The economic value of public libraries

People talking and reading books in a library.

Enjoying the World Book Night event in Prestatyn. (C) Welsh Government – Eye Imagery.

New research published yesterday (14th May 2014), by ALMA-UK (Archives, Libraries and Museums Alliance UK) reveals the economic value of public libraries in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

John Griffiths, the Minister for Culture and Sport in Wales, announced the Welsh findings at the CILIP Cymru Wales conference today and welcomed the findings. I’m going to talk about the Welsh results here. The full report and accompanying toolkit can be found on the ALMA-UK website, along with their press release.

If you just want to go straight to the stats, scroll down!

The research was undertaken by ERS Research & Consultancy for ALMA-UK. It was based on user survey responses from 4009 public library users in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (1408 from Wales).

The research used a return on investment approach which focuses on user-value. It also utilised “multiplier analysis” in relation to expenditure associated with employment and procurement activities of the library to show the indirect and induced economic impacts of the library employing staff and purchasing goods and services. The whole technique measures:

  • user investment: the cost to individuals of using the services e.g. travel costs and time, how long spent in the library;
  • community benefits: the spending with local service providers e.g. shops and cafes;
  • cost of alternatives: money saved by using the library;
  • employment effects: as a result of staff wages and their spending; and
  • supply chain effects: the value of library spending on goods and services.

In addition library data on expenditure and staffing was used along with information from CIPFA Public Library Actuals reports.

After testing the questionnaire it was rolled out across a sample of libraries in a sample of authorities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Welsh authorities were: Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire, Flintshire, Gwynedd, Monmouthshire, Neath Port Talbot and Wrexham. Results have been anonymised in the published report.


What follows is my summary of the complex findings. I have tried to interpret the findings into helpful ‘what this means’ sentences. However, if you are interested in this topic you’d do well to read the report for the full context! Note also that the research found that respondents displayed a tendency towards higher frequency of visits compared to other respondents in other research and thus may have increased values slightly.

Library services used in the last year

  • 90% had used books
  • 50% used the Internet

Average annual savings (cost of alternatives) = £160.14 (Wales average p.a.)

What this means is: if the library service didn’t exist, this is what people would have to pay to use/obtain the same things/services in a year. Note that 19% said ‘More than £300 p.a.’. I have calculated that for me, personally, my saving is between £200 and £400 pa, depending on the cost of alternatives.

User estimated value = value per visit = £26.38 (Wales average)

What this means: this is the monetary equivalent of the value a user placed on every visit. It includes their travel time and cost, time spent in the library and any local spend. They invest this much theoretical money each time they visit the library.

User value per visit vs. cost of provision. Value per user per visit is 7.5 times greater than the cost of provision per visit (Wales average)

Cost/visit is £3.50, but user value/visit is £26.38 (average).

What this means: users value it much higher than what it costs to provide per visit. This indicates a high return on investment.

Community benefits – additional local spend when visiting the library

  • Over 40% do not spend anything
  •  46% spend up to £10
  •  Wales average spend = £8.07

What this means is: most people spend something locally when they visit the library e.g. in shops, café. Those that don’t may be visiting a local library where there is little else available. (50% of the users travelled to the library by foot.) 

Average annual value per user = £2,065 (Wales average p.a.)

This combines the user estimated value, community benefits and cost of alternatives plus average number of visits.

What this means: this is the estimate of the value of the library service to a library user over a whole year.

Additional local benefit = 596 additional jobs in Wales

What this means is: that as a result of people using the library services and staff and users spending locally, 596 jobs, over and above those employed in library services, are supported.

Local supply chain: for every £1 spent on providing the library service, 57p is generated within local supply chains

What this means is: additional money is generated locally as a result of the library service supply chain.

In summary: my interpretation is that the research found that libraries save people money, people value them greatly, and they bring economic benefit to the local area.

So, what can librarians, and others, do with this great information? 

The full report is online on the research pages of the ALMA-UK website and is also available in Welsh (on the same page).

A toolkit has also been produced and this includes guidance notes, survey template and calculator spreadsheets in Excel. These are available in English and Welsh.

Public library services can use the survey template to conduct the questionnaire in all their branch libraries and can then use the spreadsheets to calculate their own values for their own service.

This is an excellent resource for those looking to show the economic value of the public library service.

Updated 22nd May 2014 – Spain has just published an English language version of its economic and social value research report, which you can find on the NAPLES blog. I have not read report this yet but it looks interesting.

Updated 16th June 2014 – the Arts Council England has recently published its report into the economic value of libraries (‘Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries‘). You can read a summary of it on the Bookseller website.

About alysontyler

Civil servant, yoga teacher and former librarian.
This entry was posted in Impact/Value, Libraries, Northern Ireland, Public libraries, Publications, Research, Scotland, Wales and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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