A review exploring the facets of the value of public libraries

Publication Date12 Aug 2019
AuthorCheryl Stenstrom,Natalie Cole,Rachel Hanson
SubjectLibrary & information science
A review exploring the facets of
the value of public libraries
Cheryl Stenstrom
School of Library and Information Science,
San José State University, San Jose, California, USA
Natalie Cole
California State Library, Sacramento, California, USA, and
Rachel Hanson
Mesa County Libraries, Grand Junction, Colorado, USA
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to discuss a review of the literature on the value of public libraries
and propose a preliminary value framework for the public library based on the results. The review was
conducted and the framework was developed as part of a larger ongoing project exploring the value of
Californias public libraries.
Design/methodology/approach This paper is a literature review of approximately 130 international,
national and local resources from 1998 to 2018. Findings were developed through an analysis and synthesis of
the works as they relate to public libraries.
Findings The themes that emerged from the exploration of studies fell into three intersecting categories:
support for personal advancement; support for vulnerable populations; and support for community
development. A wide variety of quantitative and qualitative methods have been employed in this area of
research. Among the many ways to discuss value, the most appropriate for the user will alwaysdepend on the
context for which the concept of value is being defined.
Practical implications Practitioners may find the various definitions of value useful when sharing
information about public libraries with decision makers and other stakeholder audiences and when designing
service models and outcomes.
Originality/value The authors believe this paper is the first to identify the emergence of a value
framework for the public library based on a literature review exploring both the social and financial value of
public libraries.
Keywords Value, Libraries, Public, California, Return
Paper type Literature review
In light of recent headlines reporting on new federal government attitudes that propose
significant funding declines across social and arts-based programs and departments
(e.g. Krieg, 2017; McGlone, 2018), a documented disconnect between how libraries and
similar services are perceived and their actual value (Audunson, 2005; Kann-Christensen
and Pors, 2004; Koren, 2009; Smith and Usherwood, 2004; Stenström and Haycock, 2014;
Usherwood, 1994), data demonstrating a softening in committed support for libraries among
Americans (OCLC and the American Library Association, 2018), and the emergence of new
service models in libraries (Eastell et al., 2017; Waters et al., 2017), concerned stakeholders
are compelled more than ever to demonstrate the value of their work to those who make
financial investments in human services and as well as to the public at large.
The California State Library is conducting a study, supported with California Library
Services Act funding, that aims to demonstrate the value of Californias public libraries. The
first step has been to carry out a literature review examining articles and resources that
explore the financial value and social value of public libraries. This review has led to the
development of a preliminary value framework for the public library which we will test by
conducting primary research in California libraries. A discussion of the literature, the
preliminary framework and next steps are presented here.
Library Management
Vol. 40 No. 6/7, 2019
pp. 354-367
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/LM-08-2018-0068
Received 27 August 2018
Revised 20 December 2018
Accepted 17 February 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT