The EveryLibrary Institute is working with the Syracuse University School of Information Studies to establish this collaborative project between researchers and practitioners with the goal of developing an open-access interactive online platform that increases understanding of return on investment of public libraries at the local, state, and national level; identifies major factors influencing ROI, including similarities and disparities among libraries; and fosters collective impact communicating the value of libraries in the 21st century.
Our prototype library funding and return on investment map is built from data provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It includes data from every library that participated in the 2016 data collection. In this interactive map, you can find your library and view your library's preliminary return-on-investment (ROI) indicator. This ROI indicator is based on early data and is displayed only for informative purposes. While the project is ongoing, new data points will be incorporated to include local funding issues and more accurately represent the return on investment for our nation's libraries. In most cases, once that data in incorporated, these ROI measures will drastically increase.
Libraries increasingly need to demonstrate value, especially via quantifiable measures that link libraries to social and economic prosperity. Although various approaches can provide such measures, one effective method is ROI. ROI measures the value received (usually in dollars) as a result on of an amount invested in a particular asset. Most calculations rely on traditional methods, such as cost-benefit analysis, to demonstrate how investments to public libraries, such as taxpayer money, benefits both individual citizens and local communities. Data for these studies may be taken from local economic data, such as tax dollars collected, which are then compared with general estimates representing the dollar value of library collections, circulation and reference services, events, and programming. Other studies have used statewide survey data regarding public library use or interviews with stakeholders regarding library services: for example, a study of Colorado libraries compared time and money costs to use public libraries for a particular service vs. the time and money costs of alternative service providers.
We are working to bring U.S. public libraries a thorough, nationwide systematic study of ROI to demonstrate relevance in the contemporary information environment, advocate for support, secure ongoing funding, and allow libraries to make informed strategic decisions. Further research questions we are pursuing include:
- What is the return on investment (ROI) for U.S. public libraries at the local, state, and national level?
- What measurable outputs are necessary for such calculations? What models are most appropriate?
- What similarities and disparities in ROI exist across public libraries in the US?
- What factors might contribute to these disparities?
Although these studies provide useful insights, they are limited to local contexts and applications, like individual states, library systems, or even specific programs. Some have created tools that can (and have) been used by other libraries in other settings, such as the Library Value Calculator from the Massachusetts Library Association, which is now offered for use by libraries across the nation. But these tools paint a broad picture at best and an inaccurate one at worst, due to variations in costs of services from one community to the next. Additionally, the focus on library services may vary - some calculate ROI exclusively based on the value of physical and digital collections, while others attempt to include less tangible library services such as reference transactions and programming. Almost all ROI studies focus on economic factors, such as dollar value, and those that try to investigate ROI more broadly, such as through relationships between library use and educational activities, often rely on interviews or testimonials, making systematic comparisons challenging.