October 4, 2007
$1 Invested Yields $5 Return
It starts long before the library opens.
At some of our libraries, patrons can be found in our parking lots at 7:30 in the morning. Why? To "park" on our free public wifi.
The doors open at 9 a.m. Always, there's a line.
Some race to the Internet computers. Others head to the newspapers, hold shelves, or reference desk.
By 10 o'clock, we get the storytime surge: moms and kids.
By 11:30, the lunch crowd starts to arrive. People race in to grab their books from the hold shelves. Other people browse, or sit and read.
By 1:30, we get a trickle of seniors, back from their morning workout and lunch. The business people arrive, cracking open their laptops, maybe researching a business plan to take to their banker, or maybe meeting someone for a quick sales conference.
By 3:30, school is out, and the students sweep in to get their homework out of the way, or research some project.
After 5, people swing by on their way home from work to pick up a video for the family.
By 7, folks are arriving to participate in our many public meetings: home owner's associations, reading groups, cultural programs, martial arts, Pokemon, non-profit group meetings, and on and on.
We close at 9, but we're sometimes still shooing people out the door at 9:15.
It all adds up to something that matters to a community: a pulse. Libraries generate a steady stream of traffic, all day long. We pull in people of every age and interest. And there's barely time to clean up after one crowd before the next one settles in.
As I've written before, that makes libraries a terrific downtown anchor store.
A recent report, conducted by the Library Research Service at the Colorado State Library, put some numbers to the economic impact of the library. Eight libraries in Colorado were studied: Eagle Valley Library District, Mesa County Public Library District, Rangeview Library District (Adams County), Denver Public Library, Montrose Library District, Fort Morgan Public Library, and Cortez Public Library. And us.
Here was the main finding: for every $1 of tax dollar received by these institutions, they returned at least $4 back to the their communities. At Douglas County, the figure was $5.02.
The numbers were calculated in various ways, all based on last year's expenditures and activities.
First, what would it cost to secure the same services from other alternatives? In 2006, local taxpayers contributed $16,983,799 dollars to the library. But to have purchased or rented the books, movies, music, Internet access, meeting room space used by our public last year would have cost $66,283,529 from anybody else.
A second factor was "lost use." According to the study's surveys, some people simply wouldn't have pursued the information they needed, sacrificing it because they didn't know where to look, or because they thought they couldn't afford it. Value of lost information: an estimated $2,965,705.
A third factor is direct local expenditures, contributions made by the library to community businesses and individuals in the form of purchased goods and services: $582,830 last year.
A fourth factor is predicated on the contribution of library staff to the economy. At least some of the folks we employ wouldn't be working, for at least some part of the year. That cost is estimated at $10,042,081.
Finally, there's a factor called "halo spending." And that ties straight back to the "pulse," above. Based on our survey information about what else people do when they start out for a trip to the library, people spent an estimated $5,362,720 in neighboring businesses. A good 23% of those purchases would not have happened without that excuse.
Divide the total economic value ($85,236,865), by the cost, and you get $5.02.
People don't usually think about public services in terms of return on investment. But the return is real -- and at 5 to 1, it's significant.