Libraries provide a lot of value to their communities. Not only do they house books and other media, but they’re also a place for children to listen to storytimes, for students to study, and scholars to research. Libraries also provide communities access to computers, the internet, printers, scanners, and other technology. 

Many people understand the value of a library in terms of materials, but what they don’t realize is all the labor that makes libraries and their resources accessible to the public. Helping patrons see the value of libraries is one of the outcomes Assistant Professor Dr. Rachel Ivy Clarke hopes to achieve through the True Value Project supported by the Syracuse University CUSE grant program. 

“Most of my work is design-based research, but I’ve done a couple of other projects that fall under the umbrella called critical design,” shares Dr. Clarke. “The idea is you’re creating provocative artifacts that challenge the way people think or push back on the status quo. In this case, the status quo is libraries are materials. But we want people to think in a new way about libraries. Libraries are people. Libraries are staff. Libraries are professionals that help you. That’s the value of the library, not just the books on the shelf.”

Dr. Clarke and her colleagues iSchool Ph.D. student Katerina Stanton and MSLIS student Alexandra Grimm presented the True Value Project at the ALA2021 Panel Presentation. The presentation acted as a soft launch for the True Value Calculator, a tool used to evaluate the labor costs associated with each person’s library visit. Working alongside Dr. Clarke, Staton, and Grimm on the True Value Calculator is iSchool Ph.D. student Bo Zhang who assists with data analysis, calculator design, and writing. MSLIS student Shubham Kumar also worked with the team to set up the project’s website. 

As Dr. Clarke explains, there are limited resources available for community and social services, and often libraries are expected to provide for their communities with limited resources. This resource constraint puts libraries in a difficult position to prove their value. There have been strategies in recent years to demonstrate the value of libraries. For example, some libraries show the price patrons save by checking out a book instead of buying. It’s a significant first step, but it only evaluates the book’s price and doesn’t deliver the total value of the library. What it misses is the labor that goes into running a library.

Right now, the tool uses national data to estimate average labor costs. However, a future version of this tool could allow individual libraries or regional library systems to adopt a personalized calculator to incorporate their specific costs. Additionally, Dr. Clarke hopes making library labor visible will help library patrons and stakeholders better understand the work libraries put into providing free access to information in their community. 

The True Value Calculator is available for the public to use. Check it out today to learn the true value of your library visit.