Connecticut State Library
The State Librarian's Column
I can remember a time when libraries were just assumed to be a public service worth funding. Advocacy for increased support rested on my annual statistics (output measures such as circulation, attendance at programs, etc.). Today, pressure on state and local budgets has grown and the traditional output measures are not always enough to demonstrate need or the value of library service in the community. There is growing pressure for government to be run more like a business. Responding to the growing expectation that library management will understand and use the language and tools of business, libraries in some states have been experimenting with sophisticated business measures such as trying to determine a Return on Investment (ROI). The Americans for Libraries Council (ALC) recently issued a new study -Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation ( http://www.actforlibraries.org/pdf/WorthTheirWeight.pdf ).
This important new study was conducted by ALC as part of its Building Knowledge for Advocacy Initiative, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and involving experts from within and beyond the library community. The study examines the new work being done in the field of library valuation, puts that work into context, and provides recommendations for building the field in terms of both research and applications. The study found that over the past decade, public library valuation researchers have identified and begun to use valuation methods from the field of economics that allow the library to place a dollar value on its programs and services and show the efficient use of tax dollars using cost/benefit terminology.
But the study also identified growing concern that a purely economic measure of the library fails to take into account the more intangible social dividend of the library. The concept of social return on investment (SROI) is gaining acceptance in the corporate world and I hope will spread to library evaluation as well. The Balanced Scorecard-which combines financial and non-financial measures - is being used by several libraries and has been incorporated in the strategic planning process in Delaware. As a library community, we need to have accepted evaluation measures that demonstrate the importance of library services and the output measures to tell us how well we are doing in delivering on the desired outcomes. This study points the way for further research and action to move us beyond just counting circulation, web hits, and program attendance. I encourage you to find the time to read it. I would be interested in your feedback.
Kendall F. Wiggin, Connecticut State Librarian
July 18, 2007