It’s a fair generalisation to say that libraries rarely make a profit. When you’re looking only at the money, libraries cost more to run than what they bring in as income – if they bring in anything at all. This means that libraries often have to demonstrate the value that they provide in other ways. This new discussion topic is about ways that we have of articulating, measuring and proving our worth. It sounds like a dry topic, but give us a chance – we’re sure you’ll find something useful in it.
The money to fund libraries often comes from somewhere other than the library itself – it comes from the parent institution, such as the company or university or school. Or it may come from the government, at different levels depending on the nature of the library. Funding may come from donors, big and small – some libraries have huge endowments that allow for long term planning; others rely on small donations from philanthropic individuals to survive. What all these scenarios have in common is that libraries have to be able to articulate what the impact of that funding is. What will it achieve or produce? What does the library deliver?
There are multiple ways to answer this question. Sometimes people use metrics – number of print or online resources, usage figures, gate counts. These are usually used to demonstrate that the library has good resources and that they are being used. Another way to measure the impact of the library is to use the business-oriented return on investment measure, which seeks to determine the amount of money saved by investing in libraries. All of this links into advocacy, which is an ongoing process that seeks to influence decision makers. A common tool of advocacy is what’s known as the elevator pitch – a short statement about what your library offers to its community.
Over the next two weeks we’re going to explore these tools and techniques. To get started, think about what your library does now to articulate and prove its worth. Some questions you might like to share with your partner are:
- How do you measure success in your library?
- Are library statistics gathered? How are they used, and what do they tell you about the library?
- Who makes funding decisions about your library? How are those decisions made? Is funding very difficult to get?
- What is one story you can tell about a positive outcome that was achieved by your library?