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The economic value of public libraries

Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries

The Arts Council has just published an evidence review which looks at the economic contribution of public libraries. The report aims to be an ‘important first step’ in understanding the direct economic contribution that public libraries can make, as well as the indirect contribution generated by social and educational benefits for individuals and communities.

The report summarises the available evidence from a variety of international sources, and examines the methodologies which might be applied to what is clearly a complex issue. It does not try to establish a single monetary value for libraries, but instead looks at different ways of assessing economic contribution, for example ‘place-based’ economic development:

Libraries can be anchor tenants in mixed-use physical developments and regeneration initiatives, potentially boosting the footfall, buzz, image and profile of a neighbourhood or area … where specialist services are provided, they can also support local economic development through business advice and support for individuals, micro businesses and SMEs.

The report also looks at the wider educational and social impact of libraries across five key areas: Children and young people’s education and personal development; Adult education, skills and employability; Health and wellbeing; Community support and cohesion; and Digital inclusion.

The report notes that there are limitations and weaknesses in the existing literature on this topic, including a lack of longitudinal studies and surveys and studies with large sample sizes, and the difficulty of establishing causality between library usage and outcomes. At the same time, the report points out that

Evidence is already sufficient to conclude that public libraries provide positive outcomes for people and communities in many areas – far exceeding the traditional perception of libraries as just places from which to borrow books. What the available evidence shows is that public libraries, first and foremost, contribute to long term processes of human capital formation, the maintenance of mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusivity and the cohesion of communities. This is the real economic contribution that public libraries make to the UK. The fact that these processes are long term, that the financial benefits arise downstream from libraries’ activities, that libraries make only a contribution to what are multi-dimensional, complex processes of human and social development, suggests that attempting to derive a realistic and accurate overall monetary valuation for this is akin to the search for the holy grail. What it does show is that measuring libraries’ short term economic impact provides only a very thin, diminished account of their true value.

The Arts Council says that in the next 12 months it will be investigating further areas of impact and asking how libraries contribute to healthy lives and what that represents financially, working with partners such as the Society of Chief Librarians, the British Library and the Local Government Association.

You can download the full report here.

Public access to ICT: Another reason why libraries matter!

The Technology and Social Change Group of the University of Washington’s Library School published its report of the five-year project exploring the impact of public access to ICT around the world.

The results show the impact that public libraries and cybercafés have when it comes to promoting digital inclusion and the development of ICT skills, particularly for marginalised populations.

Public access facilities bridge a number of digital divides.  They broaden access to both ICT infrastructure and to information resources.  For over half the users surveyed, libraries and cybercafés provided their very first contact with computers or the internet.  For over a third, they continued to be the only source of access to the internet.

The importance of empathy

The researchers explored in depth the role of ‘infomediaries’ to users in Bangladesh, Chile and Lithuania.  The findings showed that the ability of infomediaries to empathise with users is just as important as their technical skills.  This included giving them confidence to learn and to understand often unexpressed or unformed needs.

In-depth research amongst teenagers in Cape Town, South Africa showed that mobile phone internet access and public access computers were no substitutes for each other.  Indeed, interviewees had very often developed elaborate practices which combined the use of public access and personal devices.  The evidence shows that public access is not obsolete, even as mobile device ownership is growing.  They continued to use public access for help from staff and simply to ‘be alone together’ – a trend which is also emerging in newly designed academic libraries.


At a policy level the report calls for continuing support for public access to ICT, maximising the use of existing infrastructure.

Librarians should:

  • adopt a flexible approach to rules such as limiting time spent on machines or noise levels
  • be flexible to emerging needs.
  • embrace the mobile revolution
  • pay attention to venue design
  • focus on content awareness and market their resources

The full report is available for download here.

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Digital natives love libraries!

America’s ‘digital natives’ are fans of digital content and traditional media.

The latest research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 16-29 year olds are heavy users of technology but they are also more likely than older adults to have read a print book in the last year.  They are also great supporters of libraries, appreciating both ‘traditional’ library services and expressing intense interest in new services.  They also appreciate and use the library as a ‘space’.

Digital natives and libraries

  • 75% say it is ‘very important’ for libraries to offer books for people to borrow
  • 44% of library visitors under age 30 have used a library’s computers, internet or wi-fi connections (compared to 27% of those aged 30 and older)
  • When it came to expressing what it is very important for libraries to offer, ‘librarians’ came top of the list (80%)
  • 76% said it was very important that libraries offer research resources such as free databases
  • 75% say free access to computers and the internet is very important
  • 71% say it is very important for libraries to offer job or career resources
  • Younger adults are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections, access library websites, and use a library’s research databases.

Interest in the new

Respondents to the survey also expressed interest in new ways of engaging with libraries and their holdings.

