March 2009 Articles
Judy Hoffman and Anna Yackle
North Suburban Library System, Wheeling Illinois
Libraries are priceless. Advocates often point out that libraries are unparalleled in promoting the love of reading, enabling people to access information, and serving as a community gathering place. This is not news to people who “get” libraries and are regular users; however, this message seems to have little impact on people who think libraries are expensive relics that are destined to be replaced by Google, Amazon, and YouTube.
Now, libraries and their fans have a powerful message that appeals to everyone.
The message goes beyond emotional or intellectual pleas and is firmly grounded in dollars and cents. Libraries have an actual and impressive financial impact on their community and the citizens they serve. New library buildings have served as catalysts for neighborhood economic development. We do not have to go far to see the evidence of this in towns and cities of all sizes around the country.
Even libraries that aren't expanding into new buildings have a positive influence. Various state libraries, associations, and individual institutions have analyzed data and determined that libraries deliver a return on investment (ROI) of between four to six dollars for every dollar spent.
Impressive examples and statistics help state the case, but nothing is more effective in making a point than demonstrating how something impacts the individual.
The North Suburban Library System was intent on helping libraries broadcast their impact loud and clear. Our Executive Director (and former Ohio librarian) Sarah Long lead the charge for the development of a theme for our 2007 work plan “Dollars and Sense: Why Libraries are a Good Investment.”
One jewel that grew out of the theme year was our Return on Investment (ROI) Calculator (http://www.nsls.info/roi). The ROI Calculator allows libraries and their patrons to easily determine the value of materials and services provided. The values were determined by averaging pricing for comparable services and products in the “for profit” world. Is NSLS the first to create an ROI calculator? No, and we looked at others’ calculators and learned from their efforts. We branched out to create a calculator with two portals: one measures a library’s ROI to its community, the other measures a library user’s savings per visit.
Publicize the services libraries offer.
First enter your library’s weekly, monthly, or annual usage statistics to determine the dollar value of your institution to your users. Next take this number and publicize it!
There is a convenient widget to help you post the calculator online. Once posted, you can promote it and provide a link to the calculator and encourage your users to find the amount of out-of-pocket expenses they save per library visit. Imagine how your users will be buzzing when they figure out that one trip to the library can save a family $200 or more. Most libraries couldn’t even begin to purchase that kind of positive advertising.
It is not a surprise to people familiar with libraries that library staff and boards know how to stretch a dollar and get the most bang for the buck. The calculator is a fantastic tool, but it only tells half of the story. Sarah Long says “For too long, we in the library community have been quiet about the value of library and system work. Was it modesty or did we ourselves not realize the value of what we were offering? Whatever the reason, the time has come to tally up the balance sheet.”