Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ottawa Community News: Ottawa libraries provided $256 million in benefits in 2015

By Melissa Murray
November 10, 2016

The Ottawa Public Library board heard its branches provided $256 million in benefits for the region in 2015, following the presentation of an economic benefits study at its board meeting on Nov. 8.

For every dollar spent in the library system, there’s more than $5 in economic benefits, according to a new study.

Presented by David Fleming, a financial planning consultant, to the Ottawa Public Library Board on Nov. 8, the study is the first of its kind for the public lender.

“This a moment to be overjoyed with our library system,” Fleming said of the study’s results.

To come to that figure, he used a methodology similar to ones used in other jurisdictions and developed for the Toronto Public Library. Fleming used a two-pronged approach looking at direct benefits like those from customers using OPL’s products and services and indirect benefits from OPL spending on its building and employees.

Fleming found the library generates $256 million in benefits for the region in 2015 and delivers a 417 per cent return on investment.

It breaks down to $179.1 million in direct benefits and $76.9 million in indirect benefits. That’s $635 per household, $1,038 per cardholder and $266 per citizen.

The next step is to look at the social benefits of having libraries. That study is planned for 2018.

“The social impacts are much larger,” Fleming said, adding it’s hard to put a value on children’s literacy.

That study will look at the social determinants of health, including income and social status.

“We want to be able to capture that too to help direct activities going forward.”

Answering a question by board member Allan Higdon about how the study could be used to enhance the overall system or be used to look at gaps, Fleming said those decisions could be made after the social side is looked at.

“You can’t isolate this stuff; it’s like two halves and they should be considered together.”

Since the study uses a method used by other Ontario libraries, board member Kathy Fisher wondered how the city stacked up compared to the others.

“Are we ahead of the curve, are we a leader, or are we a follower?” she asked.

Fleming assured her that using the model the library compares well and it’s consistent with other libraries doing this kind of work, even though during the study they made some conservative adjustments.

“We all know libraries have value and that people in Ontario derive benefit … now we actually put a figure to that for our libraries,” said library CEO Danielle McDonald in response to the numbers presented.

“And when you think about the cost of ignorance, it puts it all in perspective,” chimed in Higdon.

By the numbers:

Indirect benefits by source:
    • Employment: $48.8 million
    • Operations: $16.4 million
    • Materials: $6.1 million
    • Capital: $5.6 millio
Direct Benefits by source:
    • Collection use: 172.9 million
    • Programs: $1.8 million
    • Technology: $1.6 million
    • Reference and database services: $2.8 million

Source: Ottawa Community News

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