The measurement of return on investment (ROI) has been applied to many different types of organization and community resource. Although this is common in the for-profit sector, the application of benefit/cost, cost-effectiveness, impact and ROI measures to libraries, museums, schools and colleges, parks etc. has lagged behind considerably. Part of the difficulty has been in quantifying benefits from non-priced goods and services that can differ from use to use, user to user, as well as from library to library (as their mix of service offerings varies). In today's climate of strained budgets and pressures for increased accountability and transparency, the need for clear and accurate statements of how public monies are allocated and used, and the resulting benefits or outcomes, is paramount in ensuring continued investment.
Overview of the study
In 2004 we undertook a landmark comprehensive study to assess taxpayer ROI from public libraries, specifically the public libraries in the state of Florida in the USA. Public libraries allow users to share knowledge and services at a cost to them as taxpayers and in the time they spend using the libraries; however, all taxpayers in Florida benefit from the public libraries through their considerable contribution to education, the economy, tourism, retirement, quality of life and so on. This study examined several economic approaches to considering returns on public library availability and use, and found that they all show substantial returns that exceed taxpayer investment.
The results: what we learned Utilization
How much use?
Florida's public libraries are extensively used, by both individuals and organizations. In 2003/4 there were 68.3 million individual visits to public libraries in Florida, and at least 25.2 million remote internet connections to the public libraries (not including remote connections by children under 18 or tourists). Florida's public libraries are used an average of at least 5.24 times per Florida resident per year, or 7.74 times per year by the 54% of Florida residents who have visited a Florida public library in the past year. Adult Florida residents account for just over half of the total personal visits to public libraries, school-aged children account for over one-third of visits, and tourists account for about 5% of visits. School-aged children visit Florida public libraries most frequently, at almost twice per month.