Friday, May 9, 2008

Making the Case: What Research Tells Us About the Value of Libraries

Keith Michael Fiels, Executive Director, American Library Association

Despite having served as auctioneer and MC extraordinaire at last night's trivia contest, Keith was ready for his presentation, although sounding somewhat hoarse.

Value of libraries
  • Educational Value of Libraries

Preschool and early childhood development: public libraries are the primary literacy provider for children in this age group. For the first time ever, libraries are now eligible for Headstart funds

School-aged children: School Libraries Work! (Scholastic) outlines studies linking good school libraries* to student achievement.

*adequately funded, professionally staffed

Students who use public libraries after school are more successful.

Students who are successful are more likely to go on to college

Economic attainment is directly linked to educational success. The earning power of someone with a bachelor's degree is double that of someone with only a high school education.

  • Economic Value of Libraries

Indirect values: Studies show that every dollar spent on libraries resulted in $4-7 of benefits

Florida study: There were nearly as many educational as recreational uses of libraries; business use was significant; nearly as many personal information uses; number of remote Internet users was larger than anticipated; online users were much heavier users than on-site users.

Sharing vs. purchasing books: Basic economic model that drives libraries. Some studies show that an average of 6 people will use every book purchased.

Technology access: Libraries serve a significant population of those that do not own technology. This gap is remaining fairly constant because there are always those who do not have access to the latest technologies.

Local businesses: Florida study showed $144 in benefits of information services for local businesses.

Local community: The library as employer - about 400,000 people work in libraries in the US. Library as purchaser of local goods and services - library money is spent twice - first in salaries to library workers, then spent for purchases of local goods and services by library workers. Impact of libraries attract development and home values (this is an area where research is needed).

  • Social Value of Libraries

There are many areas that need more study to show the impact of libraries:

Literacy: role of library in teaching skills

Local history and genealogy - to what extent does historical significance create a sense of community?

IT skills - what is library's role in teaching?

Culture and arts -

Quality of life - how does the library contribute?

Equity and free access - the library is the people's university

Personal development - citizenship, dieting

Creating a sense of community - "A town without a library is just a bunch of houses."

Decreasing social isolation - increasing longevity, productivity

The library as social space - only place where people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds come together

Crime reduction - relationship between literature and reading and crime; after school programs for teens

  • Democracy & Government and Libraries

Elections: Does a more informed electorate perform better? Library's role in emerging e-government (e.g. online tax returns) has changed a lot in the last decade.

  • Advocacy at ALA

Ahead to 2010 Plan - long range plan for the association. 16-17,000 members participated in development. Public awareness and advocacy consistently emerged as top priority of members.

Vision of ALA is to maintain a strong advocacy focus on the national level while also providing tools, networks, to support grassroots advocacy efforts. ALA has opened new Office of Advocacy. I Love Libraries website developed for the public. A breakthrough in the area of statewide advocacy for school libraries - the Spokane Moms were able to get a bill through the legislature to fund school libraries.

Incoming ALA President Jim Rettig will focus on advocacy in his term.

PLA/Gates Advocacy Training: How to use research documenting the value of libraries. "Show Me the Money" tips.

Gates/ALA study of library budgets

"For each dollar spent on a library we get $6 in benefits, but what is the value of the gleam in a child's eye at story hour? Priceless."

Fiels closed by urging the audience not to become discouraged. "A decade ago it was daring to predict the demise of the library due to the advent of the Internet," but the reality is that library use continues to increase. "Libraries are the only place where you can consult with a person with an advanced degree at no charge." No matter how the medium changes, libraries will work just as well. "The future is very bright indeed."

Posted by Kathy Lowe

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