Libraries and the local economy

By Sue Hallett, President of Friends of Whitman County Library

When it comes time to advocate for libraries with those who make decisions about public funds, we tend to tell stories about all the ways that libraries change lives. But another way to talk about libraries is to discuss the communityís return on investment (ROI) in them.

One study from Carnegie Mellon University found that, for every public dollar invested in a library, four dollars return to the local community. I know that, for myself, after I stop by my library, I generally spend money around town, buying gas, picking up groceries, maybe swinging by the hardware store. Multiply my library visits by the Colfax Libraryís usage statistics of 120,000 annual visitors and you get the idea. Thatís right, a whopping $480,000 per year ROI in Colfax alone.

Even if you personally never enter a library, you are benefiting from the economic activity it generates.

Wait, you say, you would have spent the same amount of money locally, whether or not the library existed, but thatís not the case. We are a mobile society and we donít have to stay in our hometown to buy things or eat out. My local library is constantly hosting all sorts of classes, entertainment, and community events. I stay closer to home, as does my economic activity, because of my library.

In addition to stimulating the local economy, libraries are cheap to run. Our library operates 14 part-time branches throughout a rural landscape larger than the state of Delaware for less than it costs to build a half-mile of county road. I paid just $67.94 this year in property taxes to support my local library along with microscopic percentages of my state and federal taxes that went to libraries.

For a slice of the public pie no wider than an eyelash, libraries change individual lives and improve local economies. Make sure that decision-makers keep these facts in mind when drawing up budgets.

For a complete list of events and programs happening in all fourteen Whitman County Library branches, visit the Whitman County Library website or our Blog at, the library's events calendar, Facebook, Twitter,  or call the library at 397-4366 or 877-733-3375 toll-free.