Episode 215 Library Impact and ROI

Water drop impact on a water-surface - (5)

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(Tune in for a bonus episode Dec 7 on handling stress!)


We are from Central Minnesota Libraries Exchange, and our mission is to support libraries. That means we are here to help libraries and library people to find information they need, to build skills, and to share ideas about all the things that make our profession great!

This is our last episode of Season Two! It has been great talking about all these topics this season, and communicating with you. Thanks so much for downloading and listening – it means a lot to us. We are already starting to work on Season Three, which will start early in 2018. And in the meantime, you can go to our website, and subscribe to our weekly newsletter, our social media, our online book groups. You can listen to all of our archive of podcast episodes from Seasons One and Two on our website (or your favorite app!). So we are not leaving you; we just have some different communication strategies to connect with you!


Background Information

This week we are talking about the impact libraries have on their community, and ways to evaluate your Return on Investment (or ROI).

You know libraries are great. We know libraries are great. But, do your patrons know all about it? How about your Board? Your funders?

It is not enough to be able to say, “we are so neat!” and expect people to give you money and support. Instead, you need to be able show, with specific data, how neat you are. Fortunately, this is amazingly easy to do! Any type of library and information science organization, including libraries of all types, archives, museums, and more, all will make big returns on the investments made in us. We just have to be able to show it, and then to loudly share that information with everyone else!

Remember: any time your library needs some help, you can go to our website at cmle.org, and click the “Can We Help You?” link at the top of the page.  Our mission is to support libraries, and we are ready to do that for you!



The Basics

When someone asks you about the impact your library has on your community, or what you are actually doing all day, what do you say? If you are like many library people, you might get tongue-tied and do some stammering. But with some practice, and a few facts you are ready to share, you can give much more confident and responsive answers!


This is a great quote:

“Everyone loves the Library, but they don’t necessarily understand the Library’s overall relationship with the community.” From Dr. Barbara Mistick, Director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

We can explain to people what we do, and how valuable we are to our communities; and our survival in many cases will depend on being able to make that explanation! So what are a few things you can say that your library contributes to your community? Here are a few suggestions from an article by Barbara Debono:

  • Public space
  • Health/general information
  • Education
  • Decreasing social isolation
  • Community building
  • Recreation
  • Career/economic
  • Personal development
  • Equity/free access
  • Increased quality of life
  • Culture and arts
  • Support democracy
  • Develop IT skills
  • Local history/genealogy
  • Information literacy


These can be loosely gathered under a heading of Social Return on Investment. Think about it from this perspective: if your library did not exist, what would people have to pay to get the same services you provide?

  • In an academic library, what would it cost students to find a place to study? Or to find a dozen journal articles in a semester?
  • In a school library, what would it cost students to buy the books they need for English class? Or to have someone instruct them in information literacy skills, including avoiding plagiarism?
  • In a public library, how much would it cost each individual to have internet access in their own homes? How much would they have to pay someone to help them write a resume and apply for a job online?
  • In a special library or archive, what would it cost each individual user to pay someone to go find the specialized resources they need? How much would they have to pay for access to Westlaw in a law library? How much would a patient or doctor need to pay to access Ovid online resources? What would a journalist need to pay to access databases giving background information on their many different subjects? Is there even a price a research could pay to get access to rare books and manuscripts if they were not being collected by experts in an archive?


Articulating this, being able to define, measure, and evaluate each one will be so helpful to you as you tell your stakeholders how very valuable you are to them. It is a good start in showing your impact, and gives you some aspects of library work that funders and stakeholders might not immediately consider. Generally, everyone thinks of us as nice places where people read books to teeny kids. But if that is all they think about us – we are not educating them in our real value!

So let’s look at a few different specific areas where you library has an impact on your community. (Look back at some of our other podcasts, including #201 on Community Engagement and #208 on Evaluation to get some background information that may be useful to you as you put together your own ROI material!) We are taking this format from the ALA website; and adding in some other resources and tools.


Our first area of impact is the
Economic Impact of Libraries.

When researchers ask people what else they do when visiting public libraries, it is very clear that library visits mean money is also going to support local businesses – a significant value libraries bring to the community! A few of the other things purchased when people are finished with their library visit include:

  • Restaurants or coffee
  • Grocery or food items
  • Pharmacies
  • Dentists
  • Books or news
  • Clothing or dry cleaners
  • Post office, and
  • Entertainment

One trip to the library can yield a lot of money spent in other locations!

