Show Me The Money? Thousand-Dollar Receipts and the Value of Public Libraries

Have you seen that library receipt which is doing the rounds on social media? What do you think of it?

Receipt showing that the user has saved hundreds of dollars by using their library, more than a thousand dollars over the past year, and more than seven thousand since they began using the library.

The receiptĀ shows that the user in question supposedly saved thousands of dollars by going to the public library instead of the bookstore.

What message does this monetary value, printed on a library receipt, send out? Does it help or hinder attempts to show communities the wider value of library service?

Would a user who borrowed all those books really have spent all that money, and bought them all, if the library didn’t have them, or the library didn’t exist?

Do people make decisions & commitments about what to borrow in the same way that they do about what to buy?

The value is based on a hypothetical: what you would have had to pay, if the library didn’t exist, and you chose to buy all of those items instead of loaning them…so what is it evidence of exactly?

Dollar values speak to many people in an uncomplicated way, especially in times of austerity or economic difficulty, but what message are these numbers sending? Are public libraries only about transactions and items on shelves?

What other information could libraries be printing on library receipts instead of the retail value of books borrowed? What would be gained, and what would be lost?