  • 67% said they would be interested in a digital media lab to create and upload new digital content
  • They express an interest in apps and other digital engagement points for their libraries and the information resources they provide.

The research is available from

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Measuring the value of the British Library

Measuring the value of the British Library

Oxford Economics has published a report evaluating the economic value of the British Library.  The researchers used a benefit cost analysis (or BCA) to determine the economic value of the Library to the UK and globally.

The British Library houses 150 million items, including treasures such as Da Vinci’s Notebook, and is visited by 1.5 million people every year.  The Library is a centre of learning and research and provides document supply services, events and exhibitions as well as a full range of educational services.  The report analyses each aspect of the Library’s services and products, including its web services.

Key findings

  • Value to UK society – a benefit cost ratio (BCR) of 4.9 = a value of £4.9 for every £1 spent (up from 4.4 in 2003)
  • The Library generates a net economic value of £419m to UK society
  • Value to global society – a BCR of 5.1
  • Valuation of the Library’s Reading Rooms = £70 million per annum, including over £20 million for the Business & IP Centre (BIPC).
  • The Library’s web services are valued at £19.5 million per annum.
  • Assessment of the value the Library contributes to the Higher Education sector thorough operation of the UK Research Reserve (£5.4 million per annum).

The full pdf report can be downloaded here.

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Cities of opportunity – what makes a city ‘great’?

What makes a city great?  How can cities thrive economically and yet remain liveable?

PwC and the Partnership for New York City have published the latest edition of Cities of Opportunity, a report which analyses the performance of 27 of the world’s cities against ten broad social, economic and technological indicators.  As well as analysing the current situation, the report also looks forward to 2025 to consider future scenarios and key success factors.

The cities analysed in the report currently account for 8% of world GDP but are home to only 2.5% of the world population.

Healthy growth in a city relies on a combination of ‘quality of life’ factors (good education opportunities; healthcare; safety and housing) combined with strong business and solid infrastructure.

The ten indicators used by PwC:

  • City gateway
  • Cost
  • Demographics and liveability
  • Economic clout
  • Ease of doing business
  • Health, safety and security
  • Intellectual capital and innovation
  • Sustainability and the natural environment
  • Technology readiness
  • Transportation and infrastructure

Intellectual capital and innovation

Innovation generates both social and economic growth.  In order to measure each city’s performance a number of factors are considered and scored to create a league table.  These factors include average class size, maths, science skills attainment, literacy rates and percentage of population who receive a higher education.

Also included are:

  • Intellectual property protection (Singapore scores top points)
  • Research performance at top universities (London rates highest – and three Asian cities appear in the top ten)
  • Libraries with public access (Stockholm scores highest)

The key measures of ‘Technology readiness’ include:

  • Internet access in schools and Digital economy score (Stockholm is top in both of these)
  • Broadband quality
  • Software development

The report features case studies on a number of cities and is available for download here.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]


Publishing trends and predictions for 2013

The dust has settled on the Christmas sales of books, e-readers and tablets and some interesting figures have emerged.

In the UK, over £75m was spent on printed books in the week leading up to Christmas. This was an increase of 19.3% on the previous week and up 1% on the same week in 2011. The figures represent a three-year high for hard copy book sales in the UK.

In the US, the latest Pew Internet figures show another increase in the numbers of people reading digital books – an increase from 16% of the US adult population a year ago to 23% by the end of 2012. 33% of Americans now own a tablet or e-reader device.

Borrowing of e-books from libraries in the US is also continuing to increase as is the public’s awareness of e-book offerings available in public libraries.

“It’s becoming harder to define what ‘publishing’ really is”

Meanwhile three specialist industry sites (The Bookseller, AuthorMedia and Digital Book World) have interviewed a number of thought leaders (including CILIP President Phil Bradley) and published their predictions for the publishing industries in 2013. These include:
• Migration from print to digital will continue to slow
• More mergers and consolidation between publishers and agencies
• Continued growth in self-publishing and the companies that support it
• A growth of ‘author collectives’
• New partnerships for independent booksellers
• Major authors to keep their digital rights
• E-book sales will ‘level off’ in 2013 and prices may start to decrease
• Digital publishing means increased global audiences for digital works
• New, dynamic marketing models for publishers



Young people, libraries and reading

Young peoples’ attitudes to books, reading and libraries are assessed in research from Pew Internet.

In the US high-schoolers (those aged 16-17) are the group most likely to be using local libraries and borrowing books, whereas older adults are much more likely to have bought the last book they read, rather than borrowed it.  However, although they are the most intensive users of libraries, young people are the least likely to actually appreciate the services they receive from their libraries.

