The Value of California’s Public Libraries

The California State Library is exploring and demonstrating the value that public libraries provide to their communities and the people who invest in them through a project titled Measuring the Value of California’s Public Libraries. The project began in January 2017 and continues until June 2020.

Libraries Improve The Bottom Line

During the first phase of the project, we identified approximately 60 resources that demonstrate the financial return of funds provided to public libraries. The resources we identified were selected for their relevance to California and they include studies conducted in California, studies of national and international significance, statewide studies from outside California, and studies using notable methodologies.

Like other meta reviews, our resources demonstrate that investment in public libraries is a sound use of public funds: for every dollar invested in libraries, about $2-$10 are returned, with an average of between $3 and $6. The solid findings of high financial returns reinforce that governments and other financial investors can continue to trust public library leaders as good stewards of public money.

The selected resources are available below and we invite users to consult individual items or pull the resources together as a whole and use them in the way that is best suited to their own context.

The Many Dimensions of Value Provided by Libraries

While the return on investment numbers we discovered are compelling, they are but one piece of a larger picture. A more complex approach to looking at libraries’ value considers many dimensions of value including user satisfaction and social impact as well as economic impact.

In the second phase of the project, we identified a further 46 resources that demonstrate the different types of value that libraries provide. Within this category, definitions of value fall into a few broad categories, including

  • the social value to vulnerable populations (e.g., persons experiencing homelessness, those recently arrived in a new country and who are facing cultural and linguistic barriers);
  • personal economic development for users (e.g., job search, resume writing, small business development, etc.);
  • the value of services provided by libraries during times of crisis response and how they contribute to community resilience;
  • the opportunity for users to enhance their personal learning and knowledge development; and
  • the development of social capital in communities.

Perhaps one of the most notable features of the literature that considers less tangible forms of value and social impact is the lack of uniformity in methods, findings, and scope that these studies encompass. While the research in this area leans toward formal study design than those focused on financial value, their findings tend to be less reliable. Nonetheless, reviewing the range of definitions and topics that are of interest to library users and staff members can be helpful to those interested in social outcomes.

Another notable feature of this research area is that it is markedly more international scope. In this selection, just a single study about a tool lending library in California was deemed relevant. In addition to the special collection featured in that study, several papers on the social impact of museums are also included here as they should be of considerable interest to those wanting to know more about social value and outcomes. Because of the geographically and topically varied nature of this area of research, there is some argument to be made about replicating some or several to add to the data sets available on a larger scale within the Californian context.

Defining and Testing Value

As a final note, all of the items in this database contribute to the conclusion that the full value and benefits of libraries are often unknown to funders and other target audiences. During the third phase of the project, we will gather original data on the impact that California’s public libraries are having in their communities and the value of that impact to individuals and their communities. Further information will be available shortly.

For more information, please contact Natalie Cole, Library Programs Consultant, California State Library at

Project advisor: Cheryl Stenstrom, San José State University

Project researcher: Rachel Hanson, San José State University

This project is supported with California Library Services Act Funding. The project’s fiscal agent is the Black Gold Cooperative Library System.

Resources Demonstrating the Financial Return of Funds Provided to Libraries

Resources about studies conducted in California

Murphy, B. Glavin, M., & Natali, E. (2007). Providing for knowledge, growth, and prosperity: A benefit study of the San Francisco Public Library.

The study finds, “for every dollar spent supporting SFPL, the citizens of San Francisco see a return in the range of $1.40 to $3.34” (Murphy, Glavin, & Natali, 2007, p.48).This report describes and, when possible, quantifies the value that the library system provides to the San Francisco community. The authors take a broad perspective and consider the many different roles the library plays. They attempt to describe community benefits stemming from the direct provision of services, including the circulation of materials, the availability of public access computing, meeting room space, and other functions, as well as the library’s more indirect impacts on the San Francisco community. The authors use the benefit assessment framework to describe and analyze the diverse array of benefits provided by San Francisco Public Library. This framework examines qualitative and quantitative benefits in the following areas: enriching person learning and recreation, fostering economic and workforce development, partnering for education and early literacy, creating and strengthening communities, and enh ancing image and identity for San Francisco and its neighborhoods. The report acknowledges how important qualitative benefits are while explaining their limitations.

Berk & Associates. (2013). Santa Clara Public Library District 2013 return on investment report. [Report].

The study finds that for every dollar spent by Santa Clara County Library District, the community receives at least $2.50 to $5.17 in direct benefits (p. 2). This is a strong example of a thorough study that can be used by other libraries in California. The report clearly presents the library’s quantifiable and non-quantifiable benefits, listing its many services and benefits broken into five “key roles,” and it stresses the importance of non-quantifiable benefits. The methodologies are detailed clearly. Return on investment calculators used by libraries are often based on calculations from other regions or states, but here market values are based on the cost of local goods and services.

Berk & Associates. (2015, September). Reinvesting and renewing for the 21st century. [Report].

For every $1 invested in the 14-year San Francisco Public Library’s branch library improvement program, the city realized a return of between $5.19 and $9.11. In addition to the return on investment figures, the study also found that the capital investments and additional operating spending associated with the program contributed more than $330 million in indirect and induced benefits to the San Francisco economy. This report s quantifiable and intangible economic benefits gained by San Francisco Public Library’s branch library improvement program. Quantifiable return on investment calculations and totals are presented in charts and explained in writing. The authors also note which totals are conservative and which figures might be overstated as a result of the calculation. More specifically, the authors “used IMPLAN I-RIMS multipliers to calculate the economic benefits of both operational and capital spending attributable to BLIP… an advanced version of the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis’ RIMS II multipliers, a standard, widely used tool for calculating such impacts” (BERK, 2015, p. 54). The report uses branch profiles to illustrate how the branch library improvement program improved specific libraries and their communities. By responding to residents’ needs, the program increased citizen support. By using funds in a strategic way to improve all branches, the entire San Francisco Public Library and San Francisco communities benefit.

Bourne, J. (2013, August 7). Local libraries’ ROI valued at 400 percent.

Las Gatos Patch

This article presents information written by the Santa Clara County Public Affairs Office about the Santa Clara County Library District’s return on investment study. To see the full study report, description, comments, and notes, see listing, Santa Clara County Library District 2013 Return on Investment Report on this website.

Resources About Studies Conducted Outside California

Association of Research Libraries. (n.d.). LibValue.

While this was an extensive study spanning three years and eight countries, the information about the study is limited. The Background section on the About page of the site offers the most comprehensive information, explaining the three phases and results found including: [Phase I] “Researchers developed a formula using data on the library’s budget, faculty grant income, and faculty surveys. By implementing this model for the year 2006, UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] determined a return of $4.38 in grant income for every dollar invested in the library.” [Phase II] “The study’s key finding was that for every monetary unit investing in the library, the respective institutions receive an ROI of between 15.54:1 and 0.64:1 in research grant income alone. In six of the eight countries, ROI for grants is higher than 1:1.” The Phase III section is not updated with research findings. The Publications page is also useful, including six articles, 62 presentations, and 10 reports. With all the research done for LibValue, it is unfortunate that Phase III was never updated with final results of the research. Likewise, although an article written by Mays, Tenopir, & Kaufman (2010) explains the project, it, too, was written before the project was complete. Phase I is described in detail in an article by Kaufman (2008) and Phase II is described in an article by Tenopir (2010). From the website homepage: “Values, Outcomes, and Return on Investment of Academic Libraries (LibValue) was a three-year study funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to define and measure ways in which academic libraries create value through research, teaching and learning, and social, professional, and public engagement. Project outcomes [include] the following: articulating the value of academic libraries; describing models for calculating ROI and value; providing web-based tools; and testing alternative value methods.” While some research was done within the United States, “Phase II research looked at eight institutions in eight countries worldwide” (LibValue, n.d., About page, Background section, para. 1).

Barron, D., Williams, Robert V., Bajjaly, S., Arns, J., & Wilson, S. (2005). South Carolina Public Library economic impact study. [Report].

The total economic benefit calculated is $4.48 for every $1 spent, almost 350%. This is a straightforward report capturing library value based on library user surveys. This study was a collaborative work by the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina, the South Carolina Association of Public Library Administrators, and the South Carolina State Library. Survey respondents included the “general population, self-selected sample of individuals who came into public libraries or visited the public library web sites” (Barron, Williams, Bajjaly, Arns, & Wilson, 2005, p. 3). While the authors (Barron, Williams, Bajjaly, Arns, & Wilson, 2005) argue that “the perceptions of those who make use of a service provide a good measure of its value” (p. 3) the majority of respondents are likely people who are highly favorable toward the library, willing to support it by taking the survey. The surveys did not capture information about library value for South Carolinians who infrequently or rarely use the library.

Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. (2012). The library … A great return on your investment 2011. [Brochure].

This resource is a brochure that uses infographics to promote the library’s value to the community. It is a simple tool that can be used by any library to promote their return on investment value to their community and that can easily be updated each year. The brochure clearly announces, “For every $1 funded, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library returns at least $6.70 in services.” The brochure is filled with calculations that list costs of services, use statistics, comparative retail value, library tax, and other county library revenue. This information is routinely gathered by libraries. A section of the brochure is used to remind or make people aware of the fact that these valuable services are available for “FREE” to any Erie County resident with a library card.

Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER), Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE), University of Minnesota Duluth. (2011). Minnesota public libraries’ return on investment. [Report].

From the executive summary: “The main conclusion from this survey is that Minnesotans feel public libraries are important and that their support should be maintained or increased.” The study, written by business and economic professionals, includes definitions, assumptions, and high and low estimates. The report in general, and discussion of methodologies specifically, is written in professional language. The authors explain that the discussion of methodologies responds to “recent critiques of libraries’ effort to value their services” (p. 54). The authors state, “readers can and should conclude that the SROI [Social Return on Investment] is greater than the more narrowly calculated ROI” (p. 63). In addition to the thorough explanation of calculations and the supporting figures and tables, a strength of this report is the discussion of methodologies used. Business and economic professionals explain the uses, pros, and cons of different methodologies including the contingent valuation method used by other library systems. The discussion of indirect and induced spending on the state initiated by libraries, and how taxes and specifics of the libraries’ tax exempt status affect return on investment calculations, also make this a strong model. The authors explain that cost/benefit calculations are distinct from return on investment calculations and range can include both quantitative and qualitative considerations. The authors caution against comparing one state’s data and return on investment to another without understanding how methodologies and contexts affect final calculations and conclusions.

Bureau of Business Research (BBR) IC2 Institute, The University of Texas at Austin. (2013). Texas libraries: Economic benefits and return on investment. Texas Library Journal, Spring. [Summary Report].

In 2011, Texas public libraries collectively were found to provide $2.407 billion in benefits while costing less than $0.545 billion, a return on investment of $4.42 for each dollar invested. The authors summarize the study as follows: “In addition to measuring the economic benefits of public libraries, this research: [1] Documented numerous, specific examples in which libraries have enabled business organizations, businesses, and self-employed individuals to improve their economic activities; [2] Described libraries’ activities that assist individuals to obtain employment; and [3] Identified educational and occupational programs libraries have provided to enhance their patrons’ quality of life and meet the information, data, and social needs of their communities and regions. The impact Texas public libraries have is still underestimated” (BBR IC2 Institute, 2013, pp. 12–13). From the executive summary: Public libraries in the State of Texas provide significant economic benefits for their communities. This report examines these economic benefits, and documents those activities which contribute to economic activities throughout all regions of Texas. A data-intensive research design was developed to quantify economic benefits. Extensive data from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) were used in conjunction with the input-output economic modeling software, IMPLAN. Additional data and information from a survey of all Texas public library directors were used as inputs to the economic model. The full report of this study can be accessed at

Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute, & The University of Texas at Austin. (2017). Texas Public Libraries: Return on investment. [Report].

Collectively, in FY2015, Texas public libraries were found to provide $2.628 billion in benefits while costing $566 million, a return on investment of $4.64 for each dollar. This report is a good example of results that using the IMPLAN model can produce. A conservative approach, as well as clear statements about the scope, limitations, and challenges, builds confidence in the results and those who are presenting them. The report clearly states, “The software used in this report is unique to the economic activity in the State of Texas” (Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute, & The University of Texas at Austin, 2017, p. 5). Volunteers were one of the services calculated in the economic estimates, unique from other studies, but a valuable aspect of most libraries. The authors of this study bring together the Bureau of Business Research, The University of Texas at Austin, and the IC2 Institute (at the University), described as a think tank working toward economic development. The IMPLAN model “which analyzed public libraries purely as business and organizational entities … commonly used by economists and is widely accepted as one of three software modeling programs for impact analyses (the others are REMI and RIMS II)” (Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute, & The University of Texas at Austin, 2017, pp. 4–5). The report includes short – and long-term economic impacts and explains the scope, limitations, and challenges of the research. Discussion of multiplier effects and a brief glossary are also included. From the executive summary: Public libraries in the State of Texas provide significant economic benefits for their communities. A data-intensive research design was developed to document and to quantify these economic benefits. Extensive databases from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) were used in conjunction with the input-out economic modeling software, IMPLAN (Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute, & The University of Texas at Austin, 2017, p. 4).

