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Usherwood, Bob 

Libraries: k Value Judgement. 
Sep 80 

22p. ; Paper presented at the joint IIS/L&/ASLIB 
Conference (Sheffield, England, September 15-19, 



MPOVECOI Plus Postage. 

Economic Factors: ^Financial support: Foreign 
Countries; Information Services: *Libr&ries: Library 
Services; Public Support 
*Great Britain 


This paper discusses the financial supfcrt of 
libraries in general, and encourages itiformaticn professionals to do 
more to communicate the value of libraries and library services to 
politicians and others involved in the distribution of public funds, 
nineteen references are cited. (FH) 

* Beproductions supplied b; HVRS are the best that can be made * 

* from the original document. * 





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SDl'CatpOm position or Pgt(Cv 


Paper to be given at the ASLlB/llS/IA Joint 
Conference. Sheffield 15-19 septeniber 1980 

Bob Usherwood, B.A. , A.L.A 

Postgraduate School of Librarian ship 
and Information Science 
University of Sheffield 


R.C. Usherwood _ 


Author's note 

At the request of the organizers this paper was prepared 
in June 1980- It therefore reflects the position as 1 
^aw it at that -time. 

I will begin by sharing a small secret with you- In 
the very pleasant letter I recsivfld inviting me to 
contrlbube to this conference^ tha organizer wrote;-* 
''the planning committee hope that I can persuade 
you to talk about making the library pay". In my reply, 
I said that I would like to slightly re*-work the topic 
and would prefer to talk to a different title* I should 
add that my requests were readily agreed to* 

My concern at the title "Making the library pay" was really 
one of en^hasls. It seemed to me to Imply that libraries 
were not paying their way at the moment* This, as I hope 
to shov;. Is simply not true. I suspect also that somewhere 
at the back of ^ mind was a thought that on the fourth day 
of an Intensive conference, my title might somehow be 
misconstrued as 'paying for the library'* tiot my favourite 
topic - but more of that later* 

I am not, however, going to avoid eccnomlc questions* Indeed 
for the purposes of this paper It Is esa©nl:ial to set the 
library service In Its economic context* One of our leading 
organizational theorists, D. Weeks, lias written:*- 

**the economic climate Is both a constraint on, and, a 
consequence of ^ an organisation's activities"^ 

Now all of us spend a significant amount of time discussing the 
constraints placet) organlisatlons by ^.he ^'^r- j^ic 

climate creatci*d h}^ ^ nt government* ^ that 

we should do so - but we should be equally vocal about the 

effect of library and information organizations on the 
nation's economic and social healths 

The raw materials of our trade - information and ideas 
are valuable^ indeed vital, national resources* The economic 
value o£ libraries in previewing information which improves 
technical know-how, increases productivity, directs the 
user to commercial opportunity, aids and prevents duplication 
in research, is not to be discarded lightly simply because it 
is difficult to measure- 
Libraries also have an economic value as employers of labour, 
not Just in the public sector but also in the numerous areas 
of private employment that depend on libraries for their own 
livelihoods. The economic health of publishers, binders and 
many other organizations is affected by the state of library 
services * 

The benefits cf libraries are net so much Immeidintely visible 
in direct cash terms but in the improved performance of 
individuals, in increased initiative and in the increaSRd 
reserves of a nation's intellectual energy. Expenditure on 
libraries, far from being a liability, is an investment 
offering substantial dividends to the community at large* 
The value of this kind of investment was recognized nearly half 
a century ago by professor Ta^vney in his claBfiic book Equality ;* 

"The manufacturer or mine-owner, whose establishment is 
staffed with workers A^hsi^f^x^p^^k^^h^^ from 
dying in infancy by the public health service, educated 

in public elementary schools, and taught their 
craft in the municipal college of technology ^^j^^^^j;* " 


tKrprOgljx'^ftS^lPo^^ continue to bellove, 

wi^ the romanticism of his kind, that his profits 
are created solely by his personal intelligence, 
initiative, thrifty tod foresight. But, as a mere 
matter of prosaic fact, the State is a partner In his 

enterprise, whose contribution to its success is at 


least as Important as his own'l 

A similar theme has been taken up by modem economists* 
T* W* Schultz, for example, has written of 

"the acquisition of knowledge and skills that have 
economic valve" 

aTid states 

"Thig knowledge and skill are in great part the product 

of investment and ... account for the productl\'e 

superiority of the technically advanced countries* 

To omit them in studying economic growth is like trying 


to explain Soviet ideology without Marx. " 

There is then a link tiween investment in education and 
information services a. 3 economic efficiency* 

I am not, when talking to an audience of librarians, 
going to itemize the many ways that libraries contribute 
to the continuing and life-long process of education 
but I would ask a wider audience to carefully consider 
just what would be the quality of our education without 
libraries. More, I would ask them to contemplate the 
quality of life in a society without library and information 
services . 

