Economic Value of the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Free Library of Philadelphia traditionally tracks performance measures in five categories, covering 30 performance indicators, from the number of hours all branches are open to the number of programs serving children. While these measures go part of the way in demonstrating the Library’s active role in the lives of Philadelphians, the Library recognized that there are other, untold stories that require a different set of data and measures and that would help the Library demonstrate the vital role it plays for residents, the regional economy, and Philadelphia’s cultural and civic life.

Thus, in the summer of 2010, the Library began work with the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government to conduct an economic impact study that quantified its contribution to the regional economy. In other words, the Library wanted answers to the question: What is the Library worth to the citizens of Philadelphia?

A traditional economic impact/economic value assessment of the Library was part of the answer to this question. However, in order to really answer the question “what’s the Library worth,” the team at Fels looked at the Library’s value in relation to the experiences that people have with the Library and the reasons they use it. In other words, the “value” question has to be answered in the context of Library usage. What’s the value of the Library to job seekers? To business owners? To parents of school children? Measuring the value of the Library in the context of the Library’s mission and the ways it adds value to people’s lives was intended to make the economic impact and value story easier to understand and more meaningful.

Using circulation data, in-depth customer interviews, online and hard copy surveys, and field research, the team at Fels assessed the Library in four areas: Literacy, Workforce Development, Business Development, and Value to Homes and Neighborhoods. Their findings, detailed in the PDF of the study below, show that the Free Library provided millions of dollars in economic impact to the City of Philadelphia in FY 2010.

Download the Fels Study: Economic Value of the Free Library of Philadelphia