What can you do measure the impact your library is having on local businesses?  http://www.ala.org/tools/research/librariesmatter/taxonomy/term/133

  • Talk about the partnerships you form with local business. Does your school library hand out prizes from local businesses? That’s a good program to talk about to funders! Does your academic library help to find sites for students to do internships in the community? That is another great partnership!
  • Detail the services you provide to businesses. Do local business come talk with your library people? Do they use your business resources, including free internet access, databases, and training programs you offer? How much would buying a set of Hoovers books or access to their database cost a local business who needs their information? You saved them that money, and had an impact on local business.
  • Do you offer programming for local businesses? Many libraries offer programming from the SCORE retired executives as they mentor small business owners. An increasing number of libraries offer recording studios, maker spaces, and other kinds of tools small business owners need to get started. Are you advertising your materials and services to this audience? If your collections are available to the public – including any Government Docs you may be holding – this is a great service to your community. Start working out a strategy for measuring their use, if you are not already doing so.


All of this sounds good, but the easiest discussion to have is to talk about specific dollars and cents. There have been many studies looking at the ROI on one dollar spent for public libraries in all kinds of places. The best return was shown in Florida: for every $1 invested in public libraries, $10.18 was returned to the community in value. Even the relatively meager returns were impressive: The economic impact of $1 spent in South Carolina’s public libraries returns $4.48. In Pennsylvania, the return on $1 is $3. We have links up on this show page to all these studies, and many more, showing the truly impressive financial information. https://www.lrs.org/data-tools/public-libraries/return-on-investment/recent-studies/


Our second area of impact is
Impact on Community Development

As we talk about many of these topics, the original work may be focused on public libraries. In many ways, they are the easiest libraries to study and to place a value on: their budgets are always open, their population areas are easily defined, and anyone can access a public library. However, we are a multitypes system, so we are always looking at not just our public libraries, but also our schools, academics, specials, as well as the archives and history centers that make up our membership. We want to be sure our content speaks to you, no matter where you are in the library world. So when we talk about “community” here, we do not mean a town necessarily; we mean the community of users that belong to your library. For some, that means your students, faculty, staff, and alumni of your college; for others it means your K-6 students, teachers, administrators, and parents; for others it means genealogy researchers and people looking at your historical resources. We have talked in other podcasts about this meaning of “community” but want to be sure it is clear in the context of Impact today.


So, what are some of the impacts your library has on your community? The ALA has a few suggestions:

  • Building a Strong and Vibrant Community
    • We do this through cultural programming, serving as a tourist destination, as well as providing meeting spaces, and material for community groups
    • People like us! They want to live near public libraries, or have them in the community. Even the most hard-hearted provost, who wants to get rid of academic librarians to save money (because it’s all on Google!), has a tough time advocating for getting rid of a library.
    • We host community events. Politicians visit us on the campaign trail, authors read books in schools, attorneys talk about legal topics, tax preparers work on taxes, literacy tutors abound in all types of libraries. Have you been to a yoga class in a library? Applied for a job in another state? Learned to geocache? Applied for a hunting license? Had a passport photo taken? You could do all these things in libraries!
  • Connecting People and Ideas
    • This is our foundation. We provide books, databases, and access to an amazing width and depth of information. And – because we are far superior to Google – we provide staff to help our community members learn about good information. The idea of information literacy is vital to all libraries, and for all communities to learn.
  • Enrichment by Personal Learning and Recreation
    • We are here to provide education and entertainment. Through books, internet access, other programming, and programming our purpose is to serve our community with all the information they can handle!
  • Health
    • Of course, we have hospital libraries, and medical libraries in some universities, and medical collections in nearly all libraries. We also provide access to the online information people need to keep up with Medicare and Medicaid, with the myriad rules of their insurance companies, and the staff help them find reliable and accurate information on their medical conditions.
  • Managing Library Services for Equity
    • Libraries of all types are the bridge across the Digital Divide. Libraries provide the only access to the internet for some people in rural communities where there are no other options. They provide access to people who cannot afford internet at home, or computers. They provide books for people who might not otherwise have them. They provide access to scholarship, to databases, to subscriptions that are too much for the average person. We work together as a community to be sure everyone gets access to the information they need.
  • Providers of Government Information
    • Federal, state, and local governments all provide vital information people need; and the library is the place to find it. Need to know where to put out your recycled material? The library knows! Need to know the census breakdown of people’s modes of transportation to work? The library knows! Want to send an email to your state legislator, to tell them how valuable the library is? You can find the person’s name and contact information, and send that email, all at the library! Government information is owned by all of us, and can help you to do innumerable things!
  • Services to New Populations
    • Libraries provide good resources to help refugees and immigrants to learn English, to learn about the new communities where they live, and other important skills to help them to be successful. We have been working on some research here at CMLE to find out what libraries are doing for Emerging Bilingual communities members across library types, and the results have been pretty amazing! Libraries build bridges to people and connect them to information they need, as part of community building.


