The discussions within librarianship do not exist in the abstract, however, and are heavily influenced by other perspectives on value and the expectations for value from those making decisions about policy and funding. Table 2 provides an overview of this range of diverse, and frequently divergent, perspectives. According to Van Moorsel and Sykes , library value is often seen through the lens of a business model, particularly a Return on Investment perspective. She sees value in a monetary sense, mentioning that libraries calculate the return—on—investment ROI of their products and services and do a cost—benefit assessment of how their expenditures contribute to the broader goals and values of the overarching organization.
This way of thinking about value thereby steers the definition of value towards an economic viewpoint of the word. Another way that Sykes discusses value is in terms of perceived usefulness. Sykes explains that information specialists and librarians cannot maintain their value based on what they can or are able to do, but on what they actually do. Results are a significant aspect to defining the value of an information professional or librarian.
How information professionals contribute to the larger community, whether that community is an organization, business, or city, is what gives them their value. Many other studies have taken similar approaches to library value, with many comparing the costs of the collection and library operation to estimations of the benefits of the use of the library and its materials Matthews, What the user deems a valuable service or commodity needs to be of utmost importance to a librarian.
In a climate that emphases value of social institutions in terms of financial measures, the majority of concepts of value suggested in the library literature do not successfully translate the activities, services, and resources of a public library and their contributions to patrons, communities, and society into dollar figures. In part, this is an issue that public libraries and the library and information science research community invited, through efforts such as Output Measures for Public Libraries Zweizig and Rodger, and subsequent assessment approaches built upon output measures that emphasized quantity e.
Indeed, these initial efforts were instrumental to the development of national Public Library Statistics collection effort currently managed by the U. In short, the predominant library assessment framework that evolved and to some extent still exists today, is how often materials print, digital, other circulate or how often resources e.
Another challenge however, is tied to the nature of what libraries do. Many libraries consider themselves to be, to some degree, educational institutions. Funding for public libraries — like that for public schools — is primarily allocated by a local municipal body from tax monies. As such, libraries and schools might be expected to have similar definitions of value. But public libraries, given their multiple missions within a community, are not necessarily viewed as part of the larger mix of educational institutions such as K—12 institutions.
As such, metrics from other educational institutions are not easily transferable to public libraries, thus not offering a means to articulate and demonstrate library value — at least to date.
Research indicates, however, that this may not be the case. Emphasis is placed on the evaluation and determination of value of various individual components of education. The value of typical K—12 public education is evaluated through teacher evaluations, standardized tests, and similar metrics, but not often determined or promoted as a whole entity Rothstein and Jacobsen, Schools, like libraries and other public sector or non—profit organizations, have perhaps been slow to adopt the terminology of business in their self—evaluation or promotion. In economically challenging times libraries have provided valuable services to and for their community, and in adopting the business model of determining value they have been able to transition to a customer—centric perspective and illustrated the value of the services they provide.
As educational approaches to value, as yet, have transferred to libraries, another option is to try to learn from business and economic perspectives, which are most closely tied to value in a financial sense. The monetization of intangible concepts such as information and knowledge has created complications from a business or economics perspective. But when information itself becomes the commodity, is it possible for economists and business analysts to impose an accepted, validated, and reliable fiscal value?
This is an area in which libraries struggle, as providing access to information is, at the very least, one of their core functions. While it may be a ubiquitous perception that libraries have vast competition in the area of information dissemination, few, if any, organizations provide such an all—encompassing wealth of information in relation to the public library. Search engines and other Internet resources lack the ability to provide education, literacy training, or guidance in using or selecting information sources Waller, , though they can and do lead people to educational resources, training materials, and other potentially useful sources.
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While it is possible to draw similarities between libraries and an information—oriented company such as Google, libraries offer a physical location not only in which people can be assisted in their information searches, but in which people with limited or no knowledge in a subject can access a resource or be taught by information specialists even the most rudimentary skills in which to accomplish their goals. The ubiquity of Google as a locator of information, in contrast, presupposes a level of technological knowledge, not to mention access to the technologies through which one can access the site.
Since public libraries can be viewed as organizations providing a product access to information to consumers the public , and since consumers already have preconceptions about libraries whether good, bad, or neutral , it follows that libraries, much like any other organization providing a product, should take a proactive stance on how they brand and market themselves.
Thus, undertaking branding and marketing efforts can help public libraries to define and create value perceived or real in the marketplace. The concept of Return—on—Investment ROI is a common and frequently used metric for businesses to calculate the all—in costs, from development to production to marketing to sales, of products. As such, a positive ROI proves that the initial cost outlay for a product was a worthwhile investment.
Following this business model, several libraries, as well as the American Library Association ALA , have created Return—on—Investment ROI calculators to emphasize the cost—saving nature of their information products.
Using four basic categories, Colorado public libraries can select from a similar library system to calculate the monetary benefit to their communities. While certainly providing a clear visual to theoretically calculate tax investment compared to returns for communities, complications arise when reviewing the valuation systems used for the categories. Additionally, none of the calculators adjust for diminishing value, depreciation, inflation, or other cost fluctuations.
Cost valuations remain static, which, while certainly assisting with advocating for the community value of libraries, is not necessarily a true measure of ROI. Even with these attempts, libraries still come up against the same problems as economists when attempting to quantify an intangible asset such as information. Repo, however, identifies a subcategory — information as a public good — within the greater study of economics.
