Tag Archives: wellbeing

Measuring the value of public libraries

VftL are delighted to present a blog post from newest team member Christine.

Methods for measuring the value of public libraries: a literature review

In today’s climate of accountability, a better understanding of the value of public libraries is becoming essential to preserving and encouraging public and private investment (Imholz and Arns, 2007, p.12).

In the UK competition for public funding has always been fierce and the newly elected coalition government have made it clear that cuts in public spending over the next few years are inevitable.    Public libraries will be re-evaluated alongside services provided by health, education, defence, transport, broadcasting, culture and the arts sectors.  There is an urgent need to adopt methods that enable the sector to appropriately communicate its value to a variety of audiences.

The research project…

Last year the Library and Information Research Group awarded me their first Scan Award to produce a comprehensive review of existing quantitative and qualitative evaluation methodologies for demonstrating the value of public libraries in the UK.   The findings of my research have been published as an article in their Journal.  This article presents an overview of current methods for measuring performance, discusses quantitative and qualitative methods to determine economic and social value, identifies examples of successful studies; and introduces methods from the non-profit sector which could prove useful in the future.  Although not exhaustive, the research is extensive and introduces a range of methodologies from the UK, USA, Australia and Canada.  It also identifies potential methodologies currently used in the non-profit, environmental and commercial sector.


At the start of this review it became clear that a limited amount of public library valuation studies have been carried out in the UK in recent years.  Although several academic researchers had published journal articles and reports on the topic there has been little in the way of groundbreaking research since Bob Usherwood carried out his Social Impact Audits a decade ago.  While it is possible that some local authorities may be working in isolation to implement bespoke evaluation methodologies it has been difficult to uncover examples of best practice in the UK.  Therefore, it was necessary to expand the research into the broader areas of economics, sociology and psychology.  This enabled a more thorough understanding of the increase in evaluations, incentives, benchmarking, objective setting, accountability; and social and economic auditing.

Overall, the research has revealed that quantitative evaluations produce valuable statistical data and can effectively estimate the financial outputs of public libraries, thus enabling a greater understanding of economic value.  Yet their scope is limited as they fail to recognise service outcomes such as the impact that the public library has on the lives of individuals and communities.  Therefore, in order to gain a greater understanding of the social value of public libraries we must consider adopting qualitative evaluation methodologies.  However, it is unrealistic to expect to be able to measure social value with as much confidence as we do economic value because as a methodology it is still underdeveloped.  As Tuan (2008, p.7) points out, methods for evaluating economic value have been around for centuries, whereas methods for measuring social value have only been around for three or so decades.  Also, as there is no official ‘social auditing body’ that promotes uniformity in social value creation methodologies and no defined infrastructure for assessing social value, “measuring and/or estimating social value will continue to be practiced more like an isolated art form than widespread science(Tuan, 2008, p.7).  This is of relevance to the public library sector where our ability to produce social value is considered by some to be one of our greatest commodities.   Perhaps the greatest challenge with regards measuring the value of public libraries is that:

There is no litmus test for value because defining value in the context of libraries is complex, individual stakeholders are unique, performance measurement is essentially spatial, and operating in an environment that is neither causal nor predictive creates complications (Cram, 1999, p. 1).


Ideas for the future…
Although this review has revealed that there is no perfect methodology for measuring the value of public libraries, there are many possibilities.  Methodologies exist to evaluate the full range of services that public libraries deliver and we are seeing a number of emerging methodologies for assessing the impact of digital services and access to ICT.  The challenge for those tasked with evaluating outputs and outcomes, therefore, is to find the methodology that best fits their project and the objectives of their research.  Therefore, it is recommended that the public library sector work together to create a comprehensive methodology which encourages use of common measures, language and practices for collecting and analysing data.  Implementation of a standard methodology could enable the sector to communicate the true value of public libraries to the UK economy and society as a whole.

Access to Christine’s full article is available here.


Bryson, J., Usherwood, B. and Streatfield, D. (2002).  Social Impact Audit for the South West Museums Libraries and Archives Council.  Centre for the Public Library in the Information Society.  Department of Information Studies, The University of Sheffield. [SWMLAC Report].

