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Library investment returns $4 to $1 December 4, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Libraries.


A new study released November 29, 2006 shows that nine public library systems in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, and Warren counties in Southwest Ohio create an annual economic impact of nearly four times the amount invested in their operations. The report from Levin, Driscoll & Fleeter in Columbus concludes that, using a conservative measure of value the libraries’ cumulative expenditure of about $74 million returned a quantifiable direct economic benefit of $238.6 million, or $3.81 for each dollar expended in 2005. The study also recognizes that these libraries add significant value to their users and communities that cannot be assigned a dollar value including, “improved economic prospects and an enhanced quality of life.”

9 Libraries

Wondering whether your city or county should invest in a sports stadium or amusement park? Unless they can provide a return of investment of $4 to $1, the answer is probably none of the above. Your municipal entity would be better off investing its money in the public library system

This study sought to err on the side of underestimating the return on public money, if anything. For example, the analysts from Levin, Driscoll, and Fleeter used the libraries’ actual discounted price for book purchases, rather than the list price to calculate the rate of return to the community of circulating items. Computer usage, events and classes, and especially business reference services all showed a high rate of return. Still , there are some aspects of public library benefits that cannot be assigned a monetary value, and the auditors added 19 cents to the solid $3.81 to come to a figure of $4.00 returned for every invested dollar.

Too often, investment in public infrastructure is not quantified, even when its rate of return can be counted and is better than the short term yield of , say, Microsoft stock. We are content to reallocate public money toward items that either appear to be easily counted, or actually are. For instance, there is a whole industry devoted to making sports stadiums look as if they bring some community benefits, and doing so is , to put the matter politely, an art form, since the benefit usually turns into a liability as soon as real accountants replace the spin doctors. So when your city or county is trying to decide what to do with some extra general fund money, or trying to decide which public services might bring the greatest benefit to your area, think of the library first, and urge your city officials to spend their due diligence funds on a study such as the one performed by Levin, et.al. If the current study is any indication, that public money will be well spent.

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