Libraries Matter

Impact of Public Libraries on Central New York communities

Chau Pham

Department of Computer Science

William Cipolli

Department of Mathematics

Joshua Finnell

University Libraries


Public libraries are a wholesome source of entertainment and an integral factor in improving community literacy. They enrich people's lives with huge book collections, unlimited Internet access, support for research, and programming. Understanding the use of these services can guide the growth of our community in Central New York. With the assistance of exploratory data analysis and visualization, we demonstrate the impacts of public libraries, highlighting their economic and educational values.


This project uses the BiblioConnect dataset, which features 49 public libraries in 5 Central New York counties: Cayuga, Cortland, Madison, Onondaga, Oswego. Metrics in this dataset span over 3 main categories: Borrower/Circulation, Program Number/Attendance, Funding/Value. Below is a table listing the metrics for each category.

# Borrower/Circulation Program Number/Attendance Funding/Value
1 Average and Total Attendance per Children’s Program Session Total Circulation Operating Fund Balance (Fiscal Year Beginning)
2 Average and Total Attendance per Young Adult’s Program Session Children’s Circulation Total Capital Income
3 Number of Children’s and Young Adult's Programs Sessions Total Circulation of Children’s Books Total Federal Aid
4 Number of Registered Borrowers (total & per capita) Total Circulation of Adults’ Books Total Local Public Sources

Economic Values

Public libraries are known for their vast offerings of intellectual resources and personal development opportunities. However, funding for public libraries remains a challenge. According to a 2019 report by the New York Library Association, the New York State Legislature has proposed cuts to the State Library Aid program for nine consecutive years. While this attempt has been futile, it shows that the government views public libraries funding as an expense rather than an investment. Therefore, libraries have felt the need to demonstrate their values through quantifiable measures that link them to social and economic prosperity.

Among all the ways to measure a library’s service values, return-on-investment (ROI) proves to be an effective method. By definition, ROI allows us to evaluate the efficiency of an investment in a particular asset. In this topic, ROI calculators will return dollar value estimates of circulation and program services of a library.

For my research, I use the calculator provided by the Massachusetts Library Association on two metrics: circulation and programming. These two metrics best represent the human and social capital values that the libraries offer. By reading books and attending educational programs, citizens may broaden their knowledge and hone their vocational skills, which is crucial to the social and economic advancement of a community. Along with the “Total Capital Income” metric, ROI calculations represent the libraries’ values. On the other hand, “Total Federal Aid” and “Total Public Sources” demonstrate the investment value in the libraries.

What does this mean?

For every county in Central New York, the generated value is significantly higher than the funding of public libraries. For instance, in 2018, libraries in Onondaga generated $742,282, nearly three times higher than their funding ($258,505). This means that for every dollar of taxpayer money, libraries offer services that are worth as high as $3. For some other counties, the value-investment ratio can be as high as 7 to 1. In 2014, Cortland county’s public library value ($707,303) was almost seven times higher than its funding ($97,406). We can conclude that libraries offer services at a much higher value than the budget they receive.

On the other hand, when it comes to statistics in each funding/value category, there is no consistent trend. For all counties, while the funding values remained stable, the generated values fluctuated slightly: it went down slowly from 2014 to 2016, picked up again in 2017, and then decreased at the end. The same pattern applied to every county, except for Madison county where the funding values recorded a downward trend. The highest generated value was recorded in Onondaga at almost $3 million.

When we break library funding down to public sources and federal aid, we can easily see a wide discrepancy between these two categories (federal aid is mostly $0). The same pattern can be observed in the two metrics of the generated value category, with return-on-investment value significantly higher than capital income. For instance, in Oswego in 2018, while the federal aid is $0, the public sources are $258,505. Similarly, while the capital income is only $8,413, the return-on-investment is $733,869. Therefore, public sources and return-on-investment are the two main factors in the funding and generated value category.

The apparent discrepancy between funding and generated values has successfully demonstrated the value of library services. Not only are public libraries worth US taxpayer money, but they also make a major contribution to their communities. Their value is not strictly financial - they offer our community knowledge and resources regardless of socio-economic status. Therefore, libraries are a sound community investment instead of a financial burden on taxpayers or government budgets.

Educational Values

Public libraries are an integral part of literacy development and educational growth. People turn to libraries for their curated collections of books, as well as for a quiet environment conducive to study. For children and young adults, libraries also have many programs that aim to promote school readiness and educational development. Perhaps most importantly, libraries offer an environment filled with books, where children can have early literary experiences and thus develop their desire to read. Library programs also offer children a reader community, where they can discuss reading progress with their peers. Additionally, parents who actively bring their children to these programs are more likely to be strongly invested in their children’s educational achievements.