Cram, J. (1999).  Six impossible things before breakfast”: a multidimensional approach to measuring the value of libraries. In: Proceedings of the 3rd Northumbria International Conference on Performance Measurement in Libraries and Information Services 1999, Newcastle upon Tyne 2000.

Imholz, S., & Arns, J. W. (2007). Worth Their Weight: An assessment of the evolving field of library valuation. Americans for Libraries Council. http://www.ala.org/research/sites/ala.org.research/files/content/librarystats/worththeirweight.pdf

Linley, R and Usherwood, B. (1998).  New Measures for the New Library: A Social Audit of Public Libraries.  Centre for the Public Library in the Information Society.  Department of Information Studies, The University of Sheffield.  [British Library Research and Innovation Centre Report 89].  http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/is/research/centres/cplis/research/index.html/.
Tuan, Melinda T. Measuring and/or Estimating Social Value Creation: Insights into Eight Integrated Cost Approaches, Final Paper 12.15.08. Publication. Seattle: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2008. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/learning/Documents/WWL-report-measuring-estimating-social-value-creation.pdf/.


Christine’s full article is available here http://www.lirg.org.uk/lir/ojs/index.php/lir/article/view/469/494.



Christine Rooney-Browne is an Arts and Humanities funded PhD student based at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.  She passionately believes in the potential of public libraries to educate, challenge and inspire and is currently investigating the social value of public libraries. Her research interests encompass public library evaluation, social auditing, and the nature of public library services in the twenty-first century.  Christine also has extensive experience in marketing, having worked both in the public and private sector.



‘A library is where you can find out how to be you’ – Catherine’s story

Back in the day my mum used to take the three of us to the library.

It was before the days of timetabled children and she would never take us anywhere, except the library.

Ooh just thinking about those trips now give me chills, my very own ticket and I could take SIX books at a time out – for a book hungry little girl it was the ultimate treat.

We would walk there, often in memory in the depths of winter with the wind whistling and my sister moaning and me, quietly fizzing knowing what was to come. The building itself was beautiful, which libraries so often are, a Victorian public building obviously dedicated to the Book and All It Shall Tell Us.

Anyway this start led me through my life to which I have always looked to books to help me:

Desperate teenage goth who No One understands?

Check – Sylvia Plath and Bram Stoker and others sort out my neediness

Student needing a job ?

Check – got a job in the Uni Library while taking an English Degree which sorted out both body and soul.


Yeah baby, got two little girls now and one of the most exciting things we do is go to the library

My six month old doesn’t get it yet but she will and my four year old LOVES it.

A library is where you can find out how to be you, it can provide solace if your heart needs it, teach you what good writing looks and feels like and most importantly lets you try new things with no commitment.

Music lovers have the radio – I adore 6 music but there is nothing like that for book heads –well except the library, I have had short flings with all sorts of writers but i have also started some long terms love affairs there, Poppy Brite, Neil Gaiman , Ian Rankin and Fred Vargas- all amazing writers I have discovered, at least in part via the library.

To sum up , I will be the best mum I can to my girls but as they grow and reach towards the sun I can only do so much, the local library is somewhere I can take them to try on identies via fiction and know, like Narnia if you open the door to a library you have the passport to so many new worlds.

Irene’s story: ‘People think libraries are just about going to borrow books, but there’s a great service there…’

When my husband died my children were 6 and 15. I needed books other than  “Badger’s parting gift”(!!!) (if you don’t know, this is about an old badger  dying and handing on his gifts to other younger animals in the wood and for some  reason people think this is a good story for a bereaved child) as my husband was in his mid 40s. The children’s librarian found about a dozen books for me and  for my children at the big book store and they were so very very useful….  meant that the children could read about other children who had lost a parent  when they were young. It made a huge difference to us. People think libraries are just about going to borrow books, but there’s a great  service there.

I wish there was more I could do (regarding the proposed closure of Summertown library) – we are great library users in our house – my son (now 27) is sure my late husband still haunts the Summertown library – especially near the CD racks…..
I can remember being taken to the library by my mother at least once a week when I was small and we took our children to the library every Saturday. Even now my daughter and I go to the library together most Saturdays. It’ll be a huge gap in our lives if the library is closed. I work full time and I just don’t have time to take 2 hours out of my weekend to get to the city library every week (which is what a round trip would mean).

