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Published: Sunday, 7/29/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Library study puts price on services' value

Report aims to quantify system before county voters decide levy

BY JESSICA SHOR
BLADE STAFF WRITER

With voters set to decide on a levy for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in November, the library system has published a study that aims to quantify the value of the services it provides, which administrators hope will bolster support for the tax request.

The assessment, conducted by a University of Toledo economist, places a number on the library's economic value and return on investment, calculating how much the library contributes to the local economy and how much the library's services would cost users if they paid market rates.

The study determined that for every dollar of the library's $35.3 million in its 2011 budget, Lucas County residents derived $2.86 worth of benefits in 2011.

"We knew the library makes a tremendous impact, and we wanted to quantify that," said Clyde Scoles, the library's executive director. He brought the idea to the board, which commissioned the report in March. The library paid $27,992 from three of its trust funds for the assessment and used no tax dollars for it.

The report assessed the library's services -- which included 7.1 million items circulated and 1.5 million search queries -- at between $118 million and $136 million in 2011. The lower figure represents economic value, which uses employment, income, and spending data to determine how much the library's services add to the local economy. The upper estimate is the return on investment, a calculation of the market value of the circulation, reference, and personnel services at the library.

"It shows how much it would cost users if they went to Amazon or a bookstore for similar services," said Oleg Smirnov, the UT economist who conducted the study, about the return on the investment.

Library officials said they are pleased with the results of the study and hope the numbers will encourage voters to pass the library's proposed 2.9-mill tax levy, one of five Lucas County levies on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters approved a 2-mill library levy in 2007 with 67 percent of the vote.

The tax provides half the library's operating budget, though cuts in state funding and decreased property assessments forced the library to limit its hours and services in 2009.

To make up for the losses, the library is requesting a renewal of the existing levy, which expires on Dec. 31, as well as the additional 0.9-mill from taxpayers.

The increase would add an extra $27 in taxes annually for the owner of a $100,000 home, bringing the total annual cost to the homeowner to $88.

"The report speaks volumes to every dollar we spend and what we get back. It's enlightening to see that, even though we already knew the intangibles," said Michael Dansack, vice president of the library's board of directors. He added that the report's findings will become part of the library's campaign to pass the levy.

Libraries in Dayton, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Florida have commissioned similar surveys in recent years, with similar findings.

Kim Fender, director of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, believes a 2006 regional assessment that included her library system likely played a role in the 2009 approval of a 1-mill library levy in Hamilton County. It was the county's first library levy, and 73 percent of voters approved it.

"The value of the library, that's what the survey showed. Not just the feel-good value, but real-dollar value," she said, adding, "It certainly didn't hurt our efforts to make voters aware of those benefits."

Contact Jessica Shor at: jshor@theblade.com or 419-724-6516.



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