Felton, John. (2009). Bibliography. Nebraska Library Commission. [Bibliography].

The Nebraska Library Commission provides a brief bibliography of library return on investment studies in nine states. While many of these studies examine quantified benefits, expressed in the form of a return on investment calculation, some of the reports focus on services that are valued by patrons or report on voter surveys.

Fleeter, H. B. (2016). Return on investment analysis of Toledo Lucas County Public Library. [Report].

The study reports that the total return on investment deriving from the libraries’ activities is 3.87 to 1. This means that for every $1 spent by Toledo Lucas County Public Library, area residents receive an average of $3.87 in economic value. This report includes text and basic charts, and is well-written and well-organized. Fleeter (2016) explains what an economic impact study is and why it is not the most appropriate choice for a library value study. He explains why a cost-benefit (also known as “Economic Benefit,” “Cost-Benefit,” or “Return on Investment”) approach is better. Additionally, he defines direct and indirect benefits with examples. He also explains that although the “direct return on the library’s investment of 2.74 to 1 [the] ‘multiplier effect’ … ripples throughout the economy” (p. ii), bringing the total ROI to 3.87 to 1. He explains how the multiplier effect works and how he determined conservative values for his calculations. From the executive summary: The “Return on Investment” (ROI) for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library is computed by assessing the value (or benefit) of library materials and services to Toledo area library patrons and then comparing this value with TLCPL library operating expenditures. For the purposes of this analysis, library services are broken into the following categories: Physical circulation, digital/electronic circulation, computer & technology services, reference services, and programming and other services.

Griffiths, J-M., King, D. W., Aerni, S., Beach, S., Schlarb, J., Briem, C., … Choemprayong, S. (2007). Taxpayer return-on-investment (ROI) in Pennsylvania Public Libraries. [Report].

Key findings include, “The Pennsylvania taxpayer return on investment (ROI) in public library is 5.5 to 1 [and the] public libraries yield a net impact of $3.14 of GRP [Gross Regional Product] per dollar of public funding” (Griffiths et al., 2007, pp. 10–11). The findings of this study both economic and other benefits achieved through use of public libraries. The project involves four integrated surveys, the use of a statewide economic input-output model (REMI), and annual Pennsylvania Library Statistics. The authors of this study are from two Information and Library Science Schools, and from the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR), University of Pittsburgh. The study is simple and straightforward, focusing on the library user groups and the services they use, with common use of pie charts and bar graphs.

Griffiths, J-M., King, D., Harrington, J., Lynch, T., Tomer, C., & Harrington, J. (2004). Florida’s public libraries build strong economies: A taxpayer return on investment report. [Report].

This study found that “Florida’s public libraries return at least $6.54 for every $1.00 invested from all sources, including local, state and federal dollars” (Griffiths et al., 2004, p. i). This is an independent study on taxpayer return on investment in Florida’s public libraries. Over 238 individuals and 169 organizations participated in this study which was the first of its kind ever completed in the state. Researchers used a variety of data collection and analysis methods to assess the return on investment, including surveys and a standard method of assessing return on investment—an input-output econometric model called REMI (Regional Economic Modeling Inc.). The study measured the relationship between total economic benefit and the total investment in public libraries, or the gain or loss resulting from the existence of public libraries. This study shows that all taxpayers in Florida benefit from libraries through their contributions to education, workforce development, tourism, and overall quality of life issues. Surveys were given to households by telephone, at the library, to organizations that use the libraries, and to library directors. The report s the number of in-person visits, remote connections to the library, and technology training. The report provides numerous benefit-to-cost ratio findings. It also states, “For every $6,488 of public support (federal, state and local), one job is created” (Griffiths et al., 2004, 2014, p. ii). Following the framework proposed for library studies by Fraser, Nelson, & McClure (2002), this study and report include the value of the library to non-users through telephone surveys to households and by commenting on indirect benefits to all Florida taxpayers. Indirect, direct, quantitative and qualitative benefits were all mentioned.

Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development, University of Florida. (2013). Taxpayer return on investment in Florida Public Libraries 2013. [Study].

The study addresses indirect economic benefits to the community and gives economic context to the study, with the ultimate conclusion that in 2013 Florida libraries had $1 = $10.18 in Economic Return. The contingent valuation method and economic impacts methods are defined and explained. Charts show seven components contributing to the total return on investment and definitions of those components. Conclusions are carefully stated. For example, “Florida’s public libraries may increase the attractiveness of their communities” and “Survey results suggest the services provided by public libraries contribute to the quality of life” (Haas Center, 2013, p. 25). Additionally, the report clearly notes that the survey captures participants’ perceptions. The website on which the study is found includes graphics, definitions, links to county data, current and previous studies, and informational/marketing materials. It is a good example of a state website presenting quick and easy to read data backed by accessible county data and the complete studies. The report itself is also a good example of making data analysis from surveys, contingent valuation method specifically, accessible and understandable to a broad audience. The Haas Center also performed Florida’s 2008 study. From the website: This study “evaluates [1] The value that users place on public libraries [2] Taxpayers’ return on investment [3] The economic impact of libraries in their communities.” Methods used for the study include survey data and “an economic simulation that took taxpayer funds away from public libraries, and distributed them to other government sectors.”

Harless, D. & Allen, F. (1999). Using the contingent valuation method to measure patron benefits of reference desk service in an academic library

College and Research Libraries 60 pp. 56–59. doi:10.5860/crl.60.1.56

The report asserts that, given reasonable assumptions about the cost of service, students and faculty place a value on the current hours of reference desk service that exceeds the cost by a ratio of 3.5 to 1. The authors of this study explain the contingent valuation method and the concept of measuring worth by patrons’ willingness to pay. An important difference in their approach from previous studies is that they studied the value patrons placed on services used as well as the value patrons placed on having services available to them, what the authors call the option value. This is especially important in this study as the purpose was to show the value of staff being available at academic reference desks. The study showed that even though academic library patrons often wait to be served while librarians are helping other patrons, librarians are often witnessed sitting at an empty desk. The study shows that most faculty and students are willing to pay to have reference help ready and available just in case they need help. In a study conducted with the contingent valuation method, including the option value could be a useful measurement depending on the goals and audiences of the study. From the abstract: The authors [use] the contingent valuation (CV) method to estimate the economic value that patrons attach to reference desk service in an academic library… The survey population consisted of the students and faculty of the academic campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The authors surveyed 382 students and faculty eliciting willingness to pay (WTP) for reference desk services. The [results indicate] that, on average, students are willing to pay $5.59 per semester to maintain current hours of the reference desk; instructional faculty indicate they are willing to pay $45.76 per year to maintain current hours.

Howard Fleeter & Associates (2016), The return on investment of Ohio’s Public Libraries & A comparison with other states. [Report].

For every $1 spent by Ohio public libraries, Ohioans receive $5.48 in economic value. This study shows that Ohio’s public libraries save Ohioans money and also directly benefit the state’s economy. It is simpler than many others. The report s Ohio libraries’ success compared to other states, reporting 1. Ohio has the second highest percentage (77.8%) of residents who are registered library users, 2. “Ohio ranks second in both annual circulation and total library usage” (p. 4), 3. “Ohio ranks 1st nationally in library visits per capita” (p. 7), and 4. Forty states spend more money per transaction than Ohio, with Ohio’s final ROI of $5.48 per $1. Due to the difficulty of placing monetary value on indirect benefits, they are not part of this study.

Indiana Business Research Center. (2007). The economic impact of libraries in Indiana. [Report].

The study concludes that “Indiana communities received $2.38 in direct economic benefits for each dollar of cost” (IRBC, 2007, p. 5). This study used the consumer surplus approach and includes cautions against using the contingent value method. The authors review how community leaders value the library compared to the general public, and how community leaders value general library services and resources compared to resources and services targeted to the business community. Report recommendations may be helpful to libraries focusing on small businesses and economic development. There are also recommendations regarding the refinement and expansion of library statistics collected by the state library and ideas about how the state library can help local libraries develop cost-benefit analyses. These recommendations might be useful or adaptable for state libraries. From the executive summary: The Indiana State Library commissioned the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to conduct a study to measure the economic benefits of Indiana’s public libraries. In contrast to most other studies that have attempted to measure the economic impact of public libraries, this study also focused on the role that public libraries play in supporting business and economic development in their communities.

Kamer, P. M. (2005). Placing an economic value on the services of public libraries in Suffolk County, New York. [Report].

The author reports, “each tax dollar going to Suffolk County Public Libraries generated $3.93 in library services, a ratio of almost 4-to-1.” (Kamer, 2005, p. 7, original in bold and italics). Kamer (2005) also concludes, “Since the model works downward as well as upward, Long Island’s output of goods and services would shrink by more than $258 million, its payrolls would decline by more than $50 million and more than 1,200 jobs would be lost if the public libraries would cease to exist” (p. 11). This is a straightforward report with charts and graphs following the body of the report. This study uses the input-output model RIMS II and covers multiplier effects in the community. This report was written by Dr. Pearl M. Kamer, the Long Island Association’s (LIA) Chief Economist. Kamer (2005) notes, “The foregoing analysis was predicated on a cost-benefit study performed by researchers studying the St. Louis Public Library in the spring of 1998. Although the current study was considerably less elaborate than the St. Louis study, the results were nevertheless similar.” From the executive summary: This study determines the value of the direct services provided by the public libraries in Suffolk County, New York as compared with the tax dollars used to support them. It also measures the secondary economic impact of library expenditures on the community. [Key findings follow]: Library users in Suffolk County received almost four dollars [sic] worth of library services for every tax dollar invested in their public libraries. The libraries in Suffolk County are also major employers, [ultimately creating a ripple or multiplier effect]. Application of an input-output model of the Long Island economy … showed that operating and capital expenditures … caused total Long Island earnings to rise by more than $50 million and resulted in the creation of almost 1,250 Long Island jobs.

Kaufman, P. T. (2008). The library as strategic investment: Results of the Illinois return on investment study

LIBER Quarterly, 18(3-4) pp. 424–436

The study determined that, in 2006, the university library’s budget produced a return on investment of $4.28 for every dollar invested in the library. An independent assessment validated the research methodology used. The process for developing the study and measures is recorded, including the argument that investing in e-resources is valuable for researchers, which leads to more grant applications and scholarly works, which ultimately leads to more grants awarded to the university and is important for faculty recruitment and retention. The methodology can be used by other research universities and the article concludes with a section about next steps. From the abstract: University administrators are asking library directors to demonstrate their library’s value to the institution in easily articulated quantitative terms that focus on outputs rather than on traditionally reported input measures. This paper reports on a study undertaken at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that sought to measure the return on the university’s investment in its library. The study sought to develop a quantitative measure that recognizes the library’s value in supporting the university’s strategic goals, using grant income generated by faculty using library materials. The results of this study, which is believed to be the first of its kind, represent only one piece of the answer to the challenge of representing the university’s total return from its investment in its library.

Kawartha Lakes Public Library Board. (2014). Kawartha Lakes Public Library economic impact study.

For every dollar invested, $7.05 in value was received. Kawartha Lakes used similar methodology to that used by the London Public Library and by the Martin Prosperity Institute for the Toronto Public Library study. The Martin Prosperity Institute developed their methodology based on commonly used valuation methodologies in public sectors. Similar methodology was also used by Halton Hills Public Library, Milton Public Library, and Sault Ste. Marie Public Library. Three components were analyzed: Direct tangible benefits; Direct spending; and Indirect tangible benefits.

