What Is It Worth?

IMG_0726Yesterday, I went to Bailey Public Library. As I returned the movie The Big Chill, I talked a bit about it with Shane, the adult services librarian, who counts The Big Chill as a favorite. Such a good movie, we both agreed, that still feels fresh even though it was made over thirty years ago.

After talking with Shane, I spoke with Richard, the library director who also happens to be a talented artist. We talked about the graphic art that he does—you can see his art here at his site The Beginning Place.  I, too, am interested in doing my own graphic art, and Richard very generously explained some of the techniques he uses.  I will start out slowly, as I always do, and I know Richard will be available  when—not if—I have questions.

When I came out of Richards office, Kat, the newest librarian, saw me, smiled, and said, “Hello, friend!” Then we proceeded to talk about the various shows we like—Supernatural, Doctor Who—and how movies made from books are so often disappointing.

These interactions were definitely a bright spot in my day, and I am sure that the many patrons who come to the library have similar experiences. Bailey Library is such a warm, friendly place, and with the expansion, it is also physically comfortable. We now have a cozy but bright reading corner and two long wooden tables for the computers.

How do you put on price on such interactions? You really can’t, even though the staff at Bailey Library makes the town a better place. To borrow from the credit card ads, it’s priceless.

And yet, on a practical level, a price can be put on the many services a library provides. I follow a blog called Northern Cheapskate, written by Christina Brown, and she recently posted a piece called How Much Money Do You Save at the Library? In the piece, she includes a link to ilovelibraries.org, which provides “a library savings calculator based on one the Massachusetts Library Association developed to demonstrate the value of public libraries.”

The library calculator couldn’t be easier to use. All you have to do is estimate the number of books, movies, and other materials you borrow annually from your library. Programs, which are usually free, are also included.

Clif and I are what you might call heavy library uses. I estimated that we borrow, on average, seventy books a year, many of them through interlibrary loan, and one hundred DVDs. We also attend many of the programs. The value of the library use for Clif and me comes to $2,215, which is $1,107 apiece.

Let’s do a little mind game and calculate what the amount would be if all 6,000 residents of Winthrop used the library as much as Clif and I do. Drum roll, please. It comes to $6,645,000.  For a maceroni-and-cheese town like Winthrop, that’s a lot of money.

Now I realize that not all 6,000 residents of Winthrop use the library the way Clif and I do. Some don’t use it at all. However, the case could be made that families with children might use it even more than we do. So let’s slice that number in half, which would take into account the people who use it less or not at all as well as the regular users of the library. We still get a total of $3,322, 250, which, when you consider that the town gives the library less than $300,000 for its yearly operating budget, is a darned good return on tax money spent.

What is your library worth to you?  What is the value of your library use?

11 thoughts on “What Is It Worth?”

  1. I love our little library and all the librarians that have known my family since my girls were tiny. Unfortunately, a horrible smell began to permeate the building a few years ago. It is thought to be some kind of underground pipe problem but much money has been spent and the problem remains unresolved. My visits are quick

    1. Cynthia, that is terrible! How awful for the librarians, too. Hope that sometime soon, the problem is fixed.

  2. I wish you had a ‘love’ button to click for this post. 🙂 When we made a cross country move about 13 years ago, we donated all our books and gave away our bookshelves. Since that time, we’ve utilized our wonderful local library and according to the calculator save right at $3,000 per year. I thank our librarians every chance I get for their customer service and never pick up or return a book without recognizing the value of this community service. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Judy! And your estimation of how much you get from the library confirmed my hunch that even though Clif and I are heavy library users, there are others who use the library even more than we do. So I think my numbers for the actual dollars and cents value for the town isn’t too far off. Long live libraries!

  3. Thank you for this post! You really show how valuable libraries are as a public space, something that cannot be replicated by any business. I work for an organization that represents public employees, including many librarians, and these days we are often fighting cutbacks in library services.

    1. Oh, yes! In Winthrop, we know all about fighting cutbacks to library services. One horrible year, the council proposed defunding us entirely. Fortunately, the library trustees convinced the concil this was a terrible idea. Holy smokes!

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