spells out the result of this study, which was conducted for the State Library and Archives of Florida in 2003-2004 by researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Pittsburgh and Florida State University. The study used a variety of data collection and analysis methods, including Florida public libraries’ annual data reports to the State Library, a statewide household

telephone survey of adults, in-library surveys of adults, a follow-up survey of the libraries, surveys of organizations (e.g., businesses, schools, colleges and hospitals) and an input-output econometric model (REMI).


The researchers used a conservative approach to estimating returns, and they note that the results therefore represent minimum rather than maximum benefits.


Public libraries allow users to share knowledge and services at a cost to them as citizens (e.g., the taxes they pay, their transportation costs, cost of time spent); however, all Florida taxpayers benefit from the public libraries through their considerable contribution to education, the economy, tourism, retirement, quality of life and so on. The study used several approaches to considering returns on public library availability and use and found that all showed returns exceeding investment.


The researchers calculated a number of benefit-to-cost ratios and found them all “impressive.” For example, for every $6,448 in public funds spent on Florida’s public libraries, one job is created. In addition, every dollar of public support spent on Florida’s public libraries produced an increase of $9.08 in gross regional product and an increase of $12.66 in total state wages.


A similar study showed that nine public library systems in southwestern Ohio create an annual economic impact of nearly four times the amount invested in their operations.


And public and academic libraries expand virtual services


Academic libraries explored new virtual ways of providing services using technologies such as blogs, wikis, avatars, YouTube, Facebook, etc. A number of academic libraries are setting up services on Information Island in the Second Life virtual reality. The Alliance Library System, one of nine multitype library systems in Illinois, located in East Peoria, Illinois, received a $40,000 National Library of Medicine/Greater Midwest Region to provide consumer health information services in Second Life.



    Table of Contents

Public libraries are a good investment