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Library a worthy investment: report

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No matter how you look at it, the town's investment in the Fort Frances Public Library Technology Centre is reaping huge rewards.

That's the gist of a new report, entitled “The Value of Your Library—Social and Economic Return on Your Investment,” which library CEO Caroline Goulding presented to town council at its regular meeting Monday night.

The report gauges value in two ways: Social Return on Investment (SROI) and an economic Return on Investment (ROI).

Goulding explained that calculating SROI is measuring the impact of social services or, in other words, what a community gains by supporting its library by assigning a value to its services.

A “tool kit” designed for Northern Ontario libraries to use to assess the benefits their services generate for their respective communities was used here to measure seven key areas: cultural integrity and regional identity, social inclusion, cognitive and literacy, health and wellness, engaged citizens and safer communities, entertainment and enjoyment, and economic development.

“Using the tool kit, the library was able to identify the value we offer the community by resident, by household, by open hour, as well as the social return on investment of municipal funding,” Goulding noted.

The library discovered that for every dollar spent by the town on its library in 2017, the community received $17.16 in benefits.

The SROI value per resident was listed at $969 while the value per household was $2,269. For every hour the library was open, it generated $1,303 in benefits.

Altogether, this totalled $8.3 million.

By contrast, the economic ROI measures what a community saves by using its library, Goulding explained.

Using the template used to conduct a study of the economic impact of the Toronto Public Library back in 2014, the local library measured three key factors: direct tangible benefits, direct spending, and indirect tangible benefits.

The analysis indicated the tax dollars spent supporting the library's services in 2017 led to an economic impact of $7.32 per dollar spent—a return on investment of 632 percent.

The library was able to identify the economic value per resident as $413 while the economic value per household was $966.

Furthermore, for every hour that the library was open in 2017, the community gained $756 in value while the per hour cost to run the library was only $162.

Altogether, the return of investment for municipal funding totals $3.5 million.

“The difference in value gained versus cost remains significant,” Goulding noted in her report.

While there's no question many community members highly value the library as a community hub, Goulding said if the library does not evaluate itself empirically, it risks never knowing where its strengths and weaknesses lie.

She added that when you look at the SROI report, for example, half of the funding value comes from only two indicators: engaged citizens/safer communities and entertainment/enjoyment.

“Our two weakest indicators are cultural integrity/regional identity and health/wellness," said Goulding. ”So our next step is to use the data that we gained doing the study to start making service improvements in the identified areas.

“So we will measure our progress by updating our SROI and ROI figures annually,” she remarked.

“While we are never going to be able to make enough improvements to make everything to the highest standard level to match those two strongest indicators, what we can do is make targeted improvements to ensure that our community is getting the best possible value from this library,” she concluded.

The research for the report comes from a variety of sources, including studies, consultants, and Ontario Library Services North, library board vice-chair Robert Schulz noted.

He added Goulding and library support staff put many hours of time to do research and compile data for the report.

Schulz noted that will everyone can all agree the library is a valuable component to the community, the report puts into “a dollars and cents perspective.”

Coun. Andrew Hallikas, who sits on the public library board, urged council and administration to take a close look at the report.

“When you look at the numbers that the SROI gives us, for the money that council puts into the library, we as a community are reaping huge rewards in terms of magnifying and leveraging that money,” he remarked.

The public can find the full report on the library's website at ffpltca.ca

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