The State Librarian's Column
At this year's Annual Connecticut Library Leadership Conference John E. Arnold, a member and past chair of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, gave a very thought provoking presentation entitled Economic Value and Today's Public Library or the Relevance of Public Libraries and the Justification of Spending Tax Revenue To Support Them (A Personal Journey). While I can't do justice to his talk, a few key themes emerged that I think are worth further reflection by anyone managing a library today. First, we must understand that "value" is a moving target. We have to constantly assess value in the context of what was valuable versus what is valuable versus what will be valuable. He suggested that instead of planning for what we've done, we should be planning for what our customers need and what is of value to our customers. If this sounds like libraries need to use outcome measures instead of just output measures, you are right.
In Connecticut public libraries are not mandated, which means taxpayers support libraries not because they have to but because they want to. This again goes back to value. Mr. Arnold talked about the progression of economic value from commodities to goods to services to experiences to transformations. (Read The Experience Economy by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore, Harvard Business School Press 1999, ISBN: 0-87584-819-2). Today's libraries are challenged on many of these levels, but he believes that libraries can move beyond goods and services and actually transform people at every stage of their lives. As Mr. Arnold sees it, libraries can guide people to their aspirations by enabling literacy, education, economic development to produce knowledgeable, informed citizens. This in turn should create an experiential and transformative economic value that people will be willing to pay for. I really think he is on to something.