Private Value (or Direct Benefits) to Library Users

Griffiths, Jose-Marie, Donald W. King, Christinger Tomer, Thomas Lynch, Julie Harrington. 2004. “Taxpayer return on investment in Florida public libraries: summary report.” Tallahassee, FL: Florida Dept. of State, State Library and Archives.

This study is a good example of a solid research method for estimating benefit/cost ratios for library patrons, based on the cost to patrons of finding and using information from alternative sources if public libraries did not exist. This benefit/cost ratio is $5.2 benefit to $1 investment in public libraries. The estimate is similar to the one outlined in Elliott, Holt, Hayden, Holt. 2006 (described below) and is a solid approach for estimating the private value.

Missingham, Roxanne. 2005. “Libraries and economic value: a review of recent studies.” Performance measurement and metrics 6, no. 3 pp. 142-158. (Research)

This article reviews estimates of the value of libraries based on the contingent valuation method (CVM). The CVM method is often called a “stated preference model” because it surveys citizens to learn what they would be willing to pay for the services of the library. While widely used for services that are not available in the private market to estimate the value of these services. However, some economists remain skeptical of these estimates because some people do not act in the way they report they would. This review has been widely cited.

Elliott, Donald S., Glen E. Holt, Sterling W. Hayden, Leslie Edmonds Holt. 2006. “Measuring Your Library’s Value: How to Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis for Your Public Library,ALA Editions. (181 pages)

The authors include an economist (Elliott), two librarians (Holt, and Holt) and an educator/evaluator (Hayden) and the book is written for non-economists (with some excellent technical appendices for economists). It focuses on the estimation of benefits for patrons.

Relevance to local libraries: This is the best resource if a library wants to do this for their library. However, even with this guide this is a major undertaken and should secure help from an economist or economics graduate student. their own this yourself. But first, check the library use value calculators below.

Thornburgh, David.  2010. “The economic value of the free library in Philadelphia.” Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA

This study uses an interesting approach to measure the economic value to patrons of library resources on literacy, workforce development, and business development. This aspect was simply a novel way of using the library-use value calculators for these sub-sets of library services. Their online survey of patrons found that 10% of the patrons learned to read because of the library, 13% learned how to help others with literacy, 1% found new jobs as a result of the library resources, and 8% attributed the growth in their small businesses to library resources.

Relevance to local libraries: The economic estimates can be done by any library using the library use calculators from ALA, which is consistent with the methods outlined in Elliott, Holt, Hayden, and Holt (2006). Visit the The Economic Value of the Free Library in Philadelphia page for a detailed summary.

Library Use Value Calculators

Direct benefits that accrue to the patrons of the library are generally defined as the amount which a patron saves by borrowing a book or other materials or saves by not paying fees for programs. This calculator provides an easy way of estimating these. A Library Use Value Calculator is available on the Maine State Library page ( website).

Relevance to local libraries: This tool is entirely consistent with the methodology described in Elliott, Holt, Hayden, Holt. 2006 (described above) and used in Griffiths, et. al. 2004 (above).