Why it’s time to invest in Manitou’s public library

*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on January 10, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below, as well as the text of the essay.

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Over the past few months, as some readers will know, I’ve written a lot about why it’s time to fix the library in Manitou Springs. To be blunt, our library is far too small for a community that has more than tripled in size since it opened its doors, and it is the only library left in the Pikes Peak region that is not accessible to the disabled.

In the course of researching, I stumbled on the American Library Association’s “Library Value Calculator” (www.ala.org/advocacy/library-value-calculator). This tool helps users place an estimated value on everything checked out at the library, from books ($17) to DVDs ($4) to music downloaded ($1). Librarians being librarians, of course, the Calculator includes an explanationguide that explains how they arrived at those estimates.

It makes sense that when someone checks out a book or a DVD, or downloads an audio file—that was worth something to them. It had value. Because otherwise they’d have had to buy that book or DVD or download. Instead, as long as they promise to return the borrowed material in largely the same condition—they can have it “free” for a while.

While interesting for estimating the value of a single person’s checkouts, this tool provides an even more important view: We can use it to see how much value our library contributes to Manitou Springs.

Using data obtained from the Pikes Peak Library District on checkouts at the Manitou Springs Public Library in 2017 (the last complete year available as of this writing), I found that the total value of checkouts was a minimum of $882,733.65.

I write “minimum” because that figure represents only the tangible stuff that we can count. It completely excludes a whole lot of other important bits of value the library routinely provides: Wi-Fi use, newspaper and magazine reading (read but unchecked out), skimmed books, quiet study sessions, or the simple benefit of a public place to go to gather with other community-members and sit and enjoy another person’s company out of the cold.

OK, so that $882,733.65 is the total value we can measure. Now let’s factor in the inputs. The people of Manitou Springs paid $289,828in taxes to support the library in 2017.

We can deduct these taxes from the total community value ($882,733.65 – $289,828.00) to get a net community value of $592,905.65. In business-speak, that’s “profit.” And by dividing the total value by taxes paid ($882,733.65 ÷ $289,828.00) we can see the public’s return on investment is $3.05 for every dollar that went to support the library, a tremendous upside.

Then, we can bring in the door count to measure individual value. In 2017, 50,102 patrons entered our library’s doors. By dividing the net community value by the door count ($592,905.65 ÷ 50,102) we can see that every person who walked through the library’s doors in 2017 earned an average of at least $11.83, after taxes!

Where does all this math leave us? Simply put, it tells two truths. First, the Manitou Springs Public Library is the community’s top value-creator. It’s a winner as a “business,” because for every $1 you spend you generate more than $3 in value. It’s a winner to “consumers,” because what other place can you go that will essentially hand you 12 bucks for simply walking in the front door?

Second, this math shows us there’s a lot of growth potential here. Just think how many elderly and disabled don’t go to the library now—which certainly holds down the library’s value to the community. Or the fact that there is no dedicated community meeting space at the library—which certainly holds down the library’s value to the community. And there are less than half the number of computers at the Manitou library right now than there would be in an appropriately-sized library—again, which certainly holds down the library’s value to the community.

It’s time to invest in the library. It’s already valuable, but its value would increase considerably with a modest investment that benefits Manitou today and for all the tomorrows to come.

Which is why I’d like to cordially invite all those interested in supporting this investment in the library’s expansion to attend a short community gathering on February 13, 2019, from 5-6pm, at the Community Congregational Church of Manitou Springs, 103 Pawnee Avenue. See you there!

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