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Assessing the social impact of public libraries: what the literature is saying.

Research reports on assessments of the social impact of public libraries over the past decade have revealed commonalities in both methods and findings despite differences in definition, motivation and population. Overwhelmingly positive results provide evidence to support longheld judgments that public libraries have wide ranging positive social impacts upon the communities they serve. This article derives from an assignment for Charles Sturt University's Master of Applied Science (Library and Information Management)

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The library community has engaged in many forms of evaluation or assessment. One pursued more recently is that of assessing the social impact of the library. In contrast to measuring outputs (services provided and attributes of the services) this represents a movement in the literature towards the investigation of the outcomes (consequences of service use) of library services. It is the relationship between the use of a service and the outcome of that use that defines the impact of the service. (1) Outcomes based research brings to the fore the impacts, the human experience of library use, and gives value to these experiences.

This review aims to identify what research has been conducted to assess the social impact of public libraries, in particular. The concepts and tools used in recent attempts to gauge the social impact of public libraries will be reviewed and themes and consistencies that might run through the various studies will be highlighted. This will result in a body of knowledge and tested methodologies on which library managers may draw when measuring the social impact of a public library upon the community it serves.

The literature selected for review consists largely of recent reports of primary research findings. Other work utilised in the introductory phase of this report is theoretical library literature and publications collating some of the research literature.

Background

General literature on the social impact of public libraries

An overview of the social impact of the British public library shows that libraries were originally required to have an impact. Public libraries were to divert behaviour from socially destructive activities and expose the populace to literature and acceptable recreation. (2) Today, the UK Library and Information Commission illustrates the need to document the continuing impact of libraries by establishing and funding a research program investigating Value and impact. (3) Likewise the Library Action Council of the Book and Periodical Council, Canada, sought to produce a reference tool for those advocating for public library services. The resultant publication, Dividends: the value of public libraries in Canada (4) (published in Aplis 12(1) March 1999 p4-24 ed), documents the wide body of expert opinion and published statistics which substantiate the social and economic dividends derived from investing in public libraries.

Kerslake and Kinnell (5) have also undertaken a literature review of the social impact of public libraries. They concentrated on the opinion leaders, research into specific impacts and on theoretical work, and detected a solid body of literature supporting the existence of wide ranging social impacts from public library services. In the US, the Benton Foundation (6) conducted national research to determine the amount of public support for libraries, revealing `the public stands behind libraries'. In Australia there has been a dearth of study into the social value/impact of public libraries according to Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan. (7) Although Navigating the economy of knowledge (8) was a recent valuable and indepth Australian investigation into the socioeconomic and attitudinal profile of users and nonusers of state and public libraries, it did not directly address the impact of their use. Black and Crann maintain that individual public library services have tended to assess user satisfaction rather than `highly textured issues like the social and economic impact of public libraries'. (9)

Outputs versus outcomes assessment and public libraries

All publications reviewed here express a commitment to the emergence of outcomes assessment. However it will be seen that output data also remain important in social impact assessment.

Call for outcomes assessment

Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan, as recently as 1996, indicated that their reading had led them to the conclusion that `supposition and philosophising' stills fills library literature regarding social value rather than `data collection and rigorous analysis'. (10) Matarasso concurred with Roach and Morrison that the need exists to `demonstrate rather than assume' that the public library is culturally significant using `more effective and meaningful methods of monitoring, assessing and reporting on their wider social value to society'. (11)

A common cry at the moment in library science is that output measurements are not enough. Quantitative assessments do not tell us all we need to know about the social function public libraries perform, agree Kerslake and Kinnell. (12) Outputs have been described as `crude instrumentalism'. (13) What is required is `to raise the level of discourse from the enumeration of its outputs to the documentation of its roles in the community'. (14)

Descriptions of perceptions and experience best indicate impact according to Usherwood. (15) `Soft' as well as `hard' data should be the concern of researchers. The need has arisen to design performance assessment that is `meaningful to the user' rather than only based upon the of the organisation or its funding body. (16)

In the British study into the future of the public library, Borrowed time?, it is asserted that performance indicators cannot measure the quality of the relationship between a library, its users and its community. Qualitative aspects of library service provision would better indicate this. (17)

Combined output/outcome assessment

By including both outputs and outcomes in a study recently completed in the US, Lance, Logan and Rodney (18) concur with Matarasso (19) in that a service has to be used to have a `measurable impact'.

Cram (20) comments on the popular view of outcomes as intangible benefits, but suggests that the intangible nature is used as an excuse for not measuring them. She takes the view that outcomes are outputs that are difficult and expensive to assess but the both need recording. Holt, Elliot and Moore, (21) for example, do manage to put a dollar value on `direct benefits' but are unable to do so with `indirect benefits' such as community building.