Ko, Y. M., Shim, Wonsik, Pyo, S-H., Chang, J. S., & Chung, H. K. (2012). An economic valuation study of public libraries in Korea

Library & Information Science Research, 34 pp. 117–124. doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2011.11.005

The return on investment measured in this study was calculated to be 3.66. This article’s organization follows the structure of a traditional research paper with the following sections: introduction, problem statement, literature review, methods, discussion, and conclusion. The authors note that the return on investment changes slightly depending on the library size, with the return on investment of medium-sized libraries being the highest. The research concludes, “the final ROI was estimated as 3.66” (Ko, Shim, Pyo, & Chang, 2012, p. 122). The authors do reveal that even though the sample included a variety of operating environments and geographic regions, sampling individual users was challenging, perhaps affecting the validity of results. This also indicates that national demographics of public library users was not fully captured. From the abstract: The economic value of public libraries for local residents in Korea was measured. An economic-value measurement model that enables the estimation of diverse types of public library services was designed, using a conditional-value measurement method. Benefits were taken as the value of the main services provided by public libraries, such as accessibility to informational materials, facilities, and programs. Costs included the total amount of expenses at libraries such as personnel expenses, materials purchasing expenses, and other operational costs. Data were collected from 1,220 users from 22 public libraries in the province of Seoul/Gyeonggi-do and the other seven Korean provinces.

Levin, Driscoll & Fleeter. (2006). Value for money: Southwestern Ohio’s return from investment in public libraries. [Report].

The study concludes, “for every dollar expended on library operations, the public received about $2.56 in directly quantifiable benefits” (Levin, Driscoll, & Fleeter, 2006, p. i) and with “The application of a Household Expenditure multiplier [the] total quantifiable economic benefit of library investment [equals] about $3.81 per dollar expended on library operations” (p. ii). This study is thorough and easy to understand. The scope of the study is clearly defined and the report lists services that produce quantifiable benefits as well as indirect and unquantifiable benefits. From the introduction: This report contains four sections. The first section provides an overview of the libraries involved in the study. The second section examines the quantitative value of library services to the extent that measures of dollar value can apply to such services. The third section examines qualitative aspects of library programming to which specific dollar values may not apply but from which communities served by the libraries receive identifiable benefits. The fourth section summarizes the value of the role played by the public libraries as centers of community activities. While the report evaluates library operations from three separate perspectives, the sum of the libraries’ total value to Southwest Ohio arises from a synthesis of library operations in which each aspect of library services enriches the other. The whole value exceeds the sum of the respective parts.

Library Research Service. (2016). Summary of recent public library return on investment studies. [Web page].

This is a straightforward web page for referencing studies, states, and their return on investment values. It simply lists return on investment studies (with links to those that are available), the scope of the study, the state, and the final return on investment value. The page is provided by the Colorado State Library’s Library Research Service (LRS). Half of the web page is dedicated to Colorado’s return on investment study that included eight libraries/library districts. Out-of-state studies that are listed were obtained from “Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation” (Imholz & Arns, 2007).

London Public Library Board. (2015). A perspective on the economic impact of the London Public Library on the City of London.

London Public Library’s study revealed that the library makes the city economically stronger. Based on a conservative estimate, the library produced more than $102 million in total economic impact to the City of London in 2014. For every dollar invested, Londoners received $6.68 in value. The average open hour at a library location generated $1,657 in direct benefits at an average cost of $475. Ultimately, the return on investment to the City of London and its citizens was 452%, which is midpoint in the calculated range of 234% – 670%.

Martin Prosperity Institute. (2013). So Much More: The economic impact of the Toronto Public Library on the City of Toronto. [Report].

This is the first study to measure Canadian public libraries’ return on investment value. The study focuses on the significance of direct tangible benefits and indirect tangible benefits. The report demonstrates the calculations are conservative and states that local market values were used when possible. In addition to ing the value per open hour, an infographic s the economic impact per the City of Toronto, per capita, and per household. The return on investment value is also presented as a percentage: “The return from the City of Toronto’s investment in the Toronto Public Library is 463%, which is the midpoint of a range very conservatively estimated to be 244% and is comfortably shown to reach 681%” (Martin Prosperity Institute, 2013, p. 4). Another strength of this report is the clear statement of how the libraries are supporting the city’s strategic plan and goals. From the report overview: The Martin Prosperity Institute found for every dollar invested in the Toronto Public Library, Torontonians receive $5.63. These dollar figures come from extensive examinations of a wide variety of factors; use of collections, programs, meeting space, and technology were the inputs considered to calculate the direct benefits to users, a five-hundred-dollar annual savings per member on average. Each of these inputs has the potential to greatly increase the quality of those individuals’ lives, but the study goes on to analyze the impact that direct spending by the library (e.g., collections, staff) and indirect spin-off spending have in the community, thus expressing the increase in the quality of life for the whole community.

McClure, C. & Bertot, J. C. (1998). Public library use in Pennsylvania: Identifying uses, benefits, and impacts. Final report. [Report].

From the abstract: The study found that there are numerous and important impacts and benefits that result from use of Pennsylvania public libraries. The purpose of the study was to identify users of Pennsylvania public libraries and determine their reasons for using the library through a statewide survey of public library users, site visits to ten libraries throughout the state, and logs of critical incidents of significant impacts. Because this study used surveys and focus groups, many of the results that demonstrate library value are broad statements (e.g. “Pennsylvania Public Libraries Support and Encourage Entrepreneurs, the Self Employed, Small Businesses, and Home-Based Businesses”) supplemented with personal examples. Quantitative survey data is presented in percentages capturing user demographics, the top five uses of the library, and the percent of users who found specific services valuable. Much of the report captures the value of computers and online resources at the libraries. For staff juggling traditional and new library uses, new technologies were perceived as “a Boon and Bane for Public Libraries” (McClure & Bertot, 1998, p. 20). The authors demonstrate the value of this study by thinking beyond funding. When public librarians and trustees “‘make their case'” to policymakers as to the uses, benefits, impacts, and needs of public libraries” their data not only supports decisions about funding, but also supports decisions on “planning, technology development, programming, or other services” (McClure & Bertot, 1998, p. 8). The authors describe a “catch-22”: libraries need sufficient funding for resources and services that produce a positive impact, yet having data that proves positive impact is often needed for further funding and support. Reviewing this study alongside more recent studies shows how library studies have evolved, transitioning from capturing the value of libraries through surveys and focus groups to presenting financial values through methodologies such as return on investment, contingent valuation, and cost-benefit analysis.

McClure, C.R., Fraser, B.T., Nelson, T.W., & Robbins, J.B. (2000). Economic benefits and impacts from public libraries in the State of Florida: Final report to the State Library of Florida.

This report provides a foundational discussion on the challenges and benefits of using economic measurement for public services, and proposes a number of possible methodologies. The authors provide a rigorous review of literature to date and discussion on the topic of assigning economic value to libraries. Through their extensive data collection, they were able to determine that Florida’s public libraries provide direct and indirect economic benefits to the citizens of Florida, but propose further research to determine a dollar value for the return on investment. From the abstract: “The purpose of the study is to identify and describe the economic impacts and benefits of Florida public libraries. In addition, the study will develop and test a methodology to describe taxpayers’ return on investment (ROI) for supporting public libraries.”

Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce: The Research Center. (2016). Economic impact and contribution analysis: Nashville Public Library. [Report].

“With a wide range of programs, services and facilities, Nashville Public Library’s return on investment to the city is $3.06 for every $1.00 of expenditure for the library system… The return on investment of the Nashville Public Library Foundation to the city is $4.06 for every $1.00 of expenditure for Foundation-sponsored programs and services… For every $1.00 in library operations, the city realizes $1.33 in economic output” (Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, 2016, pp. 1–2). Unlike other studies, this study included the Library Foundation’s contribution to the library. From the executive summary: This study focuses on several major elements of impact and opportunity attached to the library system. The key components featured in this study include: [1] Economic impact and contribution of the library system to Nashville [2] Examination of return on investment through change effects on economic and social capital of the community [3] Consideration of the unique economic aspects and roles of the library within the context of the broader economy and community. Data collection and analysis utilized a mixed-method approach. A key part of the analysis draws from survey data developed for this study to assess valuation of library services by users. This valuation provided the basis for a cost-benefit analysis. A second study component includes an economic impact analysis generated through input-output modeling. Additionally, the third component of analysis portrayed the impact potential of the role of the library on education in the region.

New York. Senate. (2017, February 15). Assembly Bill A5810: Relates to authorizing a study of the economic impact of public libraries.

An act in relation to studying the economic impact of public libraries and public library systems in New York state. Legislation introduced in the senate in response to individual calls for studies showing the return on investment of New York’s public libraries. In committee at the time of publication. If this bill passes, the State of New York will be obligated to fund a state-wide economic impact study.

NorthStar Economics, Inc. (2008). The economic contribution of Wisconsin Public Libraries to the economy of Wisconsin. [Report].

This study calculates that Wisconsin’s “economic return to taxpayers is $4.06” (Northstar Economics, Inc., 2008, pp. 32–33) per tax dollar support. This study is a statewide collaborative effort, commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and funded with a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Executive Summary is informative for a general audience while following chapters provide details for those who want to understand processes and calculations. The report notes that the results “are probably not illustrative of all Wisconsin residents” (Northstar Economics, Inc., 2008, p. 9) because most respondents are library users. This report includes a SWOT analysis, not seen in similar reports. Strengths of this report include clearly stated objectives and goals. From the website: “An economic impact research report [that] showed the total economic contribution of Wisconsin public libraries [each year] with [its] return on investment in library services.” The report provides “a conservative estimate, as the study did not factor in the value of heavily used and popular library services.” Sections include Direct Economic Contribution, Job Generation, Income and Sales Tax Revenue Generation, Return on Investment, Public Input and Library Usage Patterns, and Library Alternatives.

Obal, M. P. (2015). An economic valuation of Marikina City Library using revealed preference methods

Journal of Philippine Librarianship, 35 pp. 1–18

The Total Economic Value of the Marikina City Library was estimated using an economic-value measurement model that was adapted based on revealed preference theory, which asserts that a person’s preferences can be deduced from his/her behavior and actual choices. This straightforward report includes the objectives, scope and methodology of the study. In addition to using library use data and budget information, preferences were recorded by patron observation and the use of a standard observation form. The researchers explain that they used the revealed preference method to assign library value according to monetary terms because “Money straightens out this inconvenience from subjectivity of value because money functions as a common measure of value” (Obal, 2015, p. 3).

Pan, D., Wiersma, G., Williams, L. & Fong, Y. S. (2013). More than a number: Unexpected benefits of return on investment analysis

The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39(6) pp. 566–572. doi: 10.1016/j.acalib.2013.05.002

From the abstract: In 2010–2011, University of Colorado (CU) librarians implemented a multi-campus pilot study to measure the institutional value of library resources used by faculty in their research. The study incorporated quantitative methods including return on investment, cost benefit analysis, and citation analysis of journal articles published by faculty, and qualitative methodologies such as in-person interviews with faculty. The study resulted in a CU return on investment model that can be used to measure faculty perceptions of value and the economic benefits of electronic journal collections for faculty research in terms of return on investment. The CU return on investment methodology provides outcomes beyond a single number and led to unexpected benefits for informing collection development decisions and strategies.

Pooley, P. K., Harper, R., Neal, M., Lewis, R., Whitfield, J. & Scheibe, M. (2010). Taxpayer return on investment in Florida Public Libraries. [Report].

The study concludes that “Florida’s public libraries return $8.32 for every $1.00 invested from all sources” (Pooley, Harter, Neal, Lewis, Whitfield, & Schiebe, 2010, p. 3). Of note, page 12 includes a clear flow chart showing how public library benefits are categorized into 1. economic benefits, and 2. social support. Economic benefits then are broken down into A. information resources, B. tourism, and C. business operations. Categories and sub-categories in information resources and business operations are listed. This is a helpful illustration of the scope of all library benefits and how they are related, compared to the actual scope of the study. Like some other studies, this study included a calculation of halo spending. From the executive summary: This report describes a comprehensive study to assess taxpayer return on investment in Florida’s public libraries. The present study was commissioned to provide an update to the original study performed in 2004. In the prior 2004 study, an econometric input-output model (REMI) covering 169 sectors for the State of Florida was applied to Florida’s public libraries by the Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis at Florida State University. This second analysis extended the economic contribution of libraries beyond the actual users of the libraries to yield a set of direct, indirect, and induced effects to the State of Florida and its communities. The present study uses an updated version of the REMI model that includes the ability to analyze the economic contribution of libraries not only at the state level, but at the county level as well.

Pung, C., Clarke, A., & Patten, L. (2004). Measuring the economic impact of the British library

New Review of Academic Librarianship, 10(1) pp. 79–102. doi: 10.1080/13614530412331296826

This report includes a discussion of outputs versus outcomes, and the desires of the researchers to capture outcomes in order “to quantify their value in terms of social, cultural and economic impacts” (Pung, Clarke, & Patten, 2004, p. 79). Because the British Library is a national library, the use of this study as an example or model is limited. However, the report notes that since the British Library is a major research library, the methodology could be applied to similar, major research libraries. From the abstract: Assessing the British Library’s contribution to the national economy is a complex matter … Traditionally, attempts to assess these benefits [were] qualitative case studies [that failed] to provide a comprehensive evaluation. But now a technique supported by the Nobel Prize winning economists, Kenneth Arrow and Robert Solow, permits a coherent quantitative evaluation of the total benefit to the nation of publicly funded institutions and programmes. Recognising the value of this technique, the British Library commissioned a groundbreaking research study to estimate the impact of the Library on the UK economy. The study demonstrates that the Library generates value of around 4.4 times the level of its annual public funding of £83m. To the best of our knowledge, this study represents the first time the ‘Contingent Valuation’ technique has been used to derive a figure for the overall economic impact of a national or major research library.

Ryan, J. & McClure, C. R. (2003). Economic impact of the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS) on the business and tourism industries study: Final report. [Report].

Principal findings were that Hawaii State Public Library System pumped $20 million directly to the economy of Hawaii, providing over $280 million in market equivalent services, returning over $13 to the Hawaii taxpayer in library services for every tax dollar invested, saving every person $218 and saving the average Hawaii family $747 a year. The study was done in two phases: Phase I: HSPLS economic value, and Phase II: Hawaii State Public Library System additional revenue sources. Phase I included determining the direct economic impact, market value, peer comparison, and value to library users. Research questions and the findings are clearly presented. The qualitative value to library users was gathered through “talk stories,” recognizing that “not everyone expresses or understands the value of Hawaii State Public Library System using numbers” (Ryan & McClure, 2003, p. i). The authors explained parameters of the study, stating “The researchers consciously decided not to pursue or include other likely but less direct or secondary economic and non economic benefits that Hawaii State Public Library System contributes to Hawaii economic and social capital” (Ryan & McClure, 2003, p. 4). Services that were included met the following criteria: use data could be easily obtained, a commercial analog was available, and the service was heavily used. Due to the finding that Hawaii State Public Library System libraries are underfunded compared to peer libraries, a major portion of the study and report is dedicated to the discussion of expanding revenue sources. From the abstract: Ryan Information Management conducted a return on investment (ROI) study of the economic value of the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS) and identified potential additional sources of operating revenue. HSPLS economic value was examined from four viewpoints, HSPLS’ direct economic impact, market value, peer comparison and value to library users.

Smirnov, O. A. (2012). Toledo-Lucas County Public Library: Economic value and return on investment. [Report].

Smirnov concludes, “The economic value of public services provided by Toledo Lucas County Public Library in 2011 is placed in the range of $118 mln – $136 mln per year” (p. 2). $118 million was calculated from the economic impact analysis while $136 million was calculated from the return on investment/non-market valuation method. This study quantifies the taxpayer’s return on investment in Toledo Lucas County Public Library. It provides two estimates of the economic value by using two different economic methodologies-economic value and return on investment. Smirnov calls attention to some library services, values, and concepts not noted, or not commonly noted, in other studies: statistics on web page requests and views of the library’s special online collection; cost effectiveness of economic elasticity; the idea that helping a patron with a business need provides increased value because the service benefits the entire workforce of the company, while helping a patron with a personal need only affects the individual or one family; the unique value of online databases. Smirnov observes, “The cost-effectiveness of the Library is attributed to the high elasticity of its purchasing practices” (p. 11), a concept not noted in other studies. It should be noted that Smirnov ends by comparing his findings to other state studies; other researchers caution against this, noting the many variables.

Steffan, N., Lietzau, Z., Lance, Keith C., Rybin, A. Molliconi, C. (2009). Public Libraries – a Wise Investment: A Return on Investment Study of Colorado Libraries. [Report].

This study determined that the return on investment for Colorado public libraries was approximately 5:1. The Library Research Service (LRS) undertook What’s It Worth to You? A Return on Investment Study of Selected Colorado Public Libraries in May 2006. Using a multiple case study approach, the research was designed to generate information for eight public libraries representing geographically, economically, and demographically diverse regions of Colorado. There was a lack of funds for a statewide study and a random sampling. Instead, the information collected “allowed [the authors] to create a picture of a representative visit to the participating library” (Steffan, Lietzau, Lance, Rybin, & Molliconi, 2009, p. 4). By studying distinct library systems, general differences between urban and rural areas are noted and libraries that did not participate can identify with a similar system to estimate their own return on investment. Differences between and tendencies of contingent and market valuation are explained. Author Lance’s (2011) slideshow on how to conduct an ROI study is also noted in this literature collection. “Extrapolating to the State” (p. 6) was not the intent of the study; however, responding to interest, estimates were made.

Tenopir, C. (2010). Measuring the value of the academic library: Return on investment and other value measures

The Serials Librarian, 58(1-4) pp. 39–48. doi: 10.1080/03615261003623005

This study is a follow-up (Phase 2) to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign study (Kaufman, 2008) that became Phase 1 in a three-part study eventually named LibValue (Association of Research Libraries, n.d.). Tenopir (2010) explains, “Phase 1 … tested just one aspect of ROI, which was the value of the library in the grants process through proposals, the return in grant funding, and grants reporting … Phase 2 … takes the same method of looking at grants and grant funding, but expands it internationally to eight more institutions in eight countries to test how replicable the methods and findings of phase 1 are in a wider context [and] phase 3 will go beyond grants” (pp. 40–41). Lack of literature and information on the LibValue website (Association of Research Libraries, n.d.) suggest that Phase 3 may not have been completed. From the abstract: Return on Investment (ROI) is one method of measuring the value of a library’s e-journal collection. In an international study designed to test an ROI formula developed as a case study at the University of Illinois, ROI of the value of e-journals to grants income was found to vary depending on the mission and subject emphasis of the institution. Faculty members report that e-journals have transformed the way they do research, including making them more productive and competitive. Future studies will examine ROI beyond grants income and beyond the value of e-journal collections.

Vancouver Island Regional Library Board. (2016). Assessing the economic impact of Vancouver Island Regional Library on our communities.

The study shows that Vancouver Island Regional Library had a total economic impact of $94,783,558 in 2015. For every dollar invested, $5.36 in value was received. The return on investment was 335% (mid- point in the calculated value from 149% to 521%). To determine benefits, the economic value of services provided by Vancouver Island Regional Library was measured by comparison (where available) with the market cost of those services. The library used similar methodology to that used by the London Public Library and by the Martin Prosperity Institute for the Toronto Public Library study. The Martin Prosperity Institute developed their methodology based on commonly used valuation methodologies in public sectors. Similar methodology was also used by Halton Hills Public Library, Milton Public Library, and Sault Ste. Marie Public Library. Three components were analyzed: Direct tangible benefits; Direct spending; and Indirect tangible benefits.

Resources focused on methods and processes used in return on Investment Studies

Hider, P. (2008). Using the contingent valuation method for dollar valuations of library services

Library Quarterly, 78(4) pp. 437–458

The article explains the contingent valuation method and provides a study demonstrating one library’s experience with applying the method. It explains the history of stated preference techniques to learn how much value people put on a particular service or good, and how that method led to using the contingent valuation method to capture the value of libraries. It identifies limitations while also acknowledging that professionals who understand it can use the approach to produce strong results for libraries. Hider’s (2008) article is important because it explains the limitations of using the contingent valuation method to determine return on investment or library value. He notes that professionals who understand the method can produce good results, but it is difficult for inexperienced people to successfully administer a survey. From the abstract: “An application of the contingent valuation method (CVM) for estimating the economic value of a regional public library service is described, and some of the key methodological issues surrounding CVM and other stated preference techniques are discussed with reference to library use and funding contexts… [I]f CVM surveys are carefully designed and administered, they can produce estimates that are as convincing as those produced by other valuation methods.”

Imholz, S. & Arns, J. W. (2007). Worth their weight: An assessment of the evolving field of library valuation. [Report].

This is a helpful study in understanding the development of library valuation. The contingent valuation method, social return on investment, cost/benefit considerations, capturing intangible benefits, and using professional agencies are mentioned. Due to the age of the study, many of the newer components mentioned in this article are also seen and done well in more recent studies. The summary profiles of 17 studies provide an account of the different approaches and primary focuses libraries have used. While the collection of studies is similar to other aggregated listings, Imholz & Arns (2007) focused on methodologies and analysis used. From the executive summary: “[This report] takes stock of the new work being done in the field of library valuation, puts that work into context, and provides recommendations for building the field in terms of both research and applications… [It recognizes] that new approaches to library advocacy are needed and… must involve “making the case” for the public library in quantitative terms.” The report notes the need to find “new ways to express and quantify learning values and cultural benefits.” It “presents summary profiles of 17 valuation and impact studies done since 1998… offer[ing] a unique overview of the field.” It “does not claim to be definitive, nor could it be in such a dynamic and fast-changing field… The ultimate goal is to provide meaningful answers to communities as they ask what benefits they receive by investing in public libraries.”

Elliot, D. S., Holt, G. E., Hayden, S. W., & Edmonds Holt, L. (2007). Measuring your library’s value: How to do a cost-benefit analysis for your public library.

Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

This is a helpful book for libraries planning to conduct a return on investment study on their own or through a firm. It clearly explains different methodologies and terms and will help professionals think about and ask important questions before and throughout the research process. The authors ultimately argue that a cost-benefit analysis is the most appropriate method for most libraries, explaining why the contingent value method used in many studies is not the best choice. The authors stress the following: know the purpose and goal of the study, know the target audiences, choose the best methodology for the situation, and be aware that results are not always favorable. Additionally, the authors give advice on how to best communicate final results. In contrast to this book’s argument that using the contingent valuation method is not the best choice for library studies, Christopher R. Mcintosh (2013) has written an article, “Library Return on Investment: Defending the Contingent Valuation Method for Public Benefits Estimation.” From the back cover: Measuring Your Library’s Value, designed to serve large to medium-sized public libraries, gives librarians the tools to conduct a defensible and credible cost-benefit analysis (CBA). This hands-on reference covers the economic basics with librarian-friendly terms and examples, preparing library leaders to collaborate with economist-consultants. Library directors and trustees can use this book to [1] Ascertain whether a CBA is the way to go using checklists of pros and cons [2] Confidently customize the CBA process by viewing survey design elements step-by-step [3] Learn how to calculate the value a community receives from library services [4] Access proven examples for communicating what different community stakeholders need to hear. Authored by members of the team that spent more than a decade developing, testing, and perfecting this methodology, Measuring Your Library’s Value is based on research funded by IMLS and PLA.

Berk & Associates. (2005). The Seattle Public Library Central Library: Economics benefits assessment: The transformative power of a library to redefine learning, community and economic development. [Report].

The report states “Key findings show that approximately one-third of users visit from out of town, a total of $16 million in net new spending is associated with the library in its first year, and some local business have seen increase in business due to the new library. While the library and community celebrate the library’s contribution to the community’s success, the library is careful to keep focused on being a good library. The report lists recommendations for future success, noting if the recommendation involves a community partnership.” From the executive summary: Following the 2004 opening of Seattle’s new Central Library, use statistics dramatically increased, requests for tours and media shots were hard to fulfill, and there were reports of people visiting just to see the library and of restaurants extending hours to accommodate the visitors. This study was commissioned to evaluate the implications for Seattle’s economy. By functioning as a highly effective information gateway, public space and tourist destination, Seattle’s Central Library has become a significant contributor to Seattle’s economy, a catalyst for Downtown revitalization and development and a new icon for the City. Measuring Your Library’s Value (Elliot et al, 2007) comments on this study, writing, “This study should interest major urban central libraries, especially those that are contemplating or have recently completed major renovations or the introduction of new services” (p. 15). This report also puts the Seattle Central Library in context of “system-wide improvements under Libraries for All [in which] improvements had already been made to seven neighborhood branches… all of which have contributed to system-wide increased in library use” (Berk & Associates, 2005, p. 12).

EOS. (2014, September 15). How libraries can understand and measure ROI. [Blog post].

This is a good resource for people who are unfamiliar with the concept of return on investment, and its growing role among libraries. The resource is a blog post by EOS, a company focusing on library automation and knowledge management. Sections include “ROI: Defining value in dollars and cents” (an overview), “Breaking down ROI” (understanding approaches to ROI), “How to express ROI to stakeholders,” “How e-books are changing ROI” The post can give staff, the public, and stakeholders a basic understanding of how return on investment is used to measure and present the value of libraries, especially when libraries are looking for funder and community support. It acknowledges that one method does not fit every library system. The section on e-books can be broadened to understanding how to evaluate and understand e-resources in a return on investment study.

Lance, K. C. (2011). Is reference earning its keep? How to do a return on investment study. RSL Research Group. Slideshow presented at the 2011 Texas Library Association conference, Austin, TX.

(PDF version of the “Is reference earning its keep?” slideshow)

This is a good review for administrators who are interested in conducting a return on investment study, whether they are conducting it internally or using an external agency. The resource is a 74-slide PowerPoint explaining considerations a public library needs to make when doing a return on investment study. It includes an overview of methodologies and uses library studies to demonstrate how different methodologies have been used. Although the PowerPoint is missing Lance’s full presentation (RSL Research Group, About RLS,, it still provides a good overview of methodologies, definitions, and approaches for libraries to consider when approaching a return on investment study. Lance includes concepts such as halo spending, alternative use, and multipliers. His breakdown of states that used particular methods is a good resource. A very similar pdf document (apparently created for the Nebraska Library Commission) is also available (Lance. (n.d.)). What’s it worth to you? How to do a return on investment study for your public library. RSL Research Group.

Fraser, B. T., Nelson, T. W., & McClure, C. R. (2002). Describing the economic impacts and benefits of Florida public libraries: Findings and methodological applications for future work

Library and Information Science Research 24(3) pp. 211–233

This article describes the economic impacts and benefits received from public libraries in Florida, indicating that overall public libraries make a significant contribution to the economic development of the state. In addition, this article discusses other efforts that have been undertaken to determine the economic impacts and benefits received from taxpayer investment. The authors present a framework for further study into the economic impacts and benefits received from public libraries, and present some goals and objectives for future studies. Rather than simply focusing on direct benefits for the local community, the authors stress the importance of capturing quantitative and qualitative, direct and indirect benefits for a specific library’s users, their region, or their state. The team considered different methodologies and used library data, focus groups, and interviews to create a framework for public libraries to use in the future. They state, “It is hoped that the research reported here and future efforts will provide critical insights to assist public libraries in effecting, demonstrating, and articulating their contributions to economic development” (Fraser, Nelson, & McClure, 2002, p. 212).

Holt, G. & Elliot, D. (2003). Measuring outcomes: Applying cost-benefit analysis to middle-sized and smaller public libraries

Library Trends, 51(3) pp. 424–440

This article includes a good description of the strengths and weaknesses of cost benefit analysis for those stakeholders wanting an in-depth discussion of methodologies. With funding from the Public Library Association, the authors developed a cost-benefit analysis methodology and applied it to five large public library systems. The present article describes their ongoing research to modify their methodologies to make them viable for application to public libraries of much smaller size.

Mcintosh, C. R. (2013). Library return on investment: Defending the contingent valuation method for public benefits estimation

Library & Information Science Research, 35(2) pp. 117–126. doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2012.11.001

This article states that while most library return on investment studies conducted in the United States rely on “cost savings” approaches to determine the marginal benefits of library services, these methods fail to logically have a meaningful relationship to theoretical benefits estimation. Results from a contingent valuation method technique used in Minnesota indicate that the contingent valuation method leads to more conservative estimates than “cost savings” approaches. Focusing on programs for low income and education households may create higher returns more directly attributable to these services. Unlike the cost savings methods, the contingent valuation method relies on the more accurate measure of “willingness to pay”.

Lance, K.C. (n.d.) What’s it worth to you: How to do a return on investment study for your public library [slide set]. Presented by Keith Curry Lance and the RSL Research Group for the Nebraska Library Commission.

In this presentation, Lance provides a summary of several large US studies conducted over time, and follows with the steps a library staff can take to embark upon their own return on investment analysis. The presentation pulls together a quick summary of figures as well as simple explanations of the contingent valuation method, market valuation, and time valuation.

Resources focused on social impact of libraries

Leckie, G. J., & Hopkins, J. (2002). The public place of central libraries: findings from Toronto and Vancouver

Library Quarterly, 72(3) pp. 326–372

The study found that patrons viewed the library definitively as a safe place for people of all ages and genders to spend time and contribute to their social well-being and personal intellectual development. This is an oft-cited study that considers the impact a public library can have on the cultural fabric of a city as well as patron perceptions of safety. Because of its age, it’s interesting to note the finding that patrons primarily accessed the central library in these two cities for their physical book collections. From the abstract: Examines the use of the Toronto Reference Library and the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch by the public in Canada. Role of the public libraries on promoting public culture; Analysis of design aspirations, user profile, user behavior and library staff experiences; Threat of private market on the public libraries.

Pabērza, K. & Rutkauskiene, U. (2010). Outcomes‐based measurement of public access computing in public libraries: A comparative analysis of studies in Latvia and Lithuania

Performance Measurement and Metrics, 11(1) pp. 75–82, doi: 10.1108/14678041011026883

Public access computing in public libraries was perceived to provide both economic and social benefits. Relating to economic benefits, the ability to save money and time was mentioned most often with more than 60 per cent of respondents in both countries noting the financial savings associated with use of public access computing. Relating to social benefits, the authors note benefits associated with improved leisure and culture. Relating to education, the authors note that libraries help users with their studies, provide information on formal and informal education, and facilitate e‐learning. Public access computers also support improved communication, including email and the internet, as mentioned by more than half of the users. The paper reports on the baseline stage of systematic impact assessment programmes being conducted in Latvia and Lithuania as part of their public access computing in public libraries development work, supported by their respective governments and part-funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Tzu-Tsen Chen1, m., & Hao-Ren Ke1, c. (2017). Public library as a place and breeding ground of social capital: A case of Singang Library

Malaysian Journal Of Library & Information Science, 22(1) pp. 45–58

This paper asserts that positive correlations exist among library use frequency, perceived outcomes, library as a meeting place, and library for breeding social capital. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that discusses all the concepts together. From the abstract: This paper aims at exploring the perceived outcomes and societal value of public libraries, particularly from the perspective of Singang Library, Taiwan. Survey questionnaires were distributed to Singang Library users, and 387 valid responses were analyzed. The result shows that Singang Library users benefit from library services in 22 areas of daily life, which were collapsed through factor analysis into four major outcome types: daily life information, cultural activities, work related, and reading and learning. For analysis of how users use the library as a meeting place, this study shows that Singang Library is used as five different types of meeting place: square, a place for meeting diverse people, public sphere, joint activities and meta-meeting place. Singang Library as a meeting place contributes to breed bridging social capital among users’ network, especially when the library is used as a low intensive meeting place. There are also bonding social capital characteristics among users who visit with their families. This paper also describes the relationship among library use frequency, perceived outcomes, library as a meeting place, and social capital, and the result indicates that the four variables are positively correlated. The data were collected through a questionnaire survey.

Miller, J. (2014). A comparative study of public libraries in Edinburgh and Copenhagen and their potential for social capital creation

Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services, 64(4) pp. 316–326

Findings show that library staff in Edinburgh and Copenhagen are actively involved in creating social capital in a number of ways: through facilitating or organizing meetings, providing an informal meeting place, forging links between groups in the community, creating a welcoming environment, and by meeting community educational needs. It was found that Copenhagen and Edinburgh share in many characteristics, but have different attitudes to trust. Conclusions demonstrate that three main factors affect the library’s potential to create social capital; the library building and space, the library’s staff and volunteers, and the links that the library has with the community. It is recommended that further research should be carried out in the area of library as place and on the identification of factors generating social capital. An exploration of staff views and practices through qualitative interviews gave a deeper insight into how social capital is facilitated. Finally, an analysis and comparison of ways in which Edinburgh and Copenhagen facilitate social capital creation was carried out. From the abstract: Although the concept of social capital can be traced back to 1916, in the past 10 years social capital theory has been linked increasingly to the public library. The purpose of this article is to investigate the library as place and the potential of the public library to create social capital. This comprises the examination of two cases, Edinburgh City Libraries in Edinburgh, Scotland and Københavns Biblioteker in Copenhagen, Denmark in the form of a comparative case study. The methods used to elicit data included qualitative interviews with library managers, observation, and consultation of organizational documentation.

Griffis, M. R., & Johnson, C. A. (2014). Social capital and inclusion in rural public libraries: A qualitative approach

Journal Of Librarianship & Information Science, 46(2) pp. 96–109

In contrast to the other well-cited studies on public space and social capital, these authors found the library didn’t play as prominent a role in rural areas where social networks are developed in a multitude of locations within the geographic community. From the abstract: This paper reports on the qualitative findings of a three-year study of public libraries and social capital conducted in Ontario, Canada. The study sought to establish whether library use was related to levels of social capital. This paper focuses on the rural phase of the study. The researchers visited five rural libraries, all in the southwestern region of the province. The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with library staff members and regular library users. The data suggest that while rural libraries have high potential to create social capital, the overlap of social networks in rural communities renders the library’s influence redundant. Moreover, many of the mechanisms that help libraries increase a sense of social cohesion and inclusion among users can also result in exclusion, even if unintentionally. It is clear that the five rural public libraries we examined all have the potential to help create or facilitate social capital in their respective communities, and that in many cases they do. There was ample evidence that rural libraries: 1. provide opportunities for socialization that results in the exchange of information; 2. help integrate newcomers (and, in one case at least, cultural minorities) into the community; 3. symbolize local identity (and, though to a varying extent, civic autonomy); and 4. support not just themselves as a community place but a larger, broader network of community places and organizations.

Vårheim, A. (2014). Trust and the role of the public library in the integration of refugees: The case of a Northern Norwegian city

Journal Of Librarianship & Information Science, 46(1) pp. 62–69

It was found that most refugees in this study were heavy library users and they had a great deal of trust in the library as an institution and a good understanding that everyone was welcome. It appeared that over time the initial trust for the institution didn’t carry through into generalized social trust and the author concludes more study is needed. From the abstract: This article discusses how public libraries contribute to the generation of social capital and social trust among refugees participating in library programmes while enrolled in a compulsory government introductory programme to Norwegian language and society. The students’ experiences with the library have made them more trusting toward the institution of the public library and library patrons in general. Complementing earlier studies, the paper shows that library programmes for immigrants can contribute to the creation of social trust. Library programmes can play an important part in facilitating and speeding up trust-creating processes, making integration less traumatic, although trust in unknown people (generalized trust) remains low, before, during, and after the completion of the programmes.

Jaeger, P.T., Bertot, J.C., Kodama, C.M., Katz, S.M. & DeCoster, E.J. (2011). Describing and measuring the value of public libraries: The growth of the internet and the evolution of library value. First Monday 16(11).

The paper provides a good overview of some of the key challenges in defining and measuring value. From the abstract: By examining varied concepts of value, this paper explores different understandings of public libraries as places and their contributions to society. The paper also discusses various approaches public libraries have taken to illustrate, articulate, and demonstrate their value. After detailing several value demonstration approaches that public libraries are taking currently or could take, this paper discusses the implications of value demonstration approaches for libraries in social and policy contexts.

Resources Demonstrating the Many Dimensions of Value Provided by Libraries

Crisis response and community resilience

Alajmi, B. (2016). When the nation is in crisis: Libraries respond

Library Management, 37(8/9) pp. 465–481. doi: 10.1108/LM-05-2016-0043

This article looks at libraries’ roles during social unrest, as well as the role of libraries during crisis and disaster situations when library staff continue providing access to information and technology. The article focuses on the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, Missouri. The author discusses the valuable roles public libraries play as providers of access to information, institutions that make practical and emotional contributions through books, places of refuge, and potentially, centers “for improving community resilience” (p. 476, quoting USNCLIS). The literature review notes times of crisis when books, “have both a practical and an emotional contribution to make to citizens on the home front” (Farr, 1943, reporting during World War II). Also, following Hurricane Katrina, many people found libraries valuable “for reasons including internet access, information and technology assistance, mental escape, and refuge” (p. 467 in reference to Braquet’s (2010) work).

Lloyd, A. (2015). Stranger in a strange land; Enabling information resilience in resettlement landscapes

Journal of Documentation, 71(5) pp. 1029–1042. doi: 10.1108/JD-04-2014-0065

This article focuses on refugees and their health information needs and behaviors and it considers the role public libraries play in supporting the development of information resilience. The study begins with the argument that information plays a role in resilience and notes that “An information-focused approach to resilience draws from information literacy, information behavior, information practice and from concepts such as everyday spaces” (p. 1030). The literature review suggests that public libraries play a role in the resilience of persons experiencing stress, homelessness, abuse, or neglect. The abstract notes that, as an emerging concept, information resilience has the potential to focus research attention towards the critical role that information and information practices such as information literacy have in supporting people whose knowledge bases, social networks, and information landscapes have become disrupted during transition.

Vårheim, A. (2017). Public libraries, community resilience, and social capital

Information Research, 22(1) pp. 1–14.