As the nation faces, among other things^ increasing 
unemployment, rising prices and the challenges of the new 
technology, the economic and social value of libraries will 
increase. Moreover, at a time when individuals and groups 
axe having to take more and more important decisions, there 
can be no more crucial function than the communication of 
information and ideas. At the recent White House Ccmference 
on Libraries, President Carter expressed the opinion that 

"instant access to information and the calm and 
reasoned guidance of a cri:alified libr':trl.ciu can make 
the difference between the success and failure even 
of a life". 

Libraries are then a vital national and personal resource 
but like other national resources, their full value can on3.y 
be reall if there is adequate - and that means increased 
investment in them. The major part of this investment has 
to come from the public purse. This is not to undervalue 
the contribution that the private sector can make, but simply 
to recognize that a task as complex and important as the 

mwiagement and distribution of the nation's store of 
information and ideas can only be effectively achieved 
on the basis of collective funding. 

We must, through our professional associations and trade 
unions, give the lie to the populist notion that cdllectively 
funded services are somehow inferior to those provided by 
private companies. It is just not so. Even the most 
ferocious advocates of private enterprise do not suggest 
that provision for law and crder or national security should 
be left to the private sector. Only a few v7ould opt for 
a health service or education system I'ift to the mercies 
of tiie market place. Our services are just as vital for 
the maintenance of a democratic and civilized society. 

It is perhaps more difficult to communicate the value of 
libra.ry services. They do not, at first glance appear 
to be concerned with question-; of life and death. They ■ 
are also notoriously difficult to evalaute. This presents 
a very real challenge at a time when we have an ndndntstration 
that appears to feel that nothing is of use unless i" can 
be "^^jasured - preferably in terms of monesy. 

Such a measure may be of use in assessing the progress of 
profit oriented organizations, it is far less significant 
vfhen considering public service institutions. One of the 
current problflRis facing librarians and other public servants 
is that the government and also, I am afraid, some vithin 
the profession, seem to want to impose inappropriate commercial 
models on services provided via the public i,iector. Those who 

seek to model public services on private sector organizations 
are not comparing like vjith like^ 

The B.i'^RiD report Information services in the market place 
dsmonsti'ates the difference between the public and private 
provision of information- It is a revealing docummt*- In 
it some practitioners actually advocate that free informatton 
services be opposed because when they are introduc;;:'.:' 
commercial information organizations have to close domil 
In a significant passage, the report states 

"several responiSents intended to move up market 


away from basic information work". ^ 

The report does not deal at ail with ccnununity info^ation - 
presumably a down market activity- 

For the private sector the main aim is profit not the provision 
of services to meet information or other needs. The private 
information industry is concerned about the dissemination of 
information in the sa£r*e way that the drug companiec; are 
concerned about curing the ill •* or estate argents care about 
the hotneJ.ess^ In, the final analysis the objectives of the 
public and private sectors ai'e quite difterent. In addition, 
v;hile there are obvious overlaps, there are also significant 
differences between the two client groups. This is perhaps 
particul-:; Jly true of information services. 

Let me emphasize the words "public" and "service"^ In recent 
years some politicians and their press allies have sought^ to 
make public service and public expenditure terms of abuse^ 

Public servants are reviled as a group and public 
expenditure is blamed for the nation's economic ills, 
Ive niust play our part in putting a stop to this. 

First we must do more to communicate the value of public 
service to our own commurities. Our particular task 
is not helped by those within the l.ibrary profession who 
sell themselves and their colleagues short by reiterating 
the prejudices purveyed by the populi;St press. In a recent 
piece entitled, 'Paying for the library service' j^S'oii will " 
begin to see why I was concerned about talking to a similar 
titleij a former chief librarian wrote of Public library 
services as being "cosily rate^supported at all tim^s without 
any need for personal initiative",, That is simply 


No personal initiative (!) ? It would be invidious to name 
individuals I but each of us could draw up a long list of 
librarians who have transformed services through personal 
initiative. I refer not Just to the graat namps^ but to 
lesser known Individuals who have instigated i(3ea5 at the 
local level. The author of the article could naiaa people 
too - but he sees fit to promulgate and pex-petuate the public 
service myth - and in a journal read by poXiticie. ,s and 
at^ministrators - 

We i?,ust also avoid the abrogation of pi-ofessional values for 
political expediency. The other day I came across the 
Annual Report of an authority v/hich had better remain nameless. 

4 i\ 

In this the libraro^an thanked the staff for ''their quiet 
and responsible acceptance of tlie reductions in aerviCDS 
which, however unwelcome, were seen to be unavoidable in 
the existing economc situation*. In n^y view the quiet 
acceptance of reductions in service is totally irresponsible. 
Even if the librarian concerned felt unable to take a 
positive stand against his political masters, he could surely 
have refrained from endorsing their action. 

At its 1979 Annual General Meeting inerabers asked that the 
Library Association seek active co-operation with organizations 
campaigning against public expenditure cuts. I am assured 
that such action has been carried out but, by and large as 
a profession, we have been too genteel in our approach. The 
economist J* K- Galbraith has advised librarians to 

"let any politiciaii who attacks public employees as 
a class Know whers you and yotir friends stand you 
mcstr to the v^ry best of your ability make public 
sei:vanta in general and librarians in particular seem 

Galbraith is urging us to be dangerous in the political sense -^^ 
but conventional wisdom tells us that far from endangering a 
politici^'a chances of success, attacking public servants 
and public expenditure would positively enhance them* 
Conventional wisdom can be wrong. Fifteen months or so ago 
I e^ressed the view 

"that over the next few years as ordinary workina people 
begin to see the ... results of Thatcherite policies 
public opinion will becor^e far more willing to siipport 

the kind of collective financing _*at a caring 


society requires" 

There are, I think, some Indications ^at this is beginning 
to happen. 

It would, of course, be foolish to read too much in to one 
set of election results, but this year's local elections 
were undeniably a test of public opinion. In this city 
(Sheffield) the whole council was up for election and the 
ruling party had raised rates by 40%. The issue was clear, 
rate increases or a reduction in the level of public sezn^ices* 
The campaign was fought: on these linea- The local paper 
reporting in Aoril:- 

"Sheffield Conservatives have launched their local 
election campaign with a cry against high rates and 
a confident belief in their chances of success"/^* 

In the event Labour gained four seats from the Tories while 
just do\m the road in BamsleV, the Labour Paity won six seats 
from ^'Ratepayer" opposition. 

Much the same pattern was reported elsewhere in the country. 
If public opinion war> so much against public expenditure, 
one would have, at least, expected some swing a9alnst the 
rate increasing authorities. The message would appear to be 
that people are willing to support in a very real wa/ the 
provision of services that they value. 

The cnly alternative explanation of the results that I heard 
was that the Labour vote was that of council tenants who 

is not only insulting to the intelligence of council tenants 
but to anyone else who is expected to take it seriously.. 

There is also further evidence which indicates particular 
public support for library services. Before the G«ieral 
Election, surveys carried out for the BBC and the Daily Mail 
(Table 1) showed that people thought public libraries above 
all public services gave value for the rates. 

SLID£ ( 


Which service does your Ir^oal authority 
give good or bad value iii? 







Sports facil, 

















Source: Dally Mail , Moneymail 
25 April 1979 

This does not mean that we should take public support for 
granted, we must continue to seek it and to channel it. 

competition for decreasing public funds, there is an 
urgent need for vocal public suppport. We require an 
effective library lobby to communicate the value of libraries 

to politicians and other holders of the public, purse. It 
is a matter for regret that such a lobby does not exist in 
Britain at either the national or local level. This is 
in strict contrast to the quite major lobbies that have been 
established to put the case for "the arts" and sport; Two 
areas of activity which are cftsn in competition with libraries 
for local authority funding. 

A little late in its history the Library Association is 
beginning to recognize the importanbe of public relations and 
promotional activities. It has recently set up sub ooitimittees 
to deal with P*K* and parliamentary matters. These are steps , 
in the right direction, but what the Association really needs 
is a full-time public relations office* ^ Sor a profession 
that is concerned with the coittmunication of information and 
ideas , we have been far too reT::icent in coivmunicating 
information about the value of our own activities* THe- 
American Library Association, which has been both active and 
successful in the public relations field, currently . has a 
multi-media campaign which proclaims the library to be 
"America's greatest bargain". A 

It would, of course, be foolish to suggest, that a. public 
relations campaign v7ould put an end to all our financial 

At a time when library services are facing increasing 

problems. Though there are some notable examples o£ 
public relations oriented librarians achieving significant 
success in budget negotiations. In addition, a recent 
report from the United States suggests that 

"libraries that engage in public relations activities 
show higher public support as evidenced by a higher 
budget allocation than libraries who do not engage in 
public relations activities," 

In advocating that we do more to communicate the value of 
libraries, 1 am not suggesting that libraries cannot be 
made more effective - even more cost effective, Thaire is 
some room for improvement in most organizations b& they private 
or public. However, there is to my knowledge, no conclusive 
evidence to suggest that public enterprises are any less ■ 
effective than private ones* They are, however, more visible. 

We must therefore make sure that our organizations are effective 
and that they are seen to be effective. X delijserately 
use the word effective rather than efficient, ' Efficiency 
is about cost, but effectiveness is about value. In libraries, 
as in other service organizations r user , needs ai^® not 
necessarily best served by efficiencry alone. Thus in trying 
to make our libraries more effective, we should beware of 
"solutions" that concentrate on cost alone. Solutions that 
appear particularly tempting when tiitles are hard* At the 
moment there is a grave danger that in attempting to solve 
short-term problems, the profession will adopt measures that ■ 
will reduce the future ef f ectivensss of library and infoL'mation 

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the debate 
about library charges* Many of us feel that by allowing 
charges for records, pictures and so forth, public libraries 
have already gone some way down the slippery slope that 
leads to direct charges being imposed on users of other 
services* He have already heard demands to charge 
individuals for the use of on-line information services.. 
A recent statement from the Library Association ^^''^^ offers 
some welcome guidance on this matter though I do not think 
that the distinction between the provision of information 
by new and traditional methods is a real one in terms of 
the charges debate « 


I have developed this view elsewhere' ' but suffice it to 
say that the imposition of direct charges will withdraw the 
right of infoimation from many citizens* In particular 
it will withdraw 'it from those in society who are already 
vulnerable for social ^ economic and other reasons* ^e 
right to information must be-protected* ' In the words of the 
National Consumer Council:- 

*'the other rights of citizenship are worth little" without 


the right to education and information" ^ ' 

If user fees were to become the norm, the information poor 
would become poorer still^^ 

The arguments about charges are well known and there is no 
need to rehearse them in front of a professional audience « 
The Library Associoition has a clear policy on public library 
charges^ ' and it behoves us as professionals to support 

and promulgate this. Direct charges are not a way o£ 

making libraries pay in either a social or an economic 

sense. The economics of charging have been closely 

examined in a recent report to the Association of County 

Councils Recreation Committee. This states ''the most 

efficient and economic way of paying for tht* (library) 

service is by vfay of the rates and taxes rather than through 

f IS) 

any form of separate charge*'* 

Some have suggested that 'public libraries "go into business** 
The types of business suggested range from supplying industry 
with library and information services on a fee paying basis 
to the marketing of local studies publications and other 
artefacts. Tempting ideas and some of them, I suppose^ 
reasonable enough in moderation. line danger in such revenue 
raising activities is that they will be provided at the BXpem 
of other more socially valuable ones, . Technical information 
at the expense of community information for example. 

Recently we have also seen imagfinative attempts to introduce 

commercials a:iid video gaines into libraries^ and Although I am 

not a great lover of advertizing ^ I suppose few would object 

to the occasional advertiaement on the back of a bookraarlc or 

carrier b^g- There are too some fund raising activities that 

we can leam from the United States ^ some of which * if I may 

introduce a commercial of my own are indicated in rty 

( 17 1 

forthcoming book on library public relations. 

These and other activities may raise some money, but we are 

fooling ourselves and our public 1£ we surges t Uiat w© can 
make great Inroads into the net cost of providing adequate 
library services* That cost is. In any caser not high. 
On the basis of the CIPPA public library statistics 
I estimate thatr on average, the public library service, 
costs each Individual In Great Britain about Xh pence per 
day. Not a bad bargain and one that benefits the individual 
user and the nation as a whole. 

We should perhaps do more to show the public and politicians 
just how much they receive for their money. C A recent Annual 
Report from Cheshire Public Library in Connecticut does this 
in a very positive way. The text coiT5>ares the cost to 
individuals of purchasing the materials and services they 
used in a year to the cost of their contribution to the 
collective funding of the public library. Each service is 
itemized in these terms and the report concludes 

"Mk.. and Mrs., Miss and Ms. Cheshire we gave you a 
$86.75 return on a $5.36 investmsnt. Your library 
is a money saving institution". * 

Simple and very effective.^ 

If we can't dramatically reduce the relatively low cost of 
library services, can we increase their value? I believe 
we can, but in the short-term that will mean increasing 
our investment in them. We know that our present library 
resources are not sufficient for current let alone future 
needs. We h^^ve only to look at School Library provision - 
or the lack of it - to see that. Dur present state of 

knowledge only allows us to guess what of value will have 
been lost to future generations because today's children 
are being deprived of adequate education and information 
resources t 

Within our library services how much of value in tesnns of 
latent skill and professional potential is being lost 
because we are not investing in staff training and personnel 
services? Training budgets are all too often the target 
for cuts* Yet in the long run such cuts are a false economy 
because they mean library . :jrganizations and their clients 
are served by staff who are less effective than they could 
or should be* 

To fail to invest in library and information services is 
more than bad management ^ it is an act of criminal folly* 
It is an act that will impede the intellectual, social, and 
economic development of this country* We should not be 
fooled by those. who say we can't afford to make this investment 
The truth is, that if we are survive as a tuivilized nation,, 
we cannot afford not to make it* 

Of course the value of library services cannot be established , 
in such a precise way as their cost* We know the cost of a 
book, a periodical subscription, or an on-line search, but ^le 
cannot know in advance their value to present or future users* 

There is a groi-zing literature on the economics of information 
and knowledge and although I have quoted a nxutiber of economists 
I have not attempted a microeconomic or macroeconomic analysis* 

In stressing the value of libraries, rather than their cost, 

I am, I admit, partly indulging in an act of faith ^ but not 

blind faith. In the end though, I think I would rather be 

thought of as a professional believer than a professional 

cynic, Those of you who know your Oscar Wilde will recall 

that a cynic is "a man who knows the price of everything and 


the value of nothing", ' 

Let us a^void that fate* Of course we must be concerned about 
prices and costs, but let us not spend so much time counting 
the obvious that we fail to see what Is significant about our 
profession, Above all let us proclaim loud and clear our 
belief that in our library services we have something of 


Motes and References 

1 Weeks^ R. 'Organisation theory - sonte themes 
and distinctions' in Salaman, G* and Thompson, K* 
People and or<yanizations > London, Longtaan 1973 376 

2 Tawney, r,H- Equality ^ 5th ed. London 
Allen & Uhwin T964 154 

3 Schultz, T. W* 'Investment in htiman capital*. 
American Economic Review 51 (1) 1961 

4 Quoted in^Plasb Report; The 'White House Conference on 
Library and InJiormatim Services* Ajnerican Libraries 
10 (11) December 197i> 634 ~ 

5 Birks, C, Information services in the m^arket place 
London, British Library ^ 1578 ^ 

S Tomlinson, tK * Paying for the library service* 

Municipal Review 50 (599) January 1980 216^17 

7 Galbraith, J, k* *Are public libraries against liberty?' 
American Libraries 10 (8) September 1979 ^ 482-85 

8 Usherv/ood, c* 'Community information! tecdinological 
trends and political prospects,' Paper given to the 
Community Projects Foundation seminar on public libraries 
and community development, 19 July 1979 ' 

9 Report in Moiming Telegraph Sheffield 5 April 1P80 

10 Berger, P* 'An investigation of the relationship between 
public relations activities and budget, allocation in 
public libraries' Information Processing? and Manacremeni: 
15 1979 179-193 

11 Library Association* Library Service Committee, 

Report of the Working Party on charges for on*line aervicafl 

12 In for example . 

Lltxary Association. Library Service Committee, - 
'Jfiherwood, R, c, .'Library charges ajid some other socic- 
f^conomic con3ider'^tion3 arising from recent developments 
in information tecimology' <L,S,C, 253) 1979. 

Usherwood, R. c, 'Socioeconomic implications of the new 
information technology' Aslib Proceedings , 32 (6) 
June 1980, 276'-278 


National Consumer Council, The fourth right of citize: 
1977 ^, 

'The case against charges' Library Association Record 
81 (9) September 1979 431-3 

Association of County Councils. "The feasibility of 
charging for public library lending services'. Report 
to Recreation Committee June 10 1980 

Tomlinson (1980) op. cit. 

Usherwood, R. C. Practical public relations fo r public 
libraries Londonl Library Association 
to be published November 1980 

Public Library st atistics" 1978-79 Actuals . 
London. The cEa.irtered Institute of Public rinSftce and 
Accountancy. 1980 * 

Definition of a cynic given in Act III of Ladj^ 
Windermere's Fan ,