Bundy considers there is a dire need for quantitative and qualitative data to illustrate the value of libraries to the community. Hennen, however, the author of Hennen's American Public Library Rating Index (22) is reported by Bundy as contending that qualitative standards are `loosely defined' and `have little value in the political bargaining arena'. Bundy supports the calls of Hennen for statistics collection but acknowledges that libraries serve people and their needs. He insists that data can be sought which reflect the multifaceted work done in libraries. He calls for the right statistics to be collected, ones that will relate directly to library objectives. (23) Proctor, Lee and Reilly used both qualitative and quantitative tools to gain the `richest picture of the impact'. (24) Buckley (25) is of the same mind in that quantitative data assists in standardisation but cannot paint the full picture. Actual experiences, the value of experiences, benefits, and behavioural impacts--outcomes--need systematic assessment as well. She maintains that assessment of the social impact of services, as a whole, together with quantitative data on outputs, will result in individual libraries being able to make `informed value judgements about its service provision'. (26)

Griffiths and King (27) explain how economists distinguish between the `value' (the amount paid) and the `worth' (what is gained) of goods and services. Thus the value and worth of a service cannot be assumed to be equal. For this reason Griffiths and King support the need for evidence of both the value and the worth of library services, where worth is measured in terms of outcomes.

If assessment is to capture a more complete picture of the social impact of public libraries, as is indicated consistently above, how should this be achieved? By integrating the available reports of social impact assessment, the various definitions of `social impact' will be outlined, key motivations for conducting such assessments will be synthesised and the methods used analysed. From this process a picture of the various assessment procedures used will be revealed and some direction for future assessments of the social impact of public libraries may result.

Definitions of social impact

Properly, this review should focus on the specific concept of `social impact'. However the literature is recent and numerically modest. As a result, research has been included that addresses social benefit, social capital and social value as well as social impact. Although these appear to be narrower terms than social impact, in many documents reviewed here they are used interchangeably. Even though it is more narrowly focused than the other, the report on public libraries and social capital, A safe place to go' (28) is included because it is Australian, recent, and therefore of special interest.

The studies reviewed are analysed below according to the primary definition of `social impact' expressed in the report. This reveals two approaches to defining social impact. Whist the first group investigates any `effects', `experience' or `difference', the other looks for positive impacts only.

Neutral outcome

Kerslake and Kinnell define social impact as `the meaning of the public library to the communities in which they work'. (29) There is no positive or negative slant. They outline two levels of social impacts

* the immediate level--skills in the labour market and society, community development

* the cumulative--the extension of social inclusiveness and citizenship which result from the type of activity that occurs in public libraries

Their breakdown takes a more positive view of social impact. However this is primarily in the examples they use rather than the detection of levels.

Borrowed time? (30) examines the `spheres of influence' in which public libraries impact. Matarasso's view is that impacts are not equivalent to benefits. (31) Impacts may be a benefit or a cost and can be evidenced by people's views of what has happened to them or to others, and concrete outcomes. The impacts may apply to individuals or groups. Black and Crann (32) aim to assess what the public library `means' to the general public. Lance, Logan and Rodney (33) investigate the `difference' the library visit makes to various aspects of life. Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk (34) examined the `effect' on user behaviour due to the lack of library services as did Proctor, Lee and Reilly (35) in their study of opening hours reductions and closures. Linley and Usherwood (36) audit libraries to determine if services are meeting the social objectives of the library. They do this by describing outcomes--`actual experience' and `the value placed by society on an activity'. To gauge impact Vavrek (37) asks questions in his survey that focus mainly on quality of life and the library's `influence' on it.

These definitions take into account the reality that the public library can have many meanings for individuals in a community. It can represent a range of things, from another drain on the community purse to that of a central support in the daily life of individuals and communities.

Social capital

The Australian study A safe place to go investigates public libraries and `social capital' but did not focus on impacts or benefits as such. Social capital accumulates as a byproduct of interactions, which result in a sense that a service/institution enhances functioning within the wider society. This study asks about `perceptions', `interactions' and `experiences' in the library. After the assessment of the types of impacts that flow from the public library, it was then determined if they are the type of impact that contributes to building `social capital'. (38) The research is not asking specifically about benefits even though the building of social capital would indeed be a benefit.

In all of these studies there was no expectation of positive or negative impacts to unduly influence the study.

Positive outcome--benefit/value

Benefit

The emphasis in the following reports is on positive benefit rather than neutral impact.

Harris set out to develop a method to demonstrate `the social benefit of public libraries from a community development perspective'. (39) McClure and Bertot (40) consistently use the phrase `benefit or impact'. In the explanation of the study's purpose and objectives it is stated that the study will provide information `describing the impacts or benefits resulting'. They go on to list the objectives more specifically, including to `Understand how use of the public library is valuable and beneficial to these users'. `Significant user benefits and impacts' that `from the users' perspective (their italics) markedly improved their personal, educational, economic, or other key aspect of their lives', were recorded in the librarian service logs. (41) The project was seeking positive outcomes exclusively.

The library's contribution to your community manual (available from Auslib Press ed) also emphasises benefits although the title specifies a more impartial term, `contribution'. It assesses social/personal and economic impacts but the impