January 18, 2022

Research Article: “The Value of California’s Public Libraries”

The following research article (full text, open access) was recently published by Public Library Quarterly.


The Value of California’s Public Libraries


Natalie Cole
California State Library

Cheryl Stenström
School of Information, San Jose State University


Public Library Quarterly
DOI: 10.1080/01616846.2020.1816054


The purpose of this paper is to show how Californian libraries deliver value, by taking a preliminary value framework previously developed from a study of academic literature, and applying it to the public library landscape in California. A “bricolage” approach was used to develop an evidence-based framework of value and subsequently to gather data about Californians’ use of and attitudes about public libraries. The framework was developed through an extended literature review and applied across data gathered through a survey of residents, interviews with library stakeholders, a review of statistics on library usage, and a review of the outcomes of grant-funded programs in California public libraries. The most significant outcome of our project is a unique value proposition for California’s public libraries. These libraries deliver value for individuals, families, groups, communities, and society as a whole. They provide opportunities and support for learning and knowledge development, health and wellbeing, community development, and economic development. Value is delivered through a unique combination of resources, people, and space. California’s public libraries are largely offering services that are valued by the public; however, public awareness of the range and nature of services offered remains lower than desired. Practitioners can use the evidence-based framework and the unique value proposition to better understand the aspects of their library services that offer most value to their communities, and to make more persuasive cases for library support. This paper is the first to use an evidence-based framework of value in assessing the impact of California’s public libraries.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.