National Leadership Grant Awarded to Study Library Value Within the Broader Scope of Community Life

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 will conduct 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.

Economic valuations of public libraries have historically focused on the exchange between the library and the local market economy—impact on local economic activity, cost savings to patrons through resource sharing, and so on—often ignoring non-monetized social goods. This research will take an approach which allows for the valuation of non-market services and social return.

Wellbeing is a composite of many elements—physical and mental health, economic security, school effectiveness, cultural engagement, political voice, etc.—that amounts to people having what economist Amartya Sen describes as “the freedom to lead lives they have reason to value.” Those elements can be connected to indicators captured in data. This research will develop tools that map relevant data and inputs to assess the impact of library services on those broad social outcomes. Principal Investigator Margo Gustina, librarian and economics PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico, explained “By the time this project ends, the library field will have tools to measure what their libraries produce, and they can pursue partnerships and programming with vision and confidence.”

Over the course of three years the project will work with 17 libraries in four states—Alaska, Georgia, New York, and Texas—to generate valuation models of library service in terms of social wellbeing outcomes. Follow this research or sign up for updates about it above. This work is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read the full proposal or just the abstract.

Background & Predecessors

Beginning with the 2016 report Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change and followed up with Understanding the Social Wellbeing Impacts of the Nation’s Libraries and Museums in 2021, this project participates in the IMLS’s Community Catalysts Initiative which “seeks to inspire and challenge museums, libraries, and their partners to transform how they collaborate with their communities.” Principal Investigator for Libraries in Community Systems, Margo Gustina, has recently completed a study about the role rural libraries play as social connectors that unlock broader security and support dynamics that impact broadly on wellbeing.

read the reports

Strengthening Networks, Sparking Change: Museums and Libraries as Community Catalysts

The study documents a range of ways that libraries and museums across the country engage with community concerns and visions through their programmatic activities and strategic partnerships. In addition, it situates the work of libraries and museums within a conceptual framework of social wellbeing to describe the contributions that these institutions make in their local communities.


Understanding the Social Wellbeing Impacts of the Nation’s Libraries and Museums

Public libraries and museums are deeply embedded in their communities in ways that enrich the wellbeing of local residents. Through their core services, programming, and partnerships with other organizations, they catalyze broader networks of support that meet a diverse range of needs for individuals, organizations, and their broader communities.


The Rural Library and Social Wellbeing Project

Public libraries located in rural locations have unique capabilities to generate social wellbeing outcomes in their communities. Through conversations with over 200 people in eight remote towns across the US, this project, led by Margo Gustina, documents the ways in which their local libraries enriched that life.