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 receipt 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?

The Library as Value-Creating System

Here are a few thoughts on how we might apply the Value-Creating System (VCS) approach – which focusses on relationships as much as transactions or products, emphasises collaboration as much as competition, and incorporates values other than the financial – to public libraries.

Box full of colourful characters and figures with placards labelled "Library of the Future - Some assembly required

What Does a Library Do, Anyway?

It can be hard to define a library’s purpose these days.

This is more of a problem for public libraries than for other institutions. Universities and colleges have well-articulated information needs, as do hospitals, courts, and other government bodies, or large enterprises which employ librarians of their own. Libraries within these organisations serve the information needs of a specified group, and often those needs and services are pretty well defined too.

Public libraries, however, struggle more with self-definition. They provide a wide and varied range of services, plus the communities they serve are often more diverse and less tightly defined. Some corners of Libraryland have been talking about this online for a while. Read more

Summer Learning: Getting Your Head Around Value-Creating Systems

In the spirit of showing your working in the margins of your exercise book, I’m sharing notes & thoughts from one of my summer reads – Rafael Ramírez and Ulf Mannervik’s Strategy for a Networked World.

Cover of Rafael Ramírez and Ulf Mannervik, Strategy for a Networked World

This book sets out the latest version of a strategic approach called Value-Creating Systems (VCS). The late Richard Normann and his colleagues first developed VCS over 20 years ago. Its focus on relationships and connections, exploring collaboration as well as competition in business environments, seems ever more relevant in our increasingly networked world.

As people go on summer holidays and the pace of work in the northern hemisphere slows a little, it’s a great time to read, learn, and grow. I thought I’d be honest and share a bit of my work as I get my head around a concept in strategic thinking which is also relatively new to me.

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