Retrieved from

This article explains the concept of community resilience in relation to a specific disaster and in general, and discusses libraries’ ability to promote or increase resilience because of their ability to promote or increase social capital. The author notes that the role of public libraries in contributing to the resilience of their local communities is an underdeveloped area of research. Potential areas for future research include communities’ trust in public libraries, information provided during a crisis/disaster, information communication technologies (ICTs) available to the public, spaces for feeling safe and meeting community members, and places to conduct everyday business when utilities at home or in offices might be down.

Grace, D. & Sen, B. (2013). Community resilience and the role of the public library

John Hopkins University Press, 61(3) pp. 513–541

The authors of this paper use autoethnography to study community resilience. They follow Vårheim’s (2017) approach of considering community resilience through the context of the library creating social capital, but offer a straightforward approach with suggestions on measurable values. Grace and Sen’s work provides an example of research that studies a library’s daily practices to determine how much libraries do or can contribute to community resiliency. From the abstract: Communities face increasing threats from disasters precipitated by climate change, biodiversity loss, and energy and food insecurity. In the face of such threats, communities must adopt strategies that build resilience. The library has a role to play in such strategies. This study explores how, through an examination of day-to-day working practices, public libraries promote and inhibit community resilience. Several areas of interest emerged: the existence of a split between the social worlds of the library worker and user, the role of technology in this split, the role of professionalism as discourse in rationalizing the use of certain technologies, the role of management in perpetuating this discourse, the place of outreach in bridging the gap between these social worlds, and the environment as an abiding concern. Each of these areas provides a potential site for further research regarding the role of the public library in building community resilience.

Personal economic development for users

Franks, J. E. & Johns, C. (2015). Entrepreneur assistance & economic development in Florida libraries, Reference Services

This article compares the help requested by entrepreneurs and small businesses with the services provided by two public libraries in Florida, with the aim of showing that public libraries contribute to a community’s overall prosperity. The results suggest that the libraries are able to satisfy most entrepreneurs’ requests, with the exception of consulting, which could be offered at the library by business service organizations. The authors also discuss the notion of raising awareness of services and resources that small businesses might find valuable. Despite a rigorous study design, the results do not show specific outcomes produced by the libraries.

Söderholm, J. (2016). Borrowing tools from the public library

Journal of Documentation, 72(1) pp. 140–155. doi: 10.1108/JD-01-2015-0010

This article profiles a unique tool lending library in Berkeley, California, which started as a special library in 1879 and is now incorporated into the South Branch Library of Berkeley Public Library. The author examines people’s decisions to borrow tools instead of purchasing them and explores the value of the program and the positive effects it has on the users’ lives. The values noted can be applied to traditional and non-traditional library resources, for example, monetary savings versus convenience and accessibility. The study discusses “enablement” as a value, e.g. “Such enablement includes: inspiration and encouragement to do things with tools, experience and learning, support to become (and be) self-employed, and support of the development of their community” (p. 148). This idea of enablement as a library value can be applied to using library computers, borrowing both books and non-traditional items such as cameras and bakeware, and the availability of tools in makerspaces. Studying the value of the tool lending library would be easily translated to studying the value of these new resources. From the abstract: Findings were discussed from a perspective taking departure from Wiegand’s notion of “the library in the life of the user,” and summarized with regards to sustainable community development.

Personal learning and knowledge development

Pabērza, K. & Rutkauskiene, U. (2010). Outcomes‐based measurement of public access computing in public libraries: A comparative analysis of studies in Latvia and Lithuania

Performance Measurement and Metrics, 11(1) pp. 75–82, doi: 10.1108/14678041011026883

This paper reports on the baseline stage of systematic impact assessment programmes being conducted in Latvia and Lithuania, supported by their respective governments and funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The authors state that public access computing in public libraries is perceived to provide both social and economic benefits, including improved leisure, culture, and communication, and support for formal, informal, and e‐learning. Relating to economic benefits, more than 60 per cent of respondents in both countries note the financial savings associated with use of public access computing in public libraries.

Jaeger, P.T., Bertot, J.C., Kodama, C.M., Katz, S.M. & DeCoster, E.J. (2011). Describing and measuring the value of public libraries: The growth of the internet and the evolution of library value. First Monday 16(11).

Retrieved from:

By examining varied concepts of value, this paper explores different understandings of the public library as place and its contribution to society. The authors explore various approaches public libraries have taken to illustrate, articulate, and demonstrate their value, discuss the implications of value demonstration approaches for libraries in social and policy contexts, and provide a good overview of some of the key challenges of defining and measuring value.

Halpin, E., Rankin, C., Chapman, E. L., Walker, C. (2015). Measuring the value of public libraries in the digital age: What the power people need to know

Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 47(1) pp. 30–42. doi: 10.1177/0961000613497746

The authors of this report suggest using a human rights-based approach to support arguments in favor of public library provision. The article includes a literature review that summarizes potential ways of measuring the value of library services and ideas for moving forward in the future—from both general and UK-specific perspectives. The authors discuss traditional definitions and measures of value such as monetary return, “footfall,” material use, inputs, and outputs compared to other ideas of value that are more difficult to measure including social, economic, and educational benefits. They also note the values of “free social space . . . safe and accessible place . . . unbiased and non-judgmental . . . support for disadvantaged groups . . . entertainment and self- improvement” (p. 35). The article includes the views of power people, stakeholders, non-users and library staff. Although it addresses the need for new measurements that capture value, the authors do not mention measuring outcomes.

Griffin, J. (2016). “Access to Research”: how UK public libraries are offering access to over 15 million academic articles for free

Interlending & Document Supply, 44(2) pp. 37–43. doi: 10.1108/ILDS-03-2016-0012

The purpose of this article is to describe a unique service by UK public libraries—the two-year Access to Research (A2R) pilot project that provided access to over 15 million academic articles for free—and discuss the impact the service has had since its launch. The evaluation revealed that (a) users of the service included people of a wide variety of ages and economic backgrounds, though the majority was older and more educated than the average library user” (pp. 40–41), and (b) the pilot was valuable to a range of audiences working on professional, personal, or educational projects. Users, publishers, and library officials indicated that having free access to academic journals is valuable, and both publishers and librarians wished to continue the project. This is a strong example of how resources become more valuable when libraries and other partners collaborate. Future research could more clearly define the value library users and specific audiences find in these resources, and how the perceived value changes for users if the resources are free to both users and the libraries compared to when the service is free to patrons at a financial cost to libraries.

Nielsen, B. G. & Borlund, P. (2011). Information literacy, learning, and the public library: A study of Danish high school students

Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 43(2) pp. 106–119. doi: 10.1177/0961000611408643

The paper reports on a study of the perceptions of twelve Danish high school students’ of the role of public libraries in learning, user education, and information literacy, and of librarians’ information competencies. The students consider public libraries to be an important place for learning. They view public librarians as very competent and good at helping them to develop their information needs and identify sources, and in supporting them in their information search processes. Similar to the situation in California, due to limited funding of the high school library, the public library is the primary library for many of the students. The authors’ research approach is valuable for those seeking to determine the value of public libraries and librarians in improving their users’ information literacy. Rather than asking patrons how valuable they think “information literacy” is, the authors’ approach yields more accurate results regarding how valuable patrons think libraries are as places for information and help with information literacy needs. The authors note that when the article was written (2011) there was “a lack of research on the relations between public libraries and information literacy” (p. 109). Since then, at least two other research projects about public library users (Söderholm, 2016; Hosoya-Neale, 2016) have used the phenomonographic approach, and this article’s explanation of this method demonstrates why it is well-suited to studying users’ perceptions of the value of libraries.

NEMO-The Network of European Museum Organisations (Ed.). (2016). Proceedings from NEMO 23rd Annual Conference – Revisiting the Educational Value of Museums: Connecting to Audiences. Pilsen, Czech Republic, November 2015.

Retrieved from

Proceedings from the 2015 European conference in Pilsen on the educational value of museums highlighting eleven peer-reviewed papers. A purpose of the organization is: “We want legislators at national and European level to understand and promote the role that museums play regarding education and social cohesion. We also want other learning institutions to recognize museums as their natural partners for collaboration.” This item is of value for those looking to stretch their ideas of learning and social value by looking closely at another sector.

Bertot, J.C., McClure, C.R., & Jaeger, P.T. (2008). The impacts of free public internet access on public library patrons and communities

Library Quarterly, 78 (3) pp. 285–301

While the data analyzed in this study are now ten years old, the findings are still relevant: that public libraries are the most significant providers of free internet access in many communities as well as a key point in providing access during times of disaster, but current infrastructure is likely insufficient to adequately maintain these roles in the future. From the abstract: “The role of Internet access provider for the community is ingrained in the social perceptions of public libraries, and public Internet access has become a central part of community perceptions about libraries and the value of the library profession.” Findings from the study indicate that “73.1 percent of libraries [surveyed] are the only provider of free Internet access in their areas, thus often serving as the guarantors of public access to the Internet in the United States. … The percentages of libraries involved in disaster relief … for states in which disasters occurred [is high]: for example, in the Gulf Coast states, 96.1 percent of Mississippi libraries, 87.9 percent of Louisiana public libraries, 87.3 percent of Florida public libraries, and 64.5 percent of Alabama public libraries report use of their public computing and Internet access services to access emergency relief services and benefits.” However, the authors feel that “the ability of libraries to fulfill Internet-based services may be declining. There have been signs for several years that libraries may be struggling to meet demands as a result of a combination of factors such as the limits on physical space in libraries, the increasing complexity of Internet content, the continual costs of Internet access and computer maintenance, the inherent limitations of the telecommunications grid, and the rising demands for bandwidth, processing speed, and numbers of workstations, among other factors.”

Social capital in communities

Leckie, G. J., & Hopkins, J. (2002). The public place of central libraries: findings from Toronto and Vancouver

Library Quarterly, 72(3) pp. 326–372

This highly cited study examines the use of the Toronto Reference Library and the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch and considers the impact public libraries can have on the cultural fabric of a city as well as considering patron perceptions of safety. The study found that patrons view libraries definitively as safe places for people of all ages and genders to spend time and as places that contribute to their social well-being and personal intellectual development.

Tzu-Tsen Chen1, m., & Hao-Ren Ke1, c. (2017). Public library as a place and breeding ground of social capital: A case of Singang Library

Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science, 22(1) pp. 45–58

This paper explores the perceived outcomes and societal value of public libraries, particularly from the perspective of Singang Library, Taiwan. The authors report that users of Singang Library benefit from library services in 22 areas of daily life, which were collapsed through factor analysis into four major outcome types: daily life information, cultural activities, work related activities, and reading and learning. Additionally, Singang Library is used as five different types of meeting place: square, a place for meeting diverse people, a public sphere, a space for joint activities, and a meta-meeting place. Finally, the authors describe the relationship between library use frequency, perceived outcomes, libraries as meeting places, and social capital, and suggest that the four variables are positively correlated.

Miller, J. (2014). A comparative study of public libraries in Edinburgh and Copenhagen and their potential for social capital creation

Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 64(4) pp. 316–326

This paper reports on a comparative case study of Edinburgh City Libraries in Edinburgh, Scotland and Københavns Biblioteker in Copenhagen, Denmark, to investigate the library as place and the potential of public libraries to create social capital. The study finds that library staff in Edinburgh and Copenhagen are actively involved in creating social capital in a number of ways: through facilitating or organizing meetings, providing informal meeting places, forging links between groups in the community, creating welcoming environments, and meeting community educational needs. The study’s conclusions demonstrate that three main factors affect the libraries’ potential to create social capital: the library building and space, the library’s staff and volunteers, and the links that the library has with the community. The authors recommend that further research should be carried out into library as place and on the identification of factors generating social capital.

Audunson, R. (2016). The library and quality of life

Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly, 49(1/2) pp. 28–29

This article focuses on a survey by the Pew Research Center on the impact of U.S. public libraries on social welfare and quality of life. The study under discussion in the article was conducted in three areas of Oslo representing three different population types with the aim of learning how public libraries in Norway affect quality of life. Findings show that people appreciate public libraries as places to plan meetings, have chance meetings with friends, and to be exposed to the diverse community. Observation showed that public libraries are valuable because people “can drift between different roles and life sphere: the parent and caregiver role,” (p. 29) for example. In this way, people can be themselves, but can also be anonymous, just one user among many. This also brings the value of normalcy in which a successful writer and person without a job both use the public computers. The author concludes, “The library clearly enhances people’s lives” (p. 29).

