Regardless of the type of library in which you are involved, the following post on WebJunction by Patricia Fisher [http://blog.webjunctionworks.org/index.php/2008/09/17/trustee-blog-library-roi-what’s-your-community’s-rating/] shares important information on communicating the ROI to your stakeholders whoever they may be. If you neglect your library’s “investors,” you may risk more than good will.
“Money talks! In good times and tight economic times, people are conscious of spending their money wisely. People also want their hard-earned dollars, given in the form of tax dollars, spent wisely. As a library trustee on a governing or an advisory Board, can you convince elected officials, your neighbors and taxpayers in general that they are getting a good return on their investment (ROI)? In other words, can you talk in dollars?
For-profit companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies need money to provide products and services. People who invest in these organizations, stockholders, individuals and grant agencies and taxpayers, all ask: ‘How do I measure my return on investment?’ and ’How do I know if my investment is really paying off?’
Return on Investment (ROI)
In the for-profit sector:
Company officials and boards of directors have developed formulas to measure the ratio of money gained or lost on an investment relative to the amount of money invested. As stated in Wikipedia’s definition, this ratio is usually expressed as a percent and is referred to as ROI.
In library land:
Can you say your library users derive more than $4.00 in benefits for every $1.00 spent of taxpayer money? St. Louis Public Library can!
A pilot study of the St. Louis Public Library (SLPL) provided this claim of return on investment. The pilot study and its results are described in a Library Journal article, “Proving Your Library’s Worth: A Test Case.” The full research on library use of cost-benefit analysis to measure economic benefits and impacts is detailed in a how-to-manual:Measuring Your Library’s Value. Elliott, Donald S., et. al, American Library Association: Chicago. 2007.
In “Public libraries pack a powerful $$$ punch”, Tom Story summarizes findings from studies to show the economic impact of public libraries. Among the findings were:
- In Florida: for every $1.00 of taxpayer dollars spent on public libraries, income (wages) increases by $12.66.
- In South Carolina: In return for an investment of $77.5 million, public libraries pump $347 million into the state’s economy.
Numbers Aren’t Enough
While numbers are impressive, you need to be able to put the numbers in context to emphasize your point. Some publications that put interesting numbers in context include:
- Five times more people visit U.S. public libraries each year than attend U.S. professional and college football, basketball, baseball and hockey games. If library patrons were to pay the average sporting game ticket price of approximately $35 per visit, libraries would generate more than $39 billion in annual revenues.
2. Quotable Fact Cards -state cards modeled after an ALA publication, proclaim:
- Texas libraries spent an average of about $18 per capita for public library service in 2003? For a family of four, that’s library service for a year for only about $72.00. It would cost $130 for the same family to attend Six Flags Over Texas for one day.
- Marylanders borrowed an average of 7 books per person in 2003. At $25 for a hardcover book, each citizen’s taxes paid for one book and $10 toward a second book. Each citizen saved $140 by using their public library.
Everything is Local
National and state statistics about return on investment (ROI) are nice, but as the song says ‘God bless the child that’s got its own.’ As trustees of local public libraries, you will be 100% more effective if you can quote numbers from your own libraries.”