How much is your library worth?

We can all agree that libraries are valuable to our communities, but exactly how much are they worth? Libraries are under increasing pressure to translate qualitative services into quantifiable impact. One approach is to determine the Return on Investment (ROI) a library provides to community members. Doing so communicates the value of public libraries in terms of dollars and cents.

Traditionally a business metric, ROI measures a business’s profitability. Simply put, it compares costs to profits and expresses it as a ratio or percentage. For a public institution like a library, ROI demonstrates how much “value” is realized by the community for each dollar spent on services and materials. This includes:

  • The cost to use alternatives: the estimated amount of money that would have been spent to use an alternative if the library did not exist;
  • Lost use: for patrons who indicated they would not have tried to meet their needs with another source or would not have known where else to go, the estimated value of the direct benefit that they would not have received if the library didn’t exist;
  • Direct local expenditures: dollar figures for expenditures on goods and services within the library’s legal service area;
  • Compensation for library staff: the amount of annual compensation that staff members would not have received if the library didn’t exist; and
  • Halo spending: purchases made by library patrons from vendors and businesses that are located close to the library.
  • Some ROI methodologies also apply a dollar amount to patrons’ time and take the amount saved seeking materials or services elsewhere into account.

Two approaches are commonly used to calculate a library’s ROI: contingent valuation or market valuation, both of which have their strengths and weaknesses. Contingent valuation bases dollar values on subjective perceptions of responding library users. However, within those subjective perceptions, patrons may include a more holistic experience that takes into account the value of having various needs being met in one place. This method acknowledges that the value of a library is likely greater than the sum of the value of its individual resources and services. In contrast, market valuation bases dollar values on objective, “real world” values such as the use of electronic resources, material and book circulation, program attendance, reference services, and meeting room use. Perhaps the greatest advantage of this approach is that it can be pursued using readily available data, as opposed to contingent valuation that relies on patron surveys and interviews.

A meta-analysis of findings from 38 previous library ROI studies found that, on average, the return value for public libraries is 4 to 5 times the amount invested. A study conducted by Library Research Service in 2009 found similar results in Colorado using a contingent valuation methodology. Although valuation findings should not necessarily be extrapolated out to a state or national level, overall they can—and do—show decision makers, patrons, and the public that libraries are a wise investment.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

Loneliness Reaches Epidemic Levels. Are Public Libraries the Cure?

Libraries are not traditionally thought of as social spaces. Stereotypes of older women glaring over thick-rimmed glasses to shush talkative individuals pervade our pop-culture references. However, studies show that public libraries foster social support and decrease isolation. At a time when loneliness is being deemed a public health crisis in the United States, libraries are uniquely positioned to offer up a cure.

Cigna, the global health service company, reported epidemic levels of loneliness in 2019 that continue to intensify. After surveying 10,500 adults, they found that three in five (61%) classify as lonely, a seven percentage-point increase from 2018. The results are based on a 20-item questionnaire developed to assess self-reported, subjective feelings of loneliness or social isolation. A score of 43 or higher indicates loneliness. The report’s findings show a national average of 45.7 out of a possible 80.

Loneliness is affecting people of all ages, all demographics, and across socio-economic divides. Gen Z (18-22) is the loneliest age bracket, with levels decreasing as people get older. Additionally, entry-level employees and executives are the two most likely groups to report always or sometimes feeling there is no one they can turn to, not feeling close to anyone, and that no one really knows them well. Hispanic and African American workers agree in higher numbers that they feel abandoned by coworkers when under pressure at work. So how do we reach such a wide-ranging cross-section of American society to address this epidemic? Open the door to a public library.

Libraries’ extensive population reach, their access to diverse sectors of the US population, the public trust they command, and their diverse geographic coverage favorably position them as a multi-sectoral strategy to advance public health. 95 percent of the US population live within a public library service area and as Donald Barclay writes, “Public libraries are perhaps the last remaining indoor public spaces where an individual can remain from opening until closing without needing any reason to be there and without having to spend any money.”

Research published in the Journal of Community Health shows that libraries can address social exclusion among structurally vulnerable groups, from homeless individuals to new parents. In Denver, a Community Technology Center team regularly visits the local day shelter to give participants bus tokens, a tour of the main library, and library cards. In New Jersey, a new parents’ support group meets weekly at the local library. LGBTQ youth who may not feel safe at home or on the streets can turn to a library as a designated safe space. Library programs such as Drag Queen Story Hour also reduce social exclusion by increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, libraries decrease social isolation by offering programs that build community and foster relationships. The Lifetime Arts’ program operates across 13 states and 80 public libraries, providing writing, painting, choir, and dancing classes for older adults. For newcomers such as refugees and immigrants, libraries serve as critical spaces to foster social integration. In Hartford, Connecticut, the public library provided services to promote immigrant civic engagement, including a core group of volunteer immigrants to help newly arrived individuals with tasks such as accessing community and legal services.

The 21st century library is an intersection of people and purposes. As national health data highlights a critical need for connection, the social role of libraries should not be overlooked. However, additional research is needed to evaluate the impact libraries have on the overall social wellbeing of patrons and the untapped potential for the wider—lonelier—public.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

How Libraries Help Students Evaluate Information in the Era of “Fake News”

In the digital age, algorithms based on personal data allow information to find us as opposed to the other way around. Have we adequately prepared the next generation, who are predominantly accessing the world through social media platforms and search engines, to filter through the noise?

In a 2019 survey of US secondary school librarians, 96 percent said they teach some form of information literacy. These research skills allow students to “discover and evaluate credible information effectively and ethically by thinking critically.” In other words, students learn to identify biased reporting and suspicious sources, which can be applied to everything from Instagram posts to citizen news sites. Yet, according to a 2017 survey of academic librarians, the knowledge is not being retained—only 28 percent of first-year students enter their institution prepared for college-level research. If information literacy is widely taught in schools, why is there such a large gap?

Librarians site a “lack of time” (69 percent) and “lack of faculty support” (59 percent) as the biggest challenges to instruction. “I don’t think [faculty] see these skills as important. They also feel so pressed for time covering their curriculum that these skills fall to the wayside.” Survey respondents candidly admitted that higher-ups in the educational food chain don’t see a critical value in information literacy skills. The lack of prioritization from administrators trickles down to teachers who often fail to prioritize “non-tested” material. Librarians note the difficulty in finding instruction time for students and the lack of integration and reinforcement of these skills across all curricula.

Amid the frustration, some respondents offered that one solution could be to start younger. “Students are so hands on with tech, even BEFORE entering preschool, focusing on these skills at the high school level seems too late,” noted one librarian—and they’re right. A 2015 study by Pearson found that 53 percent of 4th and 5th graders and 66 percent of middle school students regularly used a smartphone. Yet, only 28 percent of children learned about “seeking multiple perspectives” prior to entering high school. How to effectively use open web resources was more likely to be introduced in grades 10 and above, meaning there are years of access to information without proper education on how to appraise it.

One librarian who participated in the research study offered this as a final thought, “In our world of ‘fake news,’ teaching our students how to find accurate news sources and how to evaluate them is critical to have well-informed citizens.” Information literacy education needs to be addressed by understanding the critical role librarians play in laying the foundations for information consumption. Librarians are necessary for teaching students how to evaluate sources and make informed decisions to navigate a world increasingly embedded in the internet and social media.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

International survey shows large adult literacy gap between the more and less educated in the United States

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) assesses adult competency on an international scale, using the Survey of Adult Skills. The survey assesses adults aged 16-65 on literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments. The OECD focuses on these three skills because they are necessary for full participation in society, relevant to a variety of contexts, and learnable. The United States as well as Ecuador, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Mexico, and Peru participated in the most recent round of data collection in 2017, and the United States also administered the assessment in 2012-2014.

The results of the survey allow researchers to calculate averages across all OECD countries for several measures. In addition to skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving, the relationships between these skills and other variables are calculated on average across all participating OECD countries. These averages provide a valuable baseline for comparing country-specific results.

The research found that the gap in literacy proficiency between high- and low-educated adults is greater in the United States than on average for other OECD countries. The research also shows that the relationship between parental education and the skills of adult children is stronger than it is in other OECD countries on average. Finally, the study found that higher proficiency in literacy has a positive impact on other beliefs and behaviors, like trust in others, political efficacy, and self-reported health.

What do these findings mean about literacy in the US relative to the rest of the world? While adult literacy proficiency is impacted by a person’s education and their parents’ education across the countries included in the study, those relationships are even stronger in the US. US adults who did not pursue further education and had parents with lower education levels had lower literacy proficiency than they might if they lived elsewhere in the world. Libraries strive to provide additional access to literacy skills, and these results show that the need for that access is still great, particularly for those who have less educational experience.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

2019 Colorado Health Survey finds that one in seven Coloradans needed mental health treatment but didn’t get it

The 2019 Colorado Health Access Survey, administered by the Colorado Health Institute, found that “one in seven Coloradans (13.5%) say they have needed mental health treatment but didn’t get it.” This survey randomly samples 10,000 Colorado households every two years. In 2017, the percentage of Coloradans reporting they did not receive needed mental health treatment was 8%. The percentage of Coloradans who report having experienced prolonged poor mental health (8 or more days in the past month) also increased from 12% in 2017 to 15% in 2019. The latest State Demography Office’s estimate of Colorado’s 2019 population is a little over 5.5 million people, and these survey data indicate that more than 840,000 of those people have experienced a mental health issue in the past month.  