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He defines this area as:. Because it seems people, including policy—makers, are comfortable and familiar with ROI calculators and other business—based metrics, using these tools to quantify the value of public libraries may be a useful method.
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But to truly calculate community value, measurements on services provided by libraries, including information and knowledge—sharing, technology, literacy and homework classes, and employment resources, to name a few, are of a fiscally indefinable nature. Times of economic difficulty most clearly demonstrate the value of public libraries and the ways in which they contribute to the economy.
The current economic downturn has led to substantial increases in public library usage as patrons seek Internet access, assistance in applying for jobs and social services, and seeking entertainment options, among many other services e. In providing lifelines to the economically disadvantaged, public libraries provide enormous value to patrons and communities. During the Great Depression, the demand for library books and for reference services skyrocketed, but the increased demand coupled with budget decreases left many libraries with decimated collections by the end of the Depression Kramp, All of these represent new values that the library could provide to the community in response to economic needs.
Subsequent recessions have increased demands for these types of library services, though even in the best of economic times, libraries are a vital resource for individuals in economic distress Berman, ; Nyquist, Between and , the number of Americans with library cards increased by five percent, in—person library visits increased by 10 percent, and library Web site visits increased by 17 percent Davis, , This current prolonged downturn has shown new ways to fulfill established values of the library, particularly through computer and Internet access Sigler, et al.
On average, circulation in libraries rose 5. In , more than 14 million people were considered regular users of library computers for Internet access C.
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Hill, In individual libraries, the impacts can be overwhelming, with some systems seeing a 25 percent increase in visits in one year or a percent increase in computer usage in a three—year period N. In , 50 percent of the computer users in Wichita public libraries were using them for job and career purposes and more than 10 percent were using the computers to apply for unemployment benefits Urban Libraries Council, The need for use of technology to access social services is particularly acute.
With one in six Americans living in a household where there is difficulty feeding the members of that household and nearly half of older adults are facing poverty, many Americans who have never previously applied for social services now find themselves seeking government support Chen, ; Reuters, However, most of these support services must now be applied for online Jaeger and Bertot, With public libraries serving as the trusted social outlet for free public computer and Internet access and assistance, people with no access, insufficient access, or insufficient digital literacy primarily turn to the library to apply for and access vital social services Bertot, et al.
In a typical library, this translates to increased usage of books, audio books, and DVDs for entertainment, particularly materials on job—seeking and resume writing, and in Internet usage, with patrons primarily searching for employment, unemployment benefits, and social services Holland and Verploeg, ; Martell, Libraries have also developed new means to provide value using computers and the Internet in response to other needs.
For example, public libraries stand as the only free public access to point by which members of the public can reach e-government if they have limited or no access Jaeger and Bertot, Federal, state, and local governments increasingly rely on the public library as an access point through which all members of society can reach e—government Web sites, with many government Web sites and publications even directing people to go to the public library for assistance in filing taxes, welfare requests, immigration documents, and numerous other essential government forms.
A significant proportion of the U. This reliance has caused libraries to play major roles in the implementation of key policies, such as Medicare registrations and the move toward online tax payments; libraries have also played central roles in more extreme circumstances, providing access, for instance, to Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA materials in the aftermath of a major disaster Bertot, et al. In fact, the vital roles public libraries played in the aftermath of the major hurricanes of and by providing access to FEMA forms and other e—government materials essential for emergency response and recovery clearly demonstrated the significant value of the library to its community Bertot, et al.
The ability of public libraries to meet the needs of patrons and communities in times of economic crisis is heavily reliant on the computers and Internet access that have become central to public libraries. In direct contradiction of the arguments that libraries are no longer necessary due to the Internet, the Internet serves to assist libraries in helping their communities.
Libraries provide both means to access important technological resources as well as assistance and training in using these resources. These resources include critical employment and online government resources e—government , which librarians consistently rank as the most important services they provide their community Bertot, et al. Libraries additionally recognize the importance of providing educational services to support K—12 students Bertot, et al. With high unemployment levels and the increasing ubiquity of online—only job information and applications, not only do In fact, To help job seekers, libraries provide point—of—use assistance 79 percent , formal training classes 38 percent , online training materials 29 percent , and one—on—one training 28 percent.
Only 13 percent of libraries surveyed offered no technology training Bertot, et al. In this sense, libraries are combining the library science conception of value meaning value of services to the customer with an educational approach to adding value, in the sense of training the customer to utilize the resources.
The same is true of e—government and related services. With In the instance of providing educational resources for K—12 students, libraries continue the practice of aligning themselves with overtly educational objectives as a means of providing value for their customers. Another area in which public libraries are creating value is through the creation of partnerships with other local agencies that are designed to meet important individual and community needs. During the economic downturn, demands for e—government access and assistance in public libraries have increased as greater numbers of patrons are applying for unemployment and other social supports, seeking jobs, and otherwise dealing with economic hardships Bertot, et al.
source As a result of increased usage and dwindling funds, many public libraries and government agencies around the United States have created partnerships based on e—government to provide enhanced or entirely new services to members of the public. These partnerships range from health agencies and libraries providing people living in food deserts with opportunities to order food online to social services agencies and libraries streamlining the online process of applying for benefits across agencies to libraries serving as centers for immigration applications Bertot and Jaeger, in press a, in press b; Bertot, et al.
These innovative and transformative e—government—based programs have evolved from economic hardship.