Economic Impact of Public Libraries

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$4.06 is returned to Wisconsin taxpayers for every $1 invested in public libraries.

An economic impact research report produced by NorthStar Economics, Inc. of Madison showed the total economic contribution of Wisconsin public libraries is more than $750 million every year, with a return on investment in library services of $4.06 for each dollar of taxpayer investment.

That's a conservative estimate, as the study did not factor in the value of heavily used and popular library services, such as:

  • meeting space for community groups
  • career and job hunting assistance and information
  • periodical and newspaper subscriptions
  • free access to online databases
  • materials and services for people with disabilities
  • Wi-Fi access

For instance, public libraries offer about 50,000 magazine and newspaper subscriptions and more than 800 online databases and other resources. 

The Northstar survey respondents said:

  • Public libraries contribute in a meaningful way to the quality of life in their communities.
  • Funding public libraries is a good use of tax revenue and a good value by library users and non-users alike.
  • Parent and grandparents value what libraries provide for their children and grandchildren.

The study made several additional observations:

  • The value of libraries is particularly evident in rural and low income areas of the state.
  • People value the library as a central community gathering place.
  • Continued growth in library use shows the relevance of libraries in the Internet age.
  • The new economy makes the availability of library resources, including specialized knowledge databases and collections, crucial.
  • People value the physical facilities and knowledgeable staff at the library, even while acknowledging the resources available on the Internet.

Study Summary

The Northstar Economics study show that public libraries and public library systems:

  • provide $4.06 in economic benefit for every $1 in taxpayer investment
  • create more than 3,200 jobs directly and more than 3,000 indirectly through economic activity
  • provide $427.9 million in total economic value through services provided to Wisconsin residents, including the value of books, audio recordings, and videos borrowed by library customers, as well as reference services, children’s and adult programs, computer use, and Internet access provided to the public
  • provide a host of services such as community meeting spaces, online books and articles, and specialized databases
  • make a direct economic contribution to Wisconsin’s economy of more than $326 million through activities that include spending for library operations, payroll spending by library employees, and local spending by library visitors.

Reference librarians in the nation’s public and academic libraries answer nearly 5.7 million questions weekly. Standing single file, the line of questioners would span from Long Island, New York, to Juneau, Alaska.

ALA Office for Research & Statistics, ALA Public Information Office

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation

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