BULLET Placing a Value on Public Library Services
Glen E. Holt, Donald Elliott, and Amonia Moore

Inevitably the calculation of direct benefits had to involve an extensive user survey. The preparation for and carrying out of the survey involved many steps.

Construction of the Service/User Matrix

The initial step, the development of a Service/User Matrix (Table 1) involved the use of staff discussions and library-user focus groups. The development of the matrix began with SLPL's mission and goals. Within this context, the matrix makes explicit the relationships between services and users.

By identifying classes of library customers (i.e., general users, teachers and businesses) the matrix is customer-focused. By arraying customers against the library’s portfolio of services (e.g., reference and reader's advisory, adult collections, visits to daycare centers, etc.) a library's service and user categories become visually explicit. Each of the cells of the matrix represents a stream of benefits from a library service to a particular class of customer.

When arrayed in this way, the matrix becomes the basis for a series of value estimates in which customers describe how much of which services they use. In some cases, customers need little prodding to assign a specific value to the services they receive. In other cases, users have no sense of the value of the services they use but are able to articulate the number of pieces of material they use or the amount of time they are involved in using the service. In either case, measuring services used by customers and cumulating their value becomes the basis for the consumer-surplus method of estimating the value of direct library services.

The researchers used the following matrix in the St. Louis CBA study.

Table 1: Service/User Matrix for SLPL Study

Service/User General users Teachers Businesses
Children’s books X X
Books for adults X X
Videos/films X X X
Audio/music X X
Magazines X X X
Newspapers X X X
Toys X X
Parent-teacher materials X X
Reference/research services X X X
Special events X X
Craft/activity programs X X
Social skills/etiquette training X
Computer training X X
Encyclopedias X X
Dictionaries and almanac X X
Business & phone directories X
Corporate reports X
Government data/documents X
Marketing or product data X
Tax information X X
Financial information X X

As with other aspects of this study, the Service/User Matrix is designed conservatively. By intent, some worthwhile but hard-to-measure collective values (e.g., the library as a safe place for children, as a neighborhood center or as a family recreational center) were dropped from the matrix. The quantification of such indirect and collective benefits is complex. To pursue these in detail would have exhausted respondents’ patience and reduced user responses to questions estimating the direct individual benefits -- the focus of the SLPL survey. Instead, some time in the survey interviews was devoted to qualitative exploration of these collective benefits. As suggested previously in this paper, numeric estimates of such values can be made part of later calculations of indirect benefits.

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