Many public libraries have added a Value Calculator to their web site as an advocacy tool to show patrons, politicians and other interested parties just how much value they’re getting for their tax dollars.
(A few systems in Saskatchewan have also enabled a feature in our province-wide circulation system that prints out “Today You Saved $xx.xx” on the bottom of every date due slip, similar to the same type of note you might see on a grocery store receipt or at other retail outlets.)
Depending on where you live in the province and what your library mill rate is, you can earn back what you pay for the library in annual taxes by borrowing a couple hardcover books to as little as one children’s book in a single month. Over the course of a year, those savings can easily reach hundreds or even thousands of dollars!
Above is a (very) rough calculation I ran for our family.
Our borrowing and usage can vary widely but in a typical month, Shea and I usually borrow a couple books each, the kids take out a huge number of books between them and we will use a range of other collections and services – sometimes attending library programs, sometimes checking out e-books, sometimes searching online databases, sometimes I even use the public computers at work during my lunch break!
Using fairly conservative estimates, both for our usage and also the value of the items we borrow (the calculator pegs the cost of an adult book at $15.50 but many can cost much more than that), this tool shows we have $319.50/month by using the library.
Of course, the tool only shows how easy it is for an individual or a family to recoup what they pay for library services.
What is nearly impossible to calculate is the value that public libraries provide for wider society in creating a virtuous circle where literate children are more likely to go on to become successful adults who will go on to have even more literate children.
All for the cost of a couple hardcover books a year.