In Texas, libraries transform

Photo by Sarah Lim

This week is National Library Week, an annual observance supported by the American Library Association to recognize the enormous impact that libraries have on our local communities. This year’s theme is “Libraries Transform.” And as themes go, it is particularly apt.

Gone are the imposing card catalogues which sat like beached knowledge-whales in the immediate vicinity of the front desk. By leveraging changes in technology over the last few decades, libraries have transformed themselves into modern, dynamic spaces while remaining true to their core purpose of connecting people with ideas, and more broadly, people to people.

The value of libraries was put into economic terms in a report published by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) earlier this year. The commission found that for every dollar invested in public libraries, communities saw a $4.64 return.

Using data from fiscal year 2015, researchers from the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas at Austin evaluated Texas public libraries as business entities in order to assess the economic impact of libraries on their local communities.

With data from approximately 550 public libraries, the study found Texas public libraries collectively produced $967 million in economic activity in 2015, provided $1.7 billion in services, and employed 11,000 people. Altogether, Texas public libraries offered a total of $2.6 billion in benefits.

After factoring in the collective expenditures at $566 million, the study’s authors calculate a return of $4.64 on every dollar invested. By comparison, the annual return of a typical 401k is $0.05-$0.08.

“Public libraries offer every person an opportunity to improve his or education and every business an opportunity to improve their productivity,” the study’s authors conclude. “Public libraries are an overlooked factor in economic leadership among states.”

The study is a compelling read. Assigning a monetary value to the services our libraries provide only underscores how priceless these institutions are.

From enrichment to education, libraries transform how we as patrons engage in the world around us by providing access to resources and by developing programs specific to the needs of our communities. In the years ahead, the services that libraries provide will be essential as more and more cities adopt aging-in-place initiatives.

And though there may be no monetary value in how my daughter’s face lights up whenever we drop by Haggard Library to pick up a new STEM-themed kit, the value is there, nevertheless. For my family, every week is National Library Week.