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2013 Year in Review: Canadian Public Libraries, Part I

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The Toronto Public Library (TPL) commissioned the Martin Prosperity Institute,[1] to conduct a study – the first ever in Canada – of the TPL’s economic impact. The TPL announced the results on Thursday, December 5, 2013.

For every dollar invested in the TPL, Torontonians receive $5.63 of value, and for those who use the TPL, the value of their library membership is as much as $500. On average, one open hour at any one of the TPL’s ninety-eight branches generates $2,515 in benefits for Toronto. The average cost of one open hour is $653, so the average benefit is almost four times the average cost.

“For the first time, we can demonstrate the library’s economic impact on our city, in addition to the powerful impact on individuals and communities that isn’t as easily quantifiable,” said Paul Ainslie, Chair of the Toronto Public Library Board. “We think Toronto residents will be very interested to hear that for every dollar invested in the library they receive almost six times the value. A dollar invested in the library has a significant return for the city.”

The Toronto Public Library Board, as well as the Toronto City Council, requested this study to measure the return on investment for public library service and the value provided to Toronto residents. The study was funded by the Toronto Public Library Foundation, thanks to a donation from TD Bank Group and a contribution from the Estate of Norman G. Hinton.

“The prospect of looking at the economic impact of the Toronto Public Library offered the MPI an exciting challenge. We knew that being the first in Canada to bring a carefully documented and objective evaluation of economic impact and benefits would be an important step,” said Kevin Stolarick, Research Director, The Martin Prosperity Institute, Joseph L. Rotman School of Management. “We are encouraged that even the lowest, most conservative estimates show significant benefits for Toronto.”

The TPL stated, “Measuring the value of programs and services in economic terms only tells part of the story. The report also includes analysis of some Toronto Public Library programs and services that make a difference to the city, going beyond the numbers. These services are not easily quantifiable, but create significant value for residents, including opportunities to improve literacy skills, engage in lifelong learning and enhance educational and employment opportunities. These outcomes deliver a lifetime of value to residents and increase the economic competitiveness and prosperity of Toronto.”

The study methodology quantified the total economic impact and return on investment of Toronto Public Library services based on analysis of direct tangible benefits, direct spending and indirect tangible benefits. Full study methodology is available in the report.

Stephanie Dubois reported in Metro on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 that the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) is officially opening a makerspace in its central library in January of 2014, though it had a “soft” (unofficial) opening a few weeks ago.[2] The EPL Makerspace is located on the first floor of the Stanley A. Milner Library, located at 7 Sir Winston Churchill Square in Edmonton, Alberta.

It includes a 3D printer, an Espresso book-printing machine, and a green screen and camera setup with photo-editing software. According to the EPL Makerspace’s Web page, one can also play Xbox games there, design Web sites, and convert VHS tapes to DVDs.

Several of the computer stations are free to use. The EPL is charging what it considers “minimal fees” to use the 3D printing machine and the Espresso Book Machine.

According to the EPL Makerspace’s Web page, “There is a $5 cover/binding charge and $0.05 per page printed charge for the Espresso Book Machine. There is a $0.10 per gram of filament charge to use the 3D printer.”

The Espresso Book Machine is the only one in Edmonton. Ms. Dubois explained that to use it, the writer who wants to become a self-published author e-mails the text to the Makerspace and a staff member prints it out. In an EPL YouTube video, one such staff member, a Makerspace Assistant, demonstrates how to use it, and she mentioned that one can bring in the text as “a PDF file from home.”

“The idea is most people don’t have all of this at home – the pros have it. This is giving the average Edmontonians the chance to get their hands on some basic to mid-level and in some cases, pro-level tools and really try something,” Peter Schoenberg, the EPL’s Manager of Digital Literacy & Web Services, told Ms. Dubois.

[1] The Lloyd & Delphine Martin Prosperity Institute is part of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. It claims to be “the world's leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors - location, place and city-regions - in global economic prosperity. It takes an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people's creative potential.”

[2] Metro is a Canadian national daily newspaper published in both English and French.

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