Merlo-Vega, J. A. & Chu, C. M. (2015). Contributive justice in Spanish libraries during economic crisis

Library Trends, 64(2) pp. 299–328. doi: 10.1353/lib.2015.0051

This article describes the many ways public and academic libraries in Spain have worked to stay open and relevant during a time of economic crisis. Libraries, community members, and stakeholders have come together and found solutions and resources to contribute to the common good. Although the focus of the article is on services and programs, the authors note that, “The value of libraries needs to be expressed to funding agencies in terms of return on investment (ROI) and stories of individual and community impact, i.e., contributions to social development” (p. 324). Many of the services provided are not unique to Spanish libraries, and the article demonstrates that libraries are valuable because of their ability to bring people and communities together to provide help to others and themselves. From the abstract: The setting of this research is in Spain, where the current economic crisis left more than 6 million (27 percent of the population) unemployed as of 2013. It is not just communities that are grappling with the pain of the economic downturn; libraries are also suffering from the crisis as a result of budget cuts due to reduced public funding. This article presents the case of Spanish academic and public libraries that have found solutions to keep themselves open, providing services vital to the economic and sociocultural needs of their communities. Despite economic hardships all around, these Spanish examples reveal the impact of libraries as social justice institutions, the role of librarians as agents of change, and the value of contributive and grassroots efforts when governments fail to provide.

Ashley, B. & Niblett, V. (2014). Researching the economic contribution of public libraries

Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, 9(4) pp. 86–91

Retrieved from

The authors of this study were interested in determining if a value could be placed on the indirect ways that libraries make an economic contribution. Earlier research by Arts Council England identified and measured “the contribution arts and culture make to the national economy” (p. 86), which led to the awareness of “a gap in the evidence available at the national level about what library services contribute to the economy, but also a question of how to gather this evidence” (p. 86). The article provides a brief literature review of educational and social benefits, and discusses how the literature falls short of providing strong evidence of these values and benefits. The authors conclude that evidence shows that libraries offer personal, social, and economic benefits, but “attempting to derive a realistic and accurate overall monetary valuation for public libraries will be very hard to achieve.” They also argue “that measuring libraries’ short term economic impact provides only a very thin, diminished account of their true value” (p. 90).

Skelly, L., Stilwell, C. & Underwood, P. G. (2015). Correlations between the economy and public library use

The Bottom Line, 28(1/2) pp. 26–33. doi: 10.1108/BL-12-2014-0032

This article demonstrates a clear link between the economy and public libraries, showing how libraries can be valuable in aiding economic growth and explaining correlations (or lack of correlation) between library programs and chosen statistics related to the economy. Results are integrated with findings from previous literature and the authors provide clear descriptions of the quantitative methodology used. Relationships are not uniform: strongly positive relationships exist between education and visits, circulation and library programs, savings and visits and circulation and programs, and a strongly negative relationship exists between health and circulation. Instead of showing a strong or consistent value, the article offers patterns and suggestions of how libraries can increase their value of contributing to economic growth and development.

Oliphant, T. (2014). “I’m a library hugger!”: Public libraries as valued community assets

Public Library Quarterly, 33(4) pp. 348–361. doi: 10.1080/01616846.2014.970431

In Alberta, Canada, 1,201 Albertans from across the province, including both urban and rural areas, were asked a series of questions about their perceptions of public libraries and library use. Findings reveal characteristics of library users and nonusers, the services and resources that are used most often at public libraries, the value the public places on public libraries, and the role that libraries play in supporting communities. Results show that both users and non-users value public libraries, and even non-users say they would be willing to pay for an annual membership. The study refers to libraries offering value through the following: safe places, trusted resources, library materials and services, art and culture events (especially in rural areas), help for newcomers, and helpful staff.

Vallet, N. (2013). Becoming partners in urban development: A case-study research on the strategic roles of Flemish and Dutch public libraries in the future development of cities

Library Management, 34(8/9) pp. 650–663. doi: 10.1108/LM-03-2013-0024

The purpose of this project was to examine the role of public libraries within urban networks aiming for the future development and innovation of cities and how this influences libraries’ strategic plans and decision making. The article discusses generic and specific strategic roles that are commonly found in American libraries as well as northern European libraries. The clear goals in the strategic plans included in the article can easily be translated into values that the libraries hold or that they hope to offer their communities. Important questions are posed: “To what extent is [the libraries’] complex, subtle and differentiated network contribution explicitly seen, observed and recognized as [embedded in city innovation projects]? Are other partners and local governments in particular fully aware of their broad contribution…?” (p. 661). The author emphasizes “the overall need to stimulate and organize a more explicit and focused [sic] debate on the strategic contributions of public libraries” (p. 661).

Buschman, J. (2013). Democracy, market solutions, and educative institutions

Progressive Librarian, Fall2013(41) pp. 5–17

Retrieved from

This paper takes a strong stance against any commercial involvement (even under the guise of sponsorship) in educational institutions, which include libraries. The author describes foundational and current democratic theory to argue that true democracy is lost when commercialism and neoliberalism are as far reaching as schools and libraries. Although the author argues that neoliberalism has hindered democracy in libraries, the article makes it clear that libraries have a vital role of upholding democratic values and voice in their communities. On its own, this article does not provide evidence that a current, clear value of libraries is promoting and supporting true democracy. However, alongside additional research that provides a solid argument that libraries still play this important role in their communities, this article can provide supporting arguments of libraries’ valuable influence toward democratic ideals.

Stilwell, C. (2016). The public library as institutional capital: Towards measures for addressing social inclusion and combating poverty

Information Development, 32(1) pp. 44–59. doi: 10.1177/0266666914525063

Although the research focuses on data in South Africa and how libraries there can help overcome social exclusion and poverty, the concepts and approaches included here are universal. The article makes it clear that public libraries play a valuable role in social inclusion. Using a transformative paradigm, the article addresses the development of measures with regard to the public library’s role in fostering social inclusion and alleviating poverty. The approach taken is based on Sachs’s notion of capital endowments. It employs a thematic analysis of the literature and easily sourced statistics to show how to describe the status of a selected site and a heat map to show the results. This planning tool could be of use in garnering government and public support for the key role played by libraries. While the background is complex, the article includes a literature analysis to explain social inclusion, barriers to it, and institutional capitals (human, business, infrastructure, public institutional, knowledge) that help overcome those barriers.

Ruiu, M. L. & Ragnedda, M. (2016). Between digital inclusion and social equality: the role of public libraries in Newcastle upon Tyne

Library and Information Research, 40(123) pp. 69–87

Retrieved from


This study looks at library staff’s perception of the value of public libraries. Staff members suggest that libraries shrink the digital divide and improve social inclusion and they provide examples of programs that provide these benefits. Libraries’ value increases further when they can provide digital access and teach digital skills in neighborhoods that otherwise lack digital resources and services. The value of place is created when people learn from each other and groups find libraries to be welcoming, safe spaces to visit. The paper also identifies barriers experienced by public libraries in providing these services.

Scott, R. (2011). The role of public libraries in community building

Public Library Quarterly, 30(3) pp. 191–227. doi: 10.1080/01616846.2011.599283

In this article, professionals in the fields of library and information science, public libraries, and community development in Washington State discuss the ways that public libraries can build strong communities. The article provides definitions of community and community building and explores five facets of community: (1) how libraries serve as a conduit to access information and to learn, (2) how libraries encourage social inclusion and equity, (3) how libraries foster civic engagement, (4) how libraries create a bridge to resources and community involvement, and (5) how libraries promote economic vitality within communities. Findings show how libraries support and provide education, democracy, civil engagement social justice, individual well-being, social inclusion/reduction of social isolation, engagement, equal access, safe community spaces, resources not found elsewhere, economic vitality and opportunity, acculturation, tolerance, and partnerships. The conclusion states that through community building, libraries strengthen communities.

Willingham, T. (2008). Libraries as civic agents

Public Library Quarterly, 27(2) pp. 97–110. doi: 10.1080/01616840802114820

This article reviews the development of public libraries as civic agents, fostering community building, partnerships, and trust. With their history as trusted institutions that provide neutral public spaces, libraries are well-positioned to take on this role. Although the article does not include a research component, it contains examples of specific initiatives that have helped librarians further their role as civic agents. From the abstract: Libraries connect people with information, are vital to democracy and transform communities. Led and staffed by entrepreneurial thinkers, many libraries have reaffirmed their civic mission and even redefined their role in their community. They are not only relevant to their community; they are central players in engaging the public in civic discourse, weaving organizations and resources together, bridging divisions, and developing the capacity for their communities to solve problems. These libraries are places where people learn about complex public issues and practice deliberative democracy. By listening deeply to the concerns of people in their community library, staff are actively developing strategies to help the community work together. They are creating collaborative relationships between agencies and individuals, even convening stakeholders from opposite camps. They are civic agents creating civic agency.

McKinley, Kelly. (2017, July 10). What is our museum’s social impact? Trying to understand and measure how our museum changes lives in our community. New Faces New Spaces.

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Deputy Director of the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA), Kelly McKinley, writes about OMCA’s process toward naming and defining its social impact. OMCA ultimately wants to measure these impacts to prove “the belief that when museums are truly welcoming and inclusive, they make a real difference in the lives of people as well as in the health and vitality of a community” (para. 1). The measured proof can then be articulated to the “community of stakeholders.” In the introduction, McKinley states, “We anticipate future stories might focus on what we’re learning from other experts in the social impact field, how we’re tracking indicators of our social impact, and what we’re doing with that new data.” McKinley speaks to OMCA’s ability to critically consider language commonly used when addressing social impact and the group’s intentional decisions regarding terminology and which impacts make sense as a focus for their museum. Museum staff, the museum board, and the broader community all took part in the process. The writing is appropriate for people who are interested in the museum’s work, the topic of social impact by community institutions, or for those who want to initiate a similar process for their own organization. McKinley explains that understanding and measuring social impact is important to help “expand the possibilities of our mission” (First step section, para. 4), guide the management of programs and resources, and advance donors’ belief in the museum, leading to increased investments. Although this article is specifically about a museum, there are clear parallels to the social impact and value of libraries. McKinley indicates that evidence of positive social impact would ultimately be determined by users’ perceptions and OMCA next plans to “move on to developing a structured process for measurement” (Up next section, para. 3).

Wavell, C., Baxter, G., Johnson, I., & Williams, D. (2002). Impact evaluation of museums, archives and libraries: Available evidence project.

Retrieved from

This paper examines social impact studies conducted in the museums, archives and libraries sector, and discusses evidence of social impact in each sector, gaps in research, and issues of access and barriers. Themes that repeat, such as learning, personal development, social cohesion, and health and well-being, are noted. One of the main points of this critical review is that most of the research regarding the impact and value of libraries and museums points to potential impacts and values rather than presenting true or valid evidence. The authors note that qualitative research is valid when strong methodology and large sample sizes are used as opposed to anecdotes that supplement quantitative data. They also mention that the value of libraries might be determined by examining lost value when libraries close or are inaccessible. The researchers hope that studies that can be applied both locally and more broadly and consistently will be conducted. From the abstract: The study, funded by Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, consisted largely of a review of the literature published during a five-year retrospective period, with a particular emphasis on impact evaluations conducted within the UK. An advisory group, representing all three domains, was also established. The methodologies used in, and the evidence obtained from, these evaluation studies are discussed critically within the broad context of social, learning and economic impact. While there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence and descriptions of best practice in the sector, extensive hard evidence of impact, gathered systematically, is often lacking. The most compelling evidence from the review indicates that the sector has an impact on personal development.

Bryson, J., Usherwood, B., & Streatfield, D. (2002). Social Impact Audit.

Retrieved from

The report offers a review of the social audit process which demonstrates that methodical interviews and focus groups can successfully produce qualitative data on social impact. The rich, qualitative data returned through interviews and focus groups involving users, non-users and other stakeholders, creates a tool to fine-tune institutional policy and illuminate strengths and weaknesses that is not normally obtainable through quantitative approaches” (p. 6). Two unique aspects of this study are (a) the approach of “working cross-sectorally, between local government authorities to identify social goals and asking the stakeholder if these goals were being met” and (b) the project’s aim “to assess the collaborative impact of archives, libraries and museums in terms of promoting social cohesion, fostering social inclusion and encouraging lifelong learning” (p. 10). The report also considers factors that can affect social impact such as awareness and marketing, service image, and facilities. Although there were limitations with time and some difficulties synthesizing and analyzing findings according to the project’s guidelines, participants and researchers felt that the project advanced organizations’ ability to measure social impact. Executive Summary Introduction: The study was initiated by Museums, Archives and Libraries South West and was funded by Resource: the Council for Museums Archives and Libraries. The research was designed and undertaken by the Centre for Public Libraries and Information in Society (CPLIS) at the University of Sheffield. It developed the methodology used in their previous social audit of public library services in Newcastle and Somerset, and sought to familiarize service professionals with the techniques involved. The present study involved staff in eight organizations, drawn from archive, library and museum services in the South West.

