Call for Referendum Information to Calculate Nationwide and Service Specific Monetary Value of Public Libraries | Compendium

Did your library have a public funding vote in the years 2010-2022? Libraries in Community Systems wants to know about it! (, survey live through February 2023).

Over the last 18 months the Libraries in Community Systems project team has heard from a lot of librarians that the value of their public library extends beyond the transactional data libraries gather. Our (often warranted) hesitation around assigning a money value to libraries has meant that the most common valuation measure is based on this same transaction data, multiplied by some market value derivative, to get some kind of worth or return on investment, or money saved, which we in turn communicate to boards, legislators, and community members.

Does this ROI help in decision-making? Does it tell a board member, donor, or voter what value adding one extra open hour a week would give? Or another 1,000 square feet? We think there is a better way. We are using more kinds of data to quantify a richer measure of value.

Other fields concerned with priceless values— like health, and environment—incorporate economic models that account for non-use values like existence (a town should have a library), future (it will be ok to lose internet for a day because the library has it), or bequest (my grandchildren should have a library to visit), by eliciting estimates of willingness to pay from individuals. In this logic, money is a unit we use to express our preferences, not something that has value in and of itself.

Although library researchers don’t use surveys to elicit “willingness to pay”, public libraries ask voters to reveal their willingness to pay every time they hold a funding referendum. The Libraries in Community Systems research team is estimating:

  • National willingness-to-pay value for public libraries
  • Willingness-to-pay for a few key shared services

To make these estimates meaningful outside of Michigan and Ohio (the only 2 states that collect and publicly share this information), we’re asking folks to share the details of their referendum votes with us using this survey link: through February 2023. It will ask your library name, county, state, number of yes votes, number of no votes, and any information from the ballot that you know including how much money people are voting on.

For a webinar on this topic, see Valuing Libraries: What we Can and Can Not Know (

Questions? Contact Meg Backus, Executive Director, The Northern New York Library Network, (315) 265-1119 x1, 6721 US-11, Potsdam, NY 13676.