Coloradans face barriers to accessing mental health services. The nonpartisan newspaper Colorado Politics recently published an in-depth article about these barriers, and cited cost and issues with insurance as major challenges. They reported that psychiatrists, who prescribe medication, are particularly difficult to get appointments with due to high demand. They also reported that according to Mental Health Colorado “patients in Colorado go out of network for mental health and addiction treatment seven times more often than for physical care.” This leads to a higher cost of care. Governor Jared Polis recently signed State House Bill 1269 to try to improve access to behavioral health services in Colorado.

Libraries nationwide have been building partnerships and creating programs to address mental health services gaps in their communities. Library Journal recently featured several initiatives and suggests best practices for serving people with mental health issues. A great starting point for libraries is the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) document “People with Mental Health Issues: What You Need To Know.”  Some libraries are also training staff in Mental Health First Aid, a program offered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which teaches techniques for working with people in crisis, including referring to appropriate community resources beyond the library.   

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

The number of challenges reported in Colorado’s public libraries remains steady in 2018

LRS’s latest Fast Facts report summarizes the results of our annual investigation into the materials and resources challenged in Colorado’s public libraries. This report details the number, type, and reasons for the challenges reported in the 2018 Public Library Annual Report. The information that public libraries provided about these challenges helps us track the attitude towards intellectual freedom in Colorado now and over time.

Public libraries reported 43 challenges to materials or resources in 2018, nearly the same as the number reported last year (41). The number of reported challenges has dropped since 2008, although the numbers of challenges reported in 2017 and 2018 were close to double what was reported in 2016.

Like in previous years, adult materials were challenged more often than children’s and young adult (YA) materials. Two-thirds (67%) of the materials challenged were intended for adults. About 1 in 5 challenges were toward both children’s (21%) or YA (21%) materials. Over half (54%) of the challenges resulted in no change to the materials or resource, and a little less than 1 in 5 (17%) challenges were dropped by the challenger. “No change” has been the most common result for a challenge since 2008.

The top reason for a reported challenge was “Unsuited to Age Group,” making up nearly 2 in 5 (38%) challenges. “Other” (33%) replaced “Sexually Explicit” (29%) for the second most common reason for a challenge. Violence (21%), Insensitivity (21%), and Homosexuality (8%) finished out the top six reasons for a challenge in 2018.

For more results from the Public Library Challenges Survey, check out the 2018 Challenged Materials in Public Libraries Fast Facts report. And, more information about intellectual freedom issues in libraries can be found here.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

National Endowment of the Arts survey finds that 53% of American adults read a book for pleasure in 2017

Image credit: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences recently updated their Humanities Indicators with information gathered during the National Endowment of the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. These updates focused on capturing book-reading behaviors of American adults in 2017.

The survey found that a little over half (53%) of American adults had read at least one book for pleasure in the past 12 months, the lowest level since the survey began in 1982. Reading rates declined the most among adults aged 55 and younger. However, respondents’ participation in book clubs and reading groups increased to 1 in 20 (5%, up from 3.5% in 2012).

American adults spent less of their leisure time reading in 2017 than in previous years. Respondents reported reading, on average, just under 17 minutes per day, 5 minutes less than in 2003. Reading time declined at every education level, with the largest decline occurring among those with advanced college degrees, falling from 39 minutes per day in 2003 to 27 minutes in 2017. Time spent reading also declined among every age group, except for the two youngest – 15-19 and 20-24 year olds. Respondents spent an average of 2 hours and 46 minutes watching television and 28 minutes using computers for leisure per day.

The survey also asked what kinds of books Americans are reading. Poetry readership increased among younger readers (18-24 years old), with the rate rising from 8.2% in 2012 to 17.5% in 2017. The types of books respondents read also differed by gender. Half of women (50%) reported reading a novel or short story in the past year compared to a third of men (33%). Conversely, about half of men (49%) read a history book, compared to a little less than 2 in 5 women (37%).

The full list of updates can be found here. The new updates are explored in three groups: Book Reading Behavior, Time Spent Reading, and Book Reading: Topics.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

Two years of preschool creates positive impact 50 years later

Image credit: Heckman

A longitudinal study of the impacts of preschool participation found that the study participants as well as their children experienced a variety of positive outcomes. The original participants had lower rates of crime, higher rates of employment, better health, and better executive function than the control group over the course of their lives. Children of the original preschool participants had a better chance of completing high school without suspension, never being arrested, and being employed full time compared to the children of the control group. The control group did not attend preschool and had similar social and economic backgrounds.

The study began in the 1960s, and the participants attended preschool for 2.5 hours a day during the school year for two years when they were 3 and 4 years old. The program also included weekly home visits. The curriculum used in the preschool was focused on active learning and intensive child-teacher interactions. Children also planned, carried out, and reviewed their own activities.

Although the sample size is small (123), the study’s author, economist James Heckman, used rigorous statistical analysis to account for this limitation. The original preschool participants, now in their 50’s, lived in Ypsilanti, Michigan and were selected to participate based on being African-American, having a low-IQ, and being disadvantaged based on parental employment level, parental education, and housing density (persons per room). Participants were randomly assigned to be part of a preschool program or have no treatment.

Libraries can apply these findings to their practices by continuing to incorporate elements of high quality preschool school, like these ideas from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): balancing group activities and instruction guided by the teacher with activities children choose themselves, paying attention to and supporting children’s interests, skills, and knowledge, and encouraging children’s efforts by making specific comments.

Libraries can also continue to support parents and caregivers by providing guidance on how to incorporate these strategies at home. Additionally, libraries could offer a preschool-like experience led by library staff where the caregiver stays and participates with their child.

The full report from James Heckman and his colleagues can be found here. For more information about high quality preschool, please visit NAEYC. To find quality ratings for Colorado preschool programs, Colorado Shines rates all licensed programs in Colorado.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

Library Jobline posts a record 815 jobs in 2018

Library Jobline, LRS’s website for library job postings and resources, broke its own record again for the number of jobs posted in 2018 while the number of job seekers and job posters continued to rise. Data collected from the Library Jobline website are highlighted in the most recent Fast Facts report.

In 2018 employers posted 815 jobs to Library Jobline, 114 more total jobs than were posted in 2017. January and April tied for Jobline’s busiest months, with 83 new jobs posted in each. Like in previous years, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the jobs posted were located in Colorado. The number of full-time jobs posted decreased slightly, from over three-quarters (78%) in 2017 to about 7 in 10 (69%) in 2018. The majority of jobs posted were in public libraries (68%), followed by academic libraries (19%), “other” (9%), institutional libraries (2%), and school libraries (2%).

Average hourly salaries for both school ($22.37) and academic ($23.28) library positions rose by at least $1/hour in 2018. The average hourly salary for public library positions dropped slightly to $21.98. Like in 2017, about a third (35%) of the jobs posted required a MLIS degree, while a little under half (45%) preferred a MLIS.

Subscriptions to Library Jobline continued to grow, adding 288 new jobseekers and 155 new employers in 2017. This led to more than 1,000,000 emails with job opportunities sent to job seekers – that’s more than 2,500 emails per day!

Are you hiring at your library? In the library job market yourself? Sign up for Library Jobline as an employer or jobseeker. Jobseekers can specify what jobs they’re interested in and get emails sent straight to their inbox whenever new posts meet their criteria. Employers can also reach nearly 3,000 jobseekers and more than 1,100 followers on Twitter @libraryjobline.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

OSU study estimates that children who are read to every day hear 1.4 million more words by age 5

A study recently published by Ohio State University researchers in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that young children whose parents frequently read to them could enter kindergarten having heard an estimated 1.4 million more words than children who were rarely or never read to. The researchers propose that more book reading sessions with young children is one way to address the 30 million word gap.

The researchers worked with the Columbus Metropolitan Library to identify the 100 most circulated books for babies and young children, which the researchers used to determine an average of how many words were found in each book. They found that board books intended for babies contain an average of 140 words and children’s picture books contain an average of 228 words.

Based on these estimates, children whose parents read to them once every other month would hear 4,662 words from books by age 5. One to 2 reading sessions per week lead to children hearing 63,570 words; 3-5 sessions per week, 169,520 words; daily, 296,660 words; and five books a day, 1,483,300 words. The estimated word gap from reading sessions is different from the conversational word gap mentioned above because reading books can expose children to words and topics that do not typically come up in daily conversation.

The full article can be found here, but is behind a paywall. A more in depth summary of the article can be found here.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The LRS Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.