The research looked at just under 3000 people aged 16-29 and discovered the following:

  • 83% had read a book in the past year
    • 75% read a print book
    • 19% read an e-book
    • 11% listened to an audiobook
  • 60% had used the library in the past year
    • 46% used the library for research
    • 38% borrowed books (print books, audiobooks, or e-books)
    • 23% borrowed newspapers, magazines, or journals

Young people and e-book borrowing

The majority of e-book consumers under the age of 30 are not using dedicated devices but are reading via their desktop/laptop computers or phones.  Many respondents said they had been unaware that their local library lent e-books until they had sought out information after buying e-reading devices.  For some respondents, e-borrowing was easy, but others expressed frustration with multiple log-in screens.  Young people also expressed interest in borrowing ‘pre-loaded’ e-readers and attending classes on how to use e-reading devices.

Attitudes to libraries

Worryingly, 45% of high schoolers (and 37% of ‘older’ young people) stated that the library is not important or not too important to them and their families.  Combine this finding with the feedback from many respondents that they had been unaware of e-book lending services, the implication is that libraries would do well to design marketing and awareness campaigns that specifically target young users.

Download the research here.

Access to ICT in developing countries – the value of libraries

The Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington’s Information School explores how information and communications technologies (ICT) can impact communities – in particular those which face social and economic challenges – and explores how public libraries can help.

Its latest briefing paper (Public access and development: The impact of public access venues and the benefits of libraries) explores the impact of public access to the internet and computers in developing countries, and in particular explores the value of public libraries in enabling this access and improving ICT skills.  5000 users of public access services were surveyed in Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, and the Philippines

The importance of public access venues

  • Half of those surveyed said they had first used computers at a public access venue
  • 62% first used the internet in such a venue
  • 50% said that these venues were the most important place they honed their internet skills
  • 34% said that public access venues are their only route to internet access

A range of positive impacts were mentioned by those surveyed

These include improved communication (79%); education (78%); meeting new people (73%); access to employment resources (57%); access to government information and services (40%) and access to health information (37%).

The benefit of libraries

Some activities are more likely to occur in a library setting and with a greater impact.  These include accessing health and government services.  This may reflect the additional support provided in public libraries.

Public access to ICT plays a critical role in development and libraries play an important role in this.

You can access the briefing, and more information about TASCHA, here.

Top priorities for European librarians

A report published by OCLC describes the changing priorities of librarians in Germany, The Netherlands and the UK.  This is the first time that an OCLC survey has focused solely on European librarians.

The report explores some of the changes that librarians are anticipating in the way their libraries will be used.  A separate report is available for each of the participating countries.

Top priorities for academic libraries


  • Licensed electronic collections/e-books
  • Future of higher education and the library’s role
  • Visibility of the library’s collection


  • Licensed electronic collections/e-books
  • Digitisation projects
  • Visibility of the library’s collection


  • Licensed electronic collections/e-books
  • Future of higher education and the library’s role
  • Facilities issues

Top priorities for public libraries


  • Addressing literacy
  • Access by mobile devices
  • Access to new technology for the library

The Netherlands

  • Visibility of the library’s collection
  • Forming community partnerships
  • Demonstrating library value to local government

 The UK

  • Demonstrating library value to funders
  • Forming community partnerships
  • Addressing literacy

The reports are free to download and feature interesting visualisations and figures.


Equitable access to digital content

As the amount of content being delivered digitally increases, libraries are facing new challenges to their goal of enabling broad information access to their communities.  The American Library Association’s (ALA) new report E-content: the digital dialogue  features a number of articles and opinion pieces outlining the current challenging e-book landscape in American public libraries.

The ALA report explores a number of issues, including library-publisher relations and the wide variety of licensing models that are muddying the waters.  The publishing model has changed dramatically, and the lessons of the music industry are reverberating.  Publishers are struggling to find new ways to retain their financial viability while new competitors and business models are encroaching.  Major distributors such as Apple and Amazon are competing with both publishers and libraries by becoming e-book publishers and lenders.

The current uncertainty is reflected in the sheer number of licensing and purchasing models – from Harper Collins’ infamous 26 e-book loan limit to Random House’s offering of perpetual access to e-book purchases – but at a higher unit price.  Other big trade publishers are simply not selling e-books to public libraries at all.

Other models being tested include the ‘metering’ or pay per download model that enables publishers to get revenue for backlist titles, but is more challenging for libraries that have to be able to predict usage in order to set budgets.  The simultaneous access model allows libraries to buy broad access to e-books when they are popular and scale back after the initial demand is met.  Rent to buy, subscription plans and annual packages (called ‘bookshelf’ models) and ‘embargo’ models are also available.

The challenge is finding models that are deemed equitable for and by all stakeholders in the process – publishers, patrons, distributors, authors and their agents as well as libraries.  These parties have some common goals but also some conflicts.  The ALA believes that the debate is fundamental because it addresses why libraries exist and what their role will be in an increasingly ‘e’ world.

The report is free to download from the ALA website.