November 7, 2012
What is the public library service worth?
I believe deeply in the importance of public libraries. But I don't think they are worth the money we pay for them. I think it is time that someone made a case for the real value they bring.... and how much we should pay for them
Few people know how much our public library service cost - the sense is that, in terms of public expenditure, they aren't very expensive and it is churlish to argue about how much we pay
Well - the truth is the public library service in England costs almost the same as the entire trade publishing industry costs - about £900m per annum . It is a huge amount
The library service in London alone costs £200m per annum and that is a lot of money.
We talk about the important role libraries play in making books avaialable to people - and that might be a justification for paying £900m per annum - but in fact only about 5% of the library cost is spent on books and a large part of that money is wasted on spurious and outdated distribution and cataloguing. So, probably, onlyabout 3% of the money we spend on libraries actually goes back to publishers and authors. There is a lot of fog in the air and if we don't clear it we will deservedly lose our libraries- simply because ordinary people will judge that even a free a visit isn't worth the bus ticket
On the other hand over 300 million books each year are borrowed from UK libraries - and that is a great deal more than the number of books read from book shops. So there is a massive need and demand-- but not at any price.
The trouble is that there is no one to think about all these things-- and as always the right things will not get done.
While we argue about the idiocies of ministers and local and national government the sand is running out of the egg timer for libraries.
Posted by Perkins at November 7, 2012 1:52 PM
According to a March 2012 report, 'The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy' published by the World Literacy Foundation, the UK suffers significantly from the costs of poor literacy, viz :
"22% of the UK's population is estimated to be functionally illiterate, meaning they may have difficulty with basic tasks such as applying for a job, writing a letter to their MP or reading their child's school report. Illiteracy is estimated to cost the UK economy approximately $127 billion a year (£81 billion)."
That figure would seem to trump yours, Perkins (i.e. the cost of our Library Service, some £900m p.a)
Said report went on to relate that the cost of illiteracy to the UK "is the highest in Europe, ahead of Germany $61.70bn or France $44.28bn."
You say that over 300 million books are borrowed each year from UK libraries. Is that a good reason for ditching them?
Just suppose if, in fact, 600 million books were borrowed, we could argue that the cost of illiteracy to our economy would be *significantly* less than the £81 billion.
These discussions about 'value for money' are senseless - if there is a mindset that the preferred option is to leave public libraries to flounder without investment, trained staff or care, and the devil take the hindmost.
I maintain that *without* our public library service all the money in the public purse will not compensate for the educational and social consequences of its demise.
I refuse to accept the MAN-MADE DISASTER that has been set up by idiotic politicos to rob our country of its birthright : the public library service - an institution that even now is worth 100 times what it costs.
Posted by: Shirley Burnham at November 7, 2012 4:58 PM
Hi Tim, good piece. A couple of things for the (sadly probably non-existent) person who needs to think about these things:
- Several reports show the value gained from public libraries exceed their cost: Australia: £1 paid into public libraries results in £2.30 paid back - Queensland Library Dividend Report. Australia: £1 paid into public libraries results in £3.50 paid back – Victoria State Library Report / Prometheus, 2012. New Zealand: £1 paid into public library services results in at least £4 paid back. “surveys in Australia, USA and the UK all return figures ranging from $4 to $6 of return of investment”, LIANZA (New Zealand) “Questions for political parties. USA: $1 paid into library results in $2.86 paid back - University of Toledo study, 2012. UK: £1 paid into library results in £1.60 paid back – Bolton Council, 2005.
I am also attracted by the argument advanced by Shirley Burnham in a comment on a Telegraph article today that the cost of literacy to the UK is £81 billion (the highest in Europe). So, if public libraries reduce this figure by just 1/80th then we're getting full payback.
Posted by: Ian Anstice at November 7, 2012 6:50 PM
If I went to my bank manager for a loan and said I'd got a great idea for a new business - but I was going to spend 95 percent of the money on overheads and only 5 percent on stock, I'd be (quite rightly) laughed out of the room. Yet this is how we've been running our libraries.
Posted by: Amanda Field at November 8, 2012 9:03 AM