We all know these things happen every day in libraries – and may even take them for granted. But do your stakeholders know? People are constantly amazed when I tell them about the work libraries really do! If you are not already doing so, get in the habit of talking about these things with the people in your community.

If you went away – how much would it cost your community to replace all these services?? And these are just a few of the things we do!


The third area of impact we will look at today is Impact on Literacy and Education

This may be the area of impact most obvious to people looking at libraries – but even here the breadth of service we provide is probably not apparent.

Libraries are important for early literacy and partnering with all levels of education. Learning is not just something that happens for school-aged community members; it is a life-long event! The pace of new information and new tools to use information has increased, and will continue to increase; there will never be a time when we can say we have learned enough! Libraries are always there to help their communities build skills! http://www.ala.org/tools/research/librariesmatter/node/15

  • Early Literacy and Education
    • The classic first thing people think of when they think about libraries reading to teeny kids. This is important! And here in Minnesota, this is one of our state standards that underpin a lot of the work in libraries.
  • Educational Role of the Library
    • This is easy to see in schools and academic libraries; but in any type of library or archive or history center – this is probably what staff spend most of their time doing. (Refer back to our podcast #202 on Instructional Design for more information on this!)
  • Impact on Reading and Literacy
    • This cannot be said strongly, or loudly, enough: School libraries and librarians change lives. Students who are unfortunate enough to be in schools without qualified library staff have lower literacy rates, their performance is college is lower, and they leave school without the basic literacy and information literacy skills they need to be successful in all areas of their lives. Uncontested reams of studies show this exact thing, and stakeholders in schools that shortchange their communities in this area are doing a terrible disservice to them.
  • Literacy Improvements
    • And of course, literacy education is not limited to K-12 students! Literacy, and improving literacy, is a life- long process. Libraries of all types are available to help with basic reading, with learning English, and with learning about literacy in all kinds of areas!
    • No one walks into The Niels Bohr Library & Archives at the American Institute of Physics https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library, or the United States Army Aeromedical Research Library Science Information Center Library http://www.usaarl.army.mil/pages/research/sic, or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City – the world’s largest genealogical library https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library, and automatically knows what to do! Literacy education involves helping communities to be literate in finding and using the best resources.


Books We Are Reading

How To Be Human, by Paula Cocozza  “One summer’s night, Mary comes home from a midnight ramble to find a baby lying on her back door step. Has Mary stolen the baby from next door? Has the baby’s mother, Mary’s neighbor, left her there in her acute state of post-natal depression? Or was the baby brought to Mary as a gift by the fox who is increasingly coming to dominate her life?

So opens How to Be Human, a novel set in a London suburb beset by urban foxes. On leave from work, unsettled by the proximity of her ex, and struggling with her hostile neighbors, Mary has become increasingly captivated by a magnificent fox who is always in her garden. First she sees him wink at her, then he brings her presents, and finally she invites him into her house. As the boundaries between the domestic and the wild blur, and the neighbors set out to exterminate the fox, it is unclear if Mary will save the fox, or the fox save Mary.”


The Sudden Appearance of Hope, by Claire North ”

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. But we’ve met before-a thousand times.
It started when I was sixteen years old.
A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A friend who looks at me and sees a stranger.
No matter what I do, the words I say, the crimes I commit, you will never remember who I am.
That makes my life difficult. It also makes me dangerous.”


Talk to your stakeholders about all these different areas we have looked at here, where your library is impacting your community! Libraries of all sorts are an amazing bargain, and our ROI is truly impressive. But it does not matter unless people know about it!! So start keeping track of the things you do, and start telling people about it!

If you are not sure where to start with figuring out your own ROI, we are here for you!! On our website menu is an item called Can We Help You?  Click there, tell us what you want to do, and let’s get started!


We support libraries!