Public Value of Libraries (Indirect Benefits to Non-users of the Library)

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.

While this study was a good example of estimating the direct benefits to patrons, it is a terrible example for estimating the indirect benefits. However, since this has been common in library benefit-cost studies, it merits an explanation of the problem. A detailed summary may be found on the Taxpayer Return on Investment in Florida Public Libraries: Summary Report page.

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)

While the focus of this book is on private values, it has a short, excellent discussion of the concept of in-direct benefits (pages 11-13).

Relevance to local libraries: While the discussion of public value (called indirect benefits here) is very short it is an excellent way to understand the concept.

Huysmans, Frank, and Marjolein Oomes. 2013. “Measuring the public library’s societal value: A methodological research program.” IFLA Journal 39, no. 2. pp. 168-177. (Research)

This article outlines a research program for measuring the outcomes of libraries which are necessary to discuss public value in quantitative terms. This article does an excellent job of explaining the nature of the public value of libraries, although it is called outcomes.

Relevance to local libraries: The practical implication of this article is that once public value statement identifies how a direct benefit to patrons spills over to indirect benefits for non-patrons, some form of evidence must clearly demonstrate that there are really direct benefits. Stories that illustrate this are a great way to start and additional data which backs up the stories is also needed. For example, it is great to have a story about how one kid becomes a reader through a therapy dog reading program and much better to have the story and the fact that 100 other kids have been in the program over the last year.  However, to know that public value is created by the “Read to the Dog “program, we must first know that the program is effective in creating private value for the kids. That is do the kids reading to the dogs learn to love reading and do better in school? On the “Read to a Dog” program, there is. Eventually, the approach suggested by the authors would provide additional evidence on a range of services.