How much is a free library card worth? Advocacy in action

In libraries we are always talking about the value that we add to our communities.  But how do you enumerate that value?  Is it about the savings you make by accessing a range of resources for free, or at low cost?  Or are there other value streams hidden beneath the surface?

This week a colleague told us that some libraries have taken to printing out the value of the customer’s borrowing on their checkout receipt.  I’ve just had a tally-up of the items currently out in my name, seven in total and not counting four already returned this week, and my tally comes to $443.20.  Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m on a home decorating and artistic bent at the moment, so there are some weighty tomes in that lot.  But, in all fairness, you only have to visit the local bookstores to know that reading doesn’t come cheap!  We can count the financial savings of reading for free quite easily, and they are substantial.

But then you have the hidden financial savings that can be made through having free access to a mountain of information.  Did you hear the one about the local man who built his own garage from the bottom up, doing all the wiring and other technical work required, having no trade or prior experience.  He got the work signed off by the professionals, meeting all the building requirements, and he used the information he found in books at this library to guide him through the process.  That borrowing transaction has a whole other set of financial savings, not to mention the growth of skills in our community, and the confidence and personal growth experienced by this gentleman, who shared his story with us during a visit to the library this week.  (Incidentally, that visit was contributing to his on-going education which has nothing to do with his current employment.  More value?)

In her recent post on the Libraries and learning blog, Glenda talks about the very human needs that libraries meet – the need to create, to belong, to connect (with information and people), a need to know and understand, and equally importantly, a need to have time out to replenish our energy and access our creative spirits.  How do we calculate the social value of a library to its community?  As information and recreational reading become increasingly available online, the risk is that libraries will seem increasingly irrelevant, especially if borrowing of books is the only measure of the role they play.

Television New Zealand this week focused briefly on the issue of public libraries, asking the question “Are libraries still relevant?”  The feedback to their Facebook page certainly indicates strong support for libraries.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below – we’d love to know what value you place on your library card.

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The above post was written by the author for the Invercargill City Libraries blog, and was written with the intention of stimulating some discussion, raising awareness and promoting the value of the library to the community itself.  Successful advocacy begins long before it is needed, and I believe that the best place to start is by telling the stories of folk who have found value in the work that we do.

If you share your advocacy stories, how do you do it?  Is it successful?  Have there been concrete results?  Please share your stories – I would love to hear them.

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