3rd grade ELA scores and high school graduation are two most critical milestones in a child’s educational development progress. For this topic, I explore the impact of library programming and circulation on children’s ELA passing rate and high school education attainment. The program attendance and circulation metrics are available in the BiblioConnect dataset. The ELA passing rates and high school graduation rates are available in the New York State Education Department (NYSED) website. The passing rate is the percentage of students who achieve level 2 (proficient) and above in the exam. The correlation between library usage and education outcome category is demonstrated with Kendall’s tau-b values. The value of the correlation coefficient varies between -1 and 1. When the value is at -1 or 1, there is a perfect degree of association between the two variables. The correlation weakens as the tau value comes closer to 0. In general, the correlation strength can be interpreted using the following guideline:

  • 1.0 to -0.7 strong negative association
  • -0.7 to -0.5 moderate negative association
  • -0.5 to -0.3 weak negative association
  • -0.3 to +0.3 little or no association
  • +0.3 to +0.5 weak positive association
  • +0.5 to +0.7 moderate positive association
  • +0.7 to +1.0 strong positive association

  • ELA passing rate vs circulation and program attendance rate

    What does this mean?

    All counties in Central New York share a common trend. While the circulation and program attendance rate remained relatively flat throughout the 5-year period, the ELA passing rate experienced an upward trend until 2017, at which point it decreased significantly. In general, the passing rate stayed within the 50% to 80% range.

    The correlation between ELA passing rate and circulation rate is relatively weak for all counties, with Cortland and Oswego having a negative correlation. The highest tau value is at 0.3162278 for Cayuga. On the other hand, the correlation between ELA passing rate and program attendance rate is moderately high, with tau values for all counties averaging at about 0.5.

    In general, a high correlation between ELA passing rate and library usage means that these library services have a positive impact on children’s reading skill development. By third grade, a child should be ready to use their reading skills as a learning tool. Children still struggling to read at this point may experience difficulty to keep up in classes later in the future. Therefore, library services can provide support for children regardless of background to make sure that every child receives the education they need.

    High school graduation rate vs circulation and program attendance rate

    What does this mean?

    All counties in Central New York experienced a relatively stable trend when it comes to high school graduation rates. The graduation rate remained within the 70%-90% range. The correlation between circulation and graduation rate fluctuated from county to county, with the highest tau value at 0.6708204 in Cayuga and lowest at -0.316528 in Madison. On the other hand, the correlation between program attendance and the graduation rate is positive for all counties, with the exception of Madison and Onondaga (no correlation). In general, a high correlation between high school graduation and library usage means that these library services have a positive impact on children’s reading skill development.

    In today’s world, a high school diploma is a minimum requirement for many job opportunities. People who have at least a high school diploma have higher-paid jobs than those who don’t. In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that people with less than a high school diploma have a median weekly earnings of $592 and this group bears an unemployment rate of 5.4%. By comparison, people with a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $746 and an unemployment rate of 3.7%. Educated people can adapt better to a changing economy and constant technological developments.

    Future Work

    Correlation between housing values and library location

    Hypothesis: The nearer a house is to a public library, the higher its value is.

    Current progress: A two-layer filled map. The density colors represent the median housing values for each Census tract. The points indicate the location of the libraries.


  • The ACS record features housing values are calculated from self-reported estimates of occupied units and vacant units on the market. Therefore, estimates may become less reliable in a fluctuating or falling housing market.
  • Median housing values may not be reliable if there is a large discrepancy in housing prices within an individual Census tract.
  • The correlation between housing prices and library locations is not clear in the map.

  • References

    1. "Library Value Calculator", American Library Association, November 12, 2018. (Accessed July 24, 2020) Document ID: 8c24c18c-e44d-6624-91c9-946b441984b3

    2. “NYS FY19-20 Budget Flat-Funds Library Aid, Rolls-Back Library Construction Aid.” NYLA. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    3. “Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD) Overview (Historical/For Reference Only).” Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    4. “Economy & Arts.” CNY Vitals. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    5. “Education.” CNY Vitals. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    6. Skurla, James A, Jean Jacobson, Josh Jaeschke, and Jenna Jacobson. Minnesota Public Libraries' Return on Investment. University of Minnesota Duluth, January 1, 1970.

    7. “Impact on Literacy and Education.” Impact on Literacy and Education | Libraries Matter. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    8. Kagan, Oleg. “The Return-On-Investment from Your Public Library Is Unbelievable!” Medium. EveryLibrary, July 17, 2018.

    9. “Demonstrating the Library's ROI.” Public Libraries Online Demonstrating the Librarys ROI Comments. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    10. U.S. Census Bureau (2018). Value American Community Survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from

    11. Bureau, US Census. “County Population Totals: 2010-2019.” The United States Census Bureau, June 22, 2020.

    12. U.S. Census Bureau (2018). Educational Attainment for the Population 25 Years and Over American Community Survey 1-year estimates. Retrieved from

    13. “2018-19.” Accessed July 27, 2020.

    14. Katherine Lewin July 7, Leah Cantor July 25 at 4:00 PM, and Julia Goldberg July 24 at 3:30 PM. “'The Library Isn't Just About Books'.” Santa Fe Reporter. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    15. Cabello, Marcela, and Stuart M Butler. “How Public Libraries Help Build Healthy Communities,” March 30, 2017.

    16. “Library Funding Map.” EveryLibrary Institute. Accessed July 27, 2020.

    Special thanks to Colgate University's Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics for sponsoring this project