Establishing the value of libraries can be a tricky business. Many people believe that libraries ‘are a good thing because ….’ (fill in the blanks yourself). But do we have evidence? The types of things libraries are really good at are often the types of things that are hard to quantify or capture, or have longer-term social or environmental value. However, increasingly, decision makers are interested in the pennies and the pounds – what’s the economic benefit of the service?
The British Library has just released its latest economic valuation which provides a range of financial figures showing the worth of the library, including its global value, using benefit cost analysis (BCA) within a total economic valuation (TEV) framework. (Stick with me, it won’t get much more technical, honest.)
There is a summary document available, and a detailed report, on their website or the press release. In case you don’t have time for either, the digested version is … £5. The benefit cost analysis compares benefits and costs to determine the economic value. So, for every £1 invested in the British Library, the library delivers £5 of value to society.
The study explores the contribution of the library’s reading rooms, web services, document supply, the contribution towards higher education, and value to broader society (non-users). The values are given as so-many million per year. The British Library carried out a similar exercise in 2003, and various American public libraries have also undertaken similar exercises including Florida and Maine which has an online use value calculator and the library research service of Colorado which has reports for different library services and links to many other public library return on investment studies in America.
In Wales, avid long-term readers of my blog will remember that I discussed our use of social return on investment within the evaluation of Libraries for Life in an earlier blog post, and you can see the slides from a conference presentation on that in another blog post.
New work in Wales includes an economic impact toolkit and calculator for museums and archives which is available on the CyMAL web pages. This was a combined piece of work with Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England under ALMA-UK. And for public libraries, we are working on a return on investment project with Scotland and Northern Ireland which again will produce a toolkit and an online calculator. Watch this space for more details when it’s complete (around winter time).