Public library

Wisconsin public libraries have a strong ROI and provide additional valuable services

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 libraries create jobs state-wide

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).

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.

Public libraries support personal productivity and cultural engagement

Directly related to the issue of citizens and their personal productivity is the survey finding that for almost half of patrons, the prime reason for visiting the central library was to look for information on a subject. Interviews with patrons revealed an extremely wide array of reasons as to why information was being sought. While some reasons had to do with paid employment (looking up information directly related to their work), in many cases the information sought related to other areas of life involving serious projects and pursuits that could not be characterized as merely recreational, including projects having to do with theater set design, a photographic exhibition, research for a film, small business development, and writing a screenplay, to name a few. These examples emphasize that the construction of public culture is a complex, ongoing process in which individuals are engaged in often surprising ways. Thus, the research suggests that the search for relevant information and its subsequent use in productive activity may be an integral characteristic of the construction of contemporary public culture in the emergent twenty-first century. If this is true, the central library is then a key site of both cultural consumption and production and a facilitator of civil society in a way that other public places are not (p. 354).

The public library supports continuing education, workforce development, and sense of place in community

People must continually educate themselves, upgrade their skills, and reorient themselves to new realities. Interviews with patrons demonstrated that many individuals who were unemployed used the library as a home base to explore employment opportunities, even receiving cell phone calls in the library about job interviews. There was also much evidence that patrons were using the library as a place to make the transition into Canadian society, particularly through the learning of English. For instance, the seating sweeps in Vancouver revealed that a large number of patrons (more than half on many sweeps) in the library on any given day were involved in studying English. The central library, then, acts as a place where individuals in transition can feel included and productive in a way that would be almost impossible in other public spaces, such as cafes, parks, museums, arenas, and municipal offices (p. 354).

The library as a safe, important, and central public space

It seems clear that the central library is, indeed, central to the life activities of large numbers of people, is an important space in which public culture is constructed and lived, and thus has a deep sense of place attachment for its users. The central library attracts all ages and linguistic groups, has a well-educated clientele, and is regarded as a safe and appropriate destination for women, children, and men (p. 353).

Public libraries support access to government information

Furthermore, public libraries are the primary site to locate information about and produced by the various levels of government. Governments, in turn, depend on libraries to collect and disseminate government information. As governments are increasingly making information available in electronic format only, it becomes even more important for libraries to provide electronic access to their users free of charge, so all members of the community, regardless of income bracket, will be able to find needed government information. Canadian public libraries are the major distribution channel of government documents to the public. Through the Depository Services Program, libraries receive government information. “By using the infrastructure of the library community to provide access, the federal government guarantees long-term and wide-spread availability of information gathered” (Canadian Government Publishing Centre, 1990, p.3) (170).

Benefits of preschool and summer reading programs

Our visits to libraries throughout the state show that these programs help develop strong reading skills in Pennsylvania’s children. The programs encourage children to enjoy reading and give them opportunities to spend lots of time with books—a first step toward developing strong reading skills. Children also benefit from the rich literacy experiences afforded by the many special events and organized programs the library offers. Finally, parents of children engaged in preschool and summer reading programs appear to be strongly invested in their children’s reading achievement. For thousands of children through Pennsylvania, preschool and summer reading programs offer a strong step in their climb toward reading achievement, and ultimately, success in school (40).

Summer reading programs increase reading achievement

As these findings suggest, summer reading clubs encourage children to read, and to read often. Research has shown that the amount of time children spend with books is crucial to reading achievement, and ultimately, to school achievement in general. Parents, children, and librarians report that the goals and structure of the summer reading program are very conducive to promoting reading (37).