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Assessing the Economic Value of Public Library Collections and Services:
A Review of the Literature and Meta-Analysis


About META

Valuation Studies

META Project Results


META Research Team

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© 2009 META



Over the past years, many studies of the economic impact of public libraries have been performed both in the United States and abroad.  Almost all of these studies concentrated on two basic questions:  

1)    Whether there is evidence that public libraries contribute to the economic prosperity of the communities they serve; and

2)    How these benefits might be reliably characterized.

These studies show considerable diversity in the populations studied, which range from national, to major metropolitan library systems, to small urban areas, and state-wide studies.  The methodologies are equally varied.  Some studies make extensive use of contingent valuation techniques and indirect economic impact measures.  Other studies use attributed valuation of service measures and indirect economic impact measures.  Some of the studies rely extensively on interviews and focus groups while others use locally or nationally collected statistical data.

This project differs significantly from these efforts while making extensive use of their findings.  Its wide scope will not be population or locality specific and, rather than collecting new data, it will use meta-analysis techniques to draw conclusions developed by integrating the results of these and other studies and probing them for patterns that should:

  1. Improve our understanding of the economic effects of public library services.
  2. Point out weaknesses and strengths of the methodologies used in earlier studies.

  3. Contribute to theory development about the economic benefits of public libraries.

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Aabø,S. (2005).  The Value of Public Libraries.  Oslo University College.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Anas, A. (2001).  Modeling in urban and regional economic.  London: Routledge.

Barron, D.D., Williams, R.V., Bajjaly, S., Arns, J.W., & Wilson, S. (2005).  The Economic Impact of Public Libraries on South Carolina.  The School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Berk & Associates (2005). The Seattle Public Library Central Library: The TransformingPower of a Library to Redefine Learning, Community, and Economic Development.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

The British Library (2003).  Measuring our value: Results of an independent economicimpact study.  The British Library.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Champ, P. A. (2003).  A Primer on the non-market valuation.  New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Chen, H. (1992). Using theory to improve programs and policy evaluations. New York: Greenwood Press.

Cornes, R. & Sandler, T. (1996).  The theory of externalities, public goods, and club goods. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Durrance, J.C. & Fisher, K.E. (2005). How libraries and librarians help. Chicago: American Library Association.

Elliott, D. (2005). An economist’s perspective on the state of library valuation studies.  A paper presented to the ALC Economic Panel meeting, 2005.

Fitch, L. & Warner, J. (1999). Dividends: The Value of Public Libraries in Canada.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Foster, K. A. (1997). The political economy of single-purpose government. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Fuguitt, D. & Wilcox, S.J. (1999). Cost-benefit analysis for public sector decision makers. Westport, CT: Quorum Press.

Garceau, O. (1949). The public library in the political process. New York: Columbia University Press.

Griffiths, King, Romer, Lynch, & Harrington (2004). Taxpayer Return-on-Investment in Florida Public Libraries: Summary Report.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Holt, G.E. & Elliott, D. (1998). “Proving your library’s worth: A test case.”  Library Journal. 123 (18), pp. 42-44.

Imholz, S. & Arns, J. (2007). Worth Their Weight: An Assessment of the Evolving Fieldof Library Valuation.New York: Americans for Libraries Council. 

Joeckel, C. B. (1935). The Government of the American public library.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kamer. P.M. (2006).  The Economic Value of the Middle County Public Library in Suffolk County, New York.  Long Island Association, Inc.

Kamer, P,M. (2006). The Economic Value of the Port Jefferson Free Library in Suffolk County, New York.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Kamer P.M. (2005). Placing an Economic Value on the Services of Public Libraries in Suffolk County, New York.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

McCook, K. P. (2000). A place at the table: Participating in community building. Chicago: American Library Association.

Morris, A., Sumison, J. & Hawkins, M. (2002). Economic value of public libraries in the UK. Libri, 52, 78-87.

Morrissey, M., McGinn, P. & McDonnell, B. (2003).  Evaluating community-based and voluntary activity in Northern Ireland.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Potomac, Inc. (2006).  State of Maryland: Customer Survey of Maryland Residents about Public Libraries 2003.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

Usherwood, B. (1999).  Value and impact studies. Paper presented at the 65th IFLA General Conference, Bangkok, Thailand.  Retrieved May 1, 2009 from

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Project Methodology

Last updated 05/01/09