Poll, R. (2011). Impact and outcome of libraries [Bibliography].

Retrieved from

This is an extensive (38-page) bibliography organized into the following sections: projects, bibliographies, general, impact on information literacy, impact on academic success, social impact, impact of electronic services, financial value of libraries, and impact of school libraries. It provides links that were active and free as of January 2011. The sections make it easy to focus on a more specific topic. Based on other articles about the impact and outcomes of libraries, these articles might point to themes regarding values and methodologies that are more successful than others.

Barclay, D. A. (2017). Space and the social worth of public libraries.

Public Library Quarterly, [forthcoming]. doi: 10.1080/01616846.2017.1327767

While most articles indicate that public space is one value libraries provide to their communities, this article solely focuses on library space as a social value. In an age in which almost all services come with a cost and many public buildings now have high security, public space at the library is more valuable than ever. Additionally, libraries are places for gathering, spending time on one’s own, entertainment, and learning. The author provides statistics that show increased library use and shares a couple of stories that capture personal value and argues that libraries’ free and open space with a variety of services and resources truly is unique. He states that while public libraries do an excellent job of promoting their important role in providing access to information, educational resources, technology, and a host of valuable services, they must also promote the value of public library space itself.

Gutsche, A., Höschler, M., Kendall, G. & Pagel, J. (2015). Four values for museums: Educational, collection, social, economic.

Berlin: NEMO — The Network of European Museum Organisations.

Retrieved from

This publication provides an overview of exemplary museum projects from all over Europe, many of which differ greatly in terms of geography, structure, and theme. But whether in Greece or Finland, France or Russia, in museums of art, ethnography or natural sciences, in international networks, large institutions or smaller museums, the common thread that runs through all of these projects is how museums serve their visitors, in particular, and society in general. This item is of value for those looking to stretch their ideas of learning and social value by looking closely at another sector.

Matthews, J. (2015). Assessing outcomes and value: It’s all a matter of perspective

Performance Measurement and Metrics, 16 (3) pp. 211–233

This literature review provides a broad perspective on the many ways value and impact have been defined in libraries. It offers succinct definitions of the most common methods used in current studies, and concludes that “one size does not fit all” with the definition of value shifting with each individual context. The author concludes: “Clearly, any attempt to establish the value of library outcomes should recognize that a combination of perspectives — educational, informative, recreational, cultural, and public benefits — will result in a more realistic assessment of value. Libraries today have more tools at their disposal when attempting to identify likely outcomes that occur when people interact with library collections and services.”

Matthews, J. (2015). Adding value: Getting to the heart of the matter

Performance Measurement & Metrics, 14 (3), 2013 pp. 162–174

This article provides a good summary of examples of the ways in which different libraries offer a unique value proposition. Helpful tables and charts are provided along with a discussion about value propositions generally. The author notes: “Libraries must find new ways to add value to their collections and services as competitors continue to introduce convenient services that are drawing people away from libraries. The ways in which a library might add new value have been grouped into five broad categories: community, content, context, collaboration, or co-creation and connection. Each category is discussed in some detail and examples are provided to illustrate possibilities.”

Usherwood, B. & Linley, R. (1998). New library – new measures: a social audit of public libraries. Presented at the 64th IFLA General Conference, Amsterdam, 1998.

Retrieved from:

Carried out in Britain in the 1990s, this study used a social process audit to evaluate the social impact of libraries. The authors sought to analyze the goals (aims), inputs (resources), outputs (the program or service) and outcomes (actual experience) of the public library and information service. The introduction to the article sums up the authors’ points aptly: The full impact of public library services on individuals and communities cannot be demonstrated by statistics alone. Library managers must be prepared, in all senses of that word, to use indicators that use “soft” as well as “hard” data. In the words of a county librarian, they “need to focus on performance measurement which is meaningful to the user (i.e., qualitative) rather than convenient…” Findings indicate: “…libraries help individuals and communities “get started” and “keep going” on a wide range of activities. In addition, sometimes with the help of other agencies, libraries help advance and maintain individual and community development. The recognized and established functions of the public library in terms of education, information, culture, and leisure, remain important. In particular, respondents suggest that the public library is a significant resource for school children and adult learners, and an important source of information on careers and training opportunities. The library is perceived as providing equity for older people, those with disabilities and people from ethnic minorities.”

Jaeger, P.T., Gorham, U., Bertot, J.C., & Sarin, L.C. (2013). Democracy, neutrality, and value demonstration in the age of austerity

Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83,(4) pp. 368–382

From the abstract: “This Libraries and Policy essay explores the interrelationships between the public library goals of supporting democracy and remaining an apolitical institution and the expectations for demonstration of value and economic contribution at a time in which public discourse emphasizes austerity from public institutions. Libraries’ positions on democracy and neutrality are explored within the context of the tension between asserting value and demonstrating it, as well as the impacts of these positions on the ability to advocate for library value in political and policy making processes. Building upon these analyses, we examine different ways that libraries can use research to advocate and demonstrate their value by framing the terms of value and austerity in language that acknowledges the tangible and intangible contributions of public libraries.” In addition, the authors state: “The library profession needs to enhance its use of empirical assessments and measure the contributions of public libraries to community challenges such as education, employment and economic development, and health and wellness. For far too long, public libraries have relied on input (resource investment) and output measures (resources available and used) to demonstrate value.”

Goulding, A. (2004). Libraries and social capital

Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 36(1) pp. 3–6

This editorial offers an accessible way to think about social capital and the library’s role in contributing to community development. From the abstract: This article “Explains the principles of social capital, emphasizing the importance of social relationships between members of a community, and outlines its characteristics and outcomes. Communities high in social capital are characterized by citizenship, neighbourliness, trust and shared values, community involvement, volunteering, social networks and civic participation which can lead to lower crime rates, better health, better educational achievement, better child welfare, more effective government and higher economic achievement. Libraries can contribute to the building of social capital by promoting the types of interaction and integration which enable social networking and by providing citizenship information resources. There are challenges, though, which libraries need to address if they are to fulfill their potential in this key policy area.” However, the author concludes: “The library has thus been found to provide a physical and social focus for civic engagement, but developments in the services offered and resulting changes to the library environment might be challenging its ability to build social capital.””

Goulding, A. (2008). Libraries and cultural capital

Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 40(4) pp. 235–237

From the Abstract: “This editorial discusses the concept of cultural capital and its relevance for cultural institutions and, specifically, libraries, gives an overview of the concept of cultural capital as first conceived by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu and explores the three types of cultural capital he identified (embodied, objectified and institutional). The editorial examines how libraries might be considered sites for the production, dissemination and acquisition of cultural capital, focusing on their role of facilitating access to objectified cultural capital in particular and discusses how recent uses of the term cultural capital do not adhere closely to Bourdieu’s theories but suggests, nevertheless, that the term is being used increasingly to justify continued government financial support for cultural services.” The author concludes: “that the concept of cultural capital is being applied increasingly to cultural institutions, including libraries, to make a case for their contribution to economic and social well-being. Use of the term and concept in relation to cultural institutions and their value for the individual is inconsistent and often confused, however, leading to uncertainty about whether these organizations contribute to individual and/or collective cultural capital and, if so, how. Whether the cultural assets they hold can be considered objectified cultural capital is a matter for debate, for example, as is the question of how (or whether) this cultural infrastructure contributes to or maintains the embodied cultural capital of individuals and communities.”

McClure, C.R., & Bertot, J.C. (1998). Public library use in Pennsylvania: Identifying uses, benefits, and impacts: Final report. Pennsylvania Department of Education: Harrisburg.

Retrieved from:

This study aimed to understand how using the library is valuable or beneficial to users. The authors identified users of Pennsylvania’s public libraries, determined their reasons for using the library, and provide information describing the impacts and benefits to those users as a result of their contact with the public library. The results show there is substantial agreement that many Pennsylvania public libraries: Contribute directly to the economic productivity of the local community and the state by encouraging the establishment of businesses, helping residents find jobs, attracting new businesses to locate in a community, and providing information and programs on being a successful entrepreneur; provide services and programs to children, adults, and seniors that simply are not available elsewhere or, if available, would be too expensive for many residents; enhance the overall quality of life and promote the cultural environment in the communities these libraries serve; promote the well-being of individuals and assist them to become more productive in their jobs and in their personal lives; contribute directly to the success of local social service agencies, literacy groups, home schoolers, writers, and others; and provide individuals with customized information services tailored to their unique needs.

Vulnerable populations

Vårheim, A. (2014). Trust and the role of the public library in the integration of refugees: The case of a Northern Norwegian city

Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 46(1) pp. 62–69

This article discusses how public libraries contribute to the generation of social capital and social trust among refugees participating in library programmes while enrolled in compulsory government programmes introducing them to Norwegian language and society. The author states that the students’ experiences with libraries have made them more trusting toward the public libraries and their patrons. Complementing earlier studies, the article also shows that library programmes for immigrants can contribute to the creation of social trust and can play an important part in facilitating and speeding up trust-creating processes, making integration less traumatic. However, trust in unknown people (generalized trust) remains low, before, during, and after the completion of the programmes.

Gómez-Hernández, J-A., Hernández-Pedreño, M. & Romero-Sánchez, E. (2017). Social and digital empowerment of vulnerable library users of the Murcia Regional Library, Spain

El professional de la information, 26(1) pp. 20–32. doi: 10.3145/epi.2017.ene.03

This is an important study that ties digital literacy and library spaces to the value of keeping people connected to society and giving them a sense of normalcy. The authors use a methodology that can be applied to any public library with vulnerable populations and employs measurable specific outcomes, such as increased digital literacy and employability. From the abstract: This research is based on two qualitative techniques applied to further understand the levels of digital risk or empowerment of vulnerable users visiting Murcia Regional Library. Library users and staff, social workers, and the three most recent library managers were interviewed and participatory observation was applied. The authors studied the exclusion factors of users, their motivation for using library services, and their information and digital competencies. They conclude that these persons use the library primarily as a center for both leisure and media Internet purposes and also occasionally to study or job search. Nevertheless, and above all, they value the library as a comfortable, normalized, and inclusive space, in which they feel integrated and where, without limits, they can stay for leisure or practical purposes.

Kelleher, A. (2013). Not just a place to sleep: Homeless perspectives on libraries in central Michigan

Library Review, 62(1/2) pp. 19–33. doi: 10.1108/00242531311328122

This article can be useful as a starting place for further research exploring the value of libraries to persons experiencing homelessness. The author attempted to gather data from a greater number of people than just the population of library users experiencing homelessness despite the inherent ethical and practical difficulties in doing so. The article does not mention the concept of “normalcy” as recognized in other research. From the abstract: This study aims to focus on a qualitative and quantitative assessment of how homeless people in the USA use libraries. Libraries, especially in urban areas, have a complicated relationship with homeless patrons. It is easy to assume that homeless populations use libraries as a safe place to avoid the elements or to sleep. This paper considers the other ways that people without permanent housing are using libraries, how they perceive libraries, and what their specific information needs might be… The research found that many homeless people in central Michigan use libraries frequently. They most often read for entertainment and use the internet. Survey respondents tended to be appreciative of library services.

Buníc, S. (2013). Libraries and the homeless: Experiences, challenges and opportunities — socioeconomic background of homelessness in Croatia

Library Review, 62(1/2) pp. 34–42. doi: 10.1108/00242531311328131

The context and history of homeless populations in Croatia and the United States are vastly different. However, the approach to examining different models of library services to the homeless population in Croatia can be applied in the United States. This article focuses on challenges and opportunities relating to libraries’ work with persons experiences homelessness and makes reference to the value of libraries through these programs. The author notes that libraries are valuable places that provide normalization in common spaces and through networks; they are also places where people learn new skills; and staff trained in social work or psychology adds great value to the services and help provided by public libraries.

Sirikul, P. & Dorner, D. (2016). Thai immigrants’ information seeking behavior and perception of the public library’s role during the settlement process

Library Review, 65(8/9) pp. 535–548. doi: 10.1108/LR-01-2016-0008

This article provides a glimpse into the information needs and behaviors of Thai immigrants in New Zealand and supports the understanding that public libraries provide value to immigrants as an information resource and “as a safe place for social interaction” (p.545). From the abstract: The study used a qualitative methodology through semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions. Mwarigha’s three stages of settlement and Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology were used as theoretical frameworks for understanding the information-seeking behavior of the Thai immigrants and their information needs and associated barriers to accessing information at different stages of the settlement process. The participants saw Auckland Libraries as a useful source but did not take full benefit of the libraries’ services. The main barriers in accessing services were unfamiliarity with the English language, lack of resources available in the Thai language, lack of time and library staff behavior.