National Welfare & Economic Contributions of Public Libraries (2013)

This report was prepared by SGS Economics & Planning on behalf of the Australian Library and Information Association.


Cost-Benefit Assessment

Based on the information provided across all jurisdictions, the total annual cost of public libraries across Australia is $1.03 billion. Public library staffing is consistently the largest individual cost category across all jurisdictions.

Using benchmarks of user and non-user benefits, drawing from the significant market research undertaken in Victoria and Queensland, it has been estimated that the total annual benefit provided by public libraries to Australians is approximately $3 billion.

Consequently, it is estimated that a net annual benefit of some $1.97 billion is provided to Australians by public library services. This is reflected in a benefit cost ratio of 2.9, meaning that the annual benefits generated outweigh the annual costs by a factor of 2.9. This is considered to be a sound return on investment.

Importantly, the level of investment in public library services does not display a pattern of diminishing returns. Estimates of per capita costs and benefits, using the research carried out in Victoria and Queensland in 14 case study communities, highlight that the larger the investment made into public libraries, the larger the benefits derived by the respective communities.

Collectively these findings provide a strong basis for arguing for increased levels of funding for public library services.

It should also be noted that the results presented above can be considered conservative, as they inherently undercount the benefits provided by the online services of by public libraries, and they are based on some techniques which measure user willingness to pay for library services. Given the user profile of public libraries, user willingness to pay is likely to be constrained by user capacity to pay.

Economic impact assessment

The economic impact framework is relatively simple. It isolates the stimulus that public libraries bring to the Australian economy and traces how this stimulus flows through to other entities via multiple rounds of buyer and supplier transactions.

Public libraries stimulate the national economy through their recurrent operating expenditures, as well as by triggering library user spending, predominantly on retail goods and services.

Approximately $3.18 billion of economic stimulus is provided to the Australian economy by public libraries each year, through triggered library user expenditures and the recurrent operating expenditures of public libraries. After accounting for flow on linkages and transactions, it is estimated that approximately 30,950 jobs are supported by public library services, as is some $3.83 billion in value added annually.

These economic impacts have been made using range based estimates, with low and high estimates stipulated. Under the range estimates generated, the lower bound of impacts are some 15% less than that reported above, while the high estimates are ~30% larger.


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