What is the Value of a Public Library to its Community?

Building on a growing body of research that studies the impact of cultural organizations on social wellbeing, The Northern New York Library Network in Potsdam, NY launched a three-year national research project, Libraries in Community Systems, to create a clearer understanding of the unique role public libraries play within community systems, and how this role can be maximized for improved social wellbeing outcomes.

Wellbeing is multidimensional— including physical and mental health, economic security, school effectiveness, cultural engagement, political voice, etc. It amounts to people having what economist Amartya Sen describes as

“the freedom to lead lives [people] have reason to value.”

By August of 2024, this project will publish tools for library service valuation based in library worker and community member perceptions and experiences, as well as comprehensive statistical analysis. Our general timeline is below.


To learn more about the national team working on this project, visit People.

Timeline of Activities

October 2021 - September 2023

Asking library worker and community member perceptions about libraries, wellbeing, public organizations, and value. Then analyzing, synthesizing, and grounding what we heard.

July - December 2022

Inviting and getting to know 17 librarians from Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, and Texas to partner with the research team.

August 2022 - October 2023

Replicating, reporting to our librarian partners, reformulating, surveying the field, synthesizing librarian perceptions with statistical analysis results, and producing a Library Index and Social Wellbeing Indexes.

Sept. 2022 - Feb. 2024

Creating, testing, iterating, and extending to multiple applications, a library Service Optimization Model in terms of Community Adaptive Capacities and Wellbeing Outcomes.

October 2022 - October 2023

Estimate monetary valuations of core library services based on library public funding referendums by conducting a systematic review of the literature, collecting publicly available and survey data on votes, combining library with community level data, and applying multiple econometric techniques to the dataset.

Nov. 2022 - Sept. 2023

Librarian partners form research teams, design community research, and gain skills needed to implement their research methods.

April - November 2023

Build increasingly complex and nuanced community Institution Network Maps with librarian partners over multiple worksheets and meetings. Identify simpler process for individual libraries to create maps on their own.

June 2023 - August 2024

Report data in Open Science Framework, publishing datasets with detailed methods documents in the project repository: https://osf.io/9jwmq/.

July 2024

Fully tested Library Service Value Calculator is published.