Value of Libraries: Measuring the Impact of CA Libraries


Published: November 18, 2018 by Dr. Cheryl Stenstrom

The California Library Services Board is funding and supporting a project called the Value of Libraries. Work on this project is being carried out by the California State Library under the direction of state library consultant, Dr. Natalie Cole, with assistance from iSchool faculty member, Dr. Cheryl Stenstrom and iSchool alumna, Rachel Hanson.

Based on the work completed to date, more than 100 resources that are relevant to the task of defining and measuring value in California’s libraries have been identified. From those resources, a framework of six facets of value has been developed, that includes:
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;
  • the development of social capital in communities; and
  • a strong financial return on investment.

The review of studies about the financial return on investment most relevant to California shows that for every dollar invested in libraries, about $2-$10 are returned, with an average of between $3 and $6. However, the research team believes it’s the less tangible forms of value and social impact are where public libraries hold unique value.

Over the coming months, original data about Californian’s attitudes will be gathered as well as program and service data from public libraries in order to investigate possible areas of alignment and areas of divergence with the literature review findings.

Last summer, project lead, Natalie Cole, shared findings to date the national Action Research Summit on Future Facing Libraries in London, attended by representatives from the UK Government, local councils, the British Library, public libraries, and the BBC. Additional findings will be published in 2019 and 2020.


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