All that talk from Mr Cameron about measuring happiness – happiness IS a book from the library!

Jane’s story

The Library Ticket

This orange passport
Like an envelope, well-addressed
Slotted into her life
Pages fell open

The central spine
Was fraying, tearing
Like an offspring pulling away

A ticket to her own mind
Its secrets locked like a story
Until escape
At the final chapter

The loss of any library is awful.  I don’t know what to say at the proposed
government closure of 250 libraries.  It would be devastating.

I went to a poetry writing workshop many years ago and the poem above in
remembrance of my first library which I joined 44 years ago as an 11 year old.
Books have always been my escape.  Today, libraries offer so much more and that
is fantastic for all users.

Guest post: Read yourself better

Today’s guest blog post comes from Abigail Luthmann, Equal Access Manager, East Sussex Library and Information Service.

Public libraries are often the first port of call after the doctor’s surgery for many people. You can find books on a wide range of medical, health and lifestyle issues from a definition of that strange sounding word the doctor just mentioned, to guides to living with all kinds of diseases, to diet and fitness books. Trained library staff will answer your enquiries, using reliable websites like NHS Choices and referring on to the local NHS hospital library if more specialist information is required.

You can also find information about local support groups and organisations that may be of interest, or the nearest exercise or weight loss class. Many libraries are located near to doctor’s surgeries, and may share a building. Some have taken the next step and have health specialists operating surgeries within libraries, for example Manchester Libraries host Macmillan Cancer Support staff and information so that library visitors can talk in private to a cancer support specialist and pick up a range of information leaflets. This project was a finalist in the CILIP Libraries Change Lives award this year, find out more and watch their video entry here.

Books on Prescription is a scheme offered by the majority of library authorities, where a doctor or other health practitioner prescribes a book to their patient or service user, usually on a mental health topic. This prescription is then taken to their local library where they can pick up the title, all free of charge. A book can often be prescribed instead a pharmaceutical prescription, and the patient is encouraged to take control of their own condition by finding out more and learning about coping strategies. Follow up support is often provided by the GP or mental health team in order to discuss the book with the patient/service user.

Reading aloud is another method used by libraries to benefit those with mental health problems (1 in 4 of us) and other vulnerable groups. Championed by the Liverpool based project, Get Into Reading, this is a simple but effective way to bring people together – groups can read whatever they like: poetry, short stories, novels or plays. There is no pressure on participants to read aloud themselves or take part in discussions, however over time many join in more and more – talking about how what they have read reflects on their own experiences. The space created within the group offers a safe and friendly environment to chat, open up and enjoy the relaxing experience of being read to.
The Get Into Reading model operates in many areas across the UK and internationally, and many other public libraries operate their own versions, for example in Kirklees.

Find out more about Get Into Reading and their accredited training programme for group facilitators.

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.

Helen’s story

I have a job which can be pretty stressful at times. Lots of enquiries,
requests, emails, telephone calls and always a million things to do and sort
out and arrange, plenty of rushing about and jumping around. (Guess what,
I’m a librarian). By lunchtime, I’m exhausted and ready for a break. But I
find it difficult to get away from work if I stay at work–does that make
sense? I don’t seem to be able to switch off while I’m in the building,
mainly because I have to be so switched on all the time. But I find that
unless I get a proper break, by 3pm I’m flagging. Simple tasks seem more
complicated. It’s not a blood sugar thing, or anything like that, it’s just
that my mind needs a quick rest.

So I started to go to the public library in town. Fortunately, it’s less
than a five minute walk. I nip out at the start of my lunch break, and spend
half an hour sitting in the warm, comfy, bustling library. I read a book,
or a newspaper, or just indulge in a bit of people-watching. And after half
an hour, I go back to work, refreshed and ready for the afternoon.

When I’m in the public library, there are children running about with books
and DVDs, people checking books out and in, asking questions, tapping away
on the computers, having soft conversations–and sometimes loud
conversations, learning, reading, experiencing and interacting. There’s
even other people like me, just having a quick break with a good book. It’s
a space like no other, and I value it highly.

I guess I could go into a coffee shop, or go to a park, and sometimes I do.
But the former costs money, and as I live in England it’s usually raining,
so that excludes the latter. The public library is always there, it’s
always warm, there’s always a comfy seat available and it’s free. There’s
no pressure at all. You don’t have to spend anything, and you don’t have to
sit on the floor. (Possibly not the best marketing strategy for libraries

I’ve read lots of the stories on the blog. Some of them are really
uplifting. I know that mine isn’t. But it’s not important. Without my
public library, I’d be tired and stressed every day. It genuinely makes me
better at my job. And that’s why I’m grateful for my public library.

Voices for the library=absolutely brilliant idea. Lots of good luck to you


Surrey’s Reminiscence Collection

Reminscence therapy is commonly used by health professionals to support and stimulate the mental well-being of the elderly, people suffering from dementia, patients with brain-injuries and those suffering from depression or social isolation. It achieves this by recalling memories and events from the persons life.

Surrey Library Service provides a ‘Reminiscence Collection’, for use by Reminiscence Professionals in the field of elderly care and those who care for elderly people at home. The collection, held at Redhill Library, consists of a wide range of materials for use in reminiscence therapy. It includes music, DVDs, flashcards, posters, toys and books (text books, activity books and themed books for browsing). The collection aims to stimulate memories of life from the 1920s to 2000. A catalogue of materials available in the reminiscence collection is provided by Surrey Library Service. It’s a free service for registered users and is available for use by reminiscence professionals/carers. Up to 12 items can be borrowed for a period of six weeks.

Feel better with a book

‘Feel Better With A Book’ is a bibliotherapy project, which involves reading aloud within a group.

The aim of ‘Feel Better With A Book‘ (pdf link) in South West Essex, which has been running since mid 2009, is to help improve the wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem of mental health patients and other vulnerable people through the development of reading activities in groups.

Adrian Faiers, who is leading the project for NHS South West Essex, says: “Get Into Reading has become a national flagship for therapeutic read aloud groups and we are delighted to bring a similar programme to South West Essex.

“Feel Better With A Book has already had a considerable impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It helps those with mental health issues, those who are vulnerable and those who feel isolated to build social networks and feel more a part of the community.

“The programme works because it offers continuity and inclusivity, it is safe and is mutually supportive.”

Adrian Ure, who is leading the project for Essex Libraries, says: “We have had excellent feedback from people who have taken part in the Feel Better With A Book programme.

“One service user has told us ‘It has opened my mind, and being in a reading group has encouraged me and others in the group to talk about the different styles of literature and be and feel part of a whole’. Another said ‘the tea break helps us all to reflect on the discussion of the story or poem we have all read together and we all enjoy each other’s company.”

Funded by NHS South West Essex, Essex Libraries set up Feel Better With A Book groups, building on the model established by The Reader Organisation. The project is run in partnership with Mind, Rethink, as well as community mental health teams.

Five groups have been set up in South West Essex since June 2009, at Pitsea Library, Wickford Library, Brentwood Library, Fryerns Library and Laindon Library. The Fryerns group aims to support the wellbeing of older people and is built on previously held community tea parties for members.

Lasting a maximum of two hours, the groups meet weekly. Stories and poems are read aloud by a trained facilitator, with members joining in as they wish. As time goes on, members spontaneously share their thoughts, experiences and life stories. There is a wide range of books included and, in addition, self-help books are offered by libraries under a separate bibliotherapy scheme known as Get Your Life Back, also funded by NHS South West Essex.

The groups initially meet in mental health day centres, with the aim of transferring to the local library at the appropriate time, to encourage the integration of mental health service users into the community.

Once the groups are established in the local library, they are opened to new members from the local community, subject to a total of 10 participants in any group.

The success of the programme is being continually evaluated to show the health and social care benefits and the impact of read aloud groups on the wellbeing of those with mental health issues and of other vulnerable people.

What readers have said:

“It’s great being in this group. Everyone chips in their ideas. Half of them would never have occurred to me if I was reading on my own!”

“The knowledge that you don’t have to do anything is very important, but then trust begins to build and you’re able to share personal feelings with the group, so that they end up knowing more about you than friends you’ve known for years. You can say what you want and you know they’ll understand.”