or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Calculating the Value of a Community’s Library Use

   November 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

817 on a calculator spells LIB upside-downThis year while we were compiling all of my library's FY11 statistics to report to the state, it occurred to me to try something new with them.

Since everything we tally up for the state report is how much each library service get used, I thought I'd put all those totals into the Library Use Value Calculator - this then, in theory, will show how much value the entire community gets from using the library (instead of just using the calculator on an individual level).

Here's how things broke down*:

Library Materials & Services Value of
Total Use



So at retail prices, the entirety of our activity last fiscal year should have cost our patrons a staggering $12,371,068.30 - over twelve million dollars. The library's total budget is about $1.5 million. So, by funding and using the library, our community saves about $10.5 million dollars a year.

I think that pretty clearly spells out the value of public libraries. Hopefully we'll be able to work this into some marketing materials to make the case of why our (meager) budget is important to the community.


*A couple notes on the figures:

  • Interlibrary Loan Requests I think includes all of our network transfers within our consortium
  • I was surprised ebooks was so low, but our Overdrive stats show that downloadable audio is still far more popular than ebooks (of course, ebooks are still new to us, so we're still building that collection)
  • The state report has a single line for "Periodicals" - so I put that into the Magazines box in the calculator, and left Newspapers empty
  • The state report groups all "CD" usage, so our audiobooks and music CDs are combined under Audiobooks, and I left CDs empty
  • I left Meeting Room Use (per hour) empty, and am just replying on the attendance numbers - the per hour use is more individual and doesn't really scale out well to the community level
  • I didn't have a total for Database Searches, so the number there is the number of times our databases were accessed (as opposed to searched) - which, again, makes more sense for the community level rather than individual level

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Library Use Value Calculator Updated

   March 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Little Professor calculatorThis post isn't about the current ebook debacle, because Bobbi and Kate are doing a better job than I could.

This is just a quick announcement that I've updated the Library Use Value Calculator - here's a rundown of the changes:

  • Updated costs, in conjunction with staff from the MLA
  • Added lines for ebooks* and music downloads
  • Removed the distinction between magazines/newspapers browsed in library and those checked out (my feeling was, if they used them at all, it counts)
  • Changed some wording and reordered the services to (hopefully) make things more clear - materials at the top, services at the bottom
  • Added additional instructions on how to host or modify the calculator code yourself

I also wanted to add a "Share on Facebook" link, but I haven't tackled that yet. If anyone is looking for a project, let me know.

All of this is available at http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/librarycalculator. If you already had the calculator embedded in your library website, the updates will take effect automatically.

If anyone has any questions, or needs help with the calculator, please let me know.


*Ironically. Perhaps I need to add more javascript so that if someone enters a number higher than 26, the calculator automatically adds additional copies to the cost.

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Your Library is a Part of This Nutritious Breakfast

   November 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Library Calculator Cereal BoxI've mentioned the Library Use Value Calculator a few times, including that the ALA liked it so much they added it to their Tough Times Toolkit (under Making the Case).

Now they've gone one better - the ALA partnered with Safeway to take the Library Calculator out of the virtual world and bring it to the breakfast table.

The artwork [pdf] on the back of their cereal box looks great*, and it certainly gets the point across (I think the "get rich" angle is odd, but I guess that's marketing). It seems fairly intuitive, lists useful facts, and also includes a nice library-related quote from Barack Obama.

Check out the ALA's webpage, the box itself [pdf], and if there's a store near you that carries Safeway cereal, look for it. Sadly, there doesn't seem to be any in New England.


*Also good is that it satisfies my cereal box rule: whatever is on the back of the box should be interesting enough to keep you occupied for as long as the cereal inside the box lasts. I mean, those little mazes they put on the back of some boxes might keep me occupied for the first bowl, but what about all the subsequent mornings I eat that cereal? See, if I were president philosopher-king, the world would be a whole lot different.

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EBSCO’s Customer Success Center

   August 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

EBSCO Library Advocacy AwardThis is nice: the Chelmsford Library was recognized by EBSCO Publishing's Customer Success Center with the Library Customer Success Award for Library Advocacy.

Since EBSCO serves so many libraries, they started noting instances where a library did something in a particularly outstanding way, and created a repository of these success stories. They interviewed me earlier in the year for a success story about the Library Use Value Calculator (read more).

Last week we received the award from them (in the mystery box), and our case study was added to their Customer Success Center website (click "View Success Stories for Public Libraries" and Chelmsford's story [pdf] is the first one).

I skimmed the summaries of some of the other case studies, and they are definitely worth reading. I had never heard of this before they contacted me, but now that I know about it, I'm going to see if I can translate successes from other libraries into improved service or practices at my own.

And if you're doing something great at your library that you'd like to share, there is also a form to Submit Your Story. Please do, as well as add it to the Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki, because sharing good ideas between libraries makes us all better.

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Demonstrating The Value of Libraries

   June 30th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Update 7/13/09: Final state budget lightens hit to Ohio libraries

Save Ohio LibrariesThis post is unfortunately timely - by now you've heard of the cuts facing Ohio libraries.

I haven't said anything about this because it's been covered elsewhere, but it really worries me. I have friends and family that both work in and regularly use Ohio libraries. And I know how badly a 5% cut affected my library this year - I can't even imagine a 50% cut.

The value of libraries is difficult to illustrate (one might say immeasurable), which makes proposals like Gov. Strickland's possible. Libraries need to make a special effort to demonstrate our role and importance in our communities.

Two years ago I posted about the Library Use Value Calculator - a tool to let patrons calculate how much their library use is worth to them. I've been working with the ALA on version 2.0 of the library calculator (as part of their Tough Times Toolkit), and even though it's still in beta, I wanted to get it out there.

The new version looks and works the same, it's just easier for libraries to implement. Instead of having to muck around with coding, libraries can now embed it in their website web 2.0-style, just by copy/pasting a bit of code (like a YouTube video).

Please check out the new calculator, and add it to your library website - let me know if you need help. And if you are in a position to do so, please Support Ohio Libraries.

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Worth Their Weight

   May 23rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

cover of the Worth Their Weight report from the ALCThe topic of economic justification of libraries seems omnipresent, and looms over libraries of all sizes.

I recently wrote about the Library Use Value Calculator on my library's website, which is a simple tool that tries to give the cost of libraries some context. It shows just how much money a patron would have to spend in order to receive the same materials and services outside the library, in an effort to make the tax money they spend on the library a bit more tangible.

I bring this up again because, earlier this month, the Americans for Libraries Council released a report called "Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Field of Library Valuation" (info; pdf [1.3M]). It's 104 pages long, and provides "an overview of the cutting-edge field of library valuation, or models for expressing a library's multiple contributions to its community in dollars and cents."

I haven't read the whole thing, but I did read page 24 - where they mention the Chelmsford Library and the Library Calculator.

Chapter 3 of the report is titled "Examples Illustrating Methodologies and Trends," and under Section 3.6 - Encouraging Developments, they cite how we adapted for our website the Library Value Calculator from the MLA, and that it subsequently spread to other libraries as a valuable tool.

So, hooray for recognition. But more importantly, the report covers many aspects of library valuation, including valuation methods and tools, tips from the private sector, and additional case studies and examples from other libraries. Any library facing budget issues or closure might benefit from this report.

More Library Valuation resources:

Thanks to staff from the Montgomery City-County (AL) Public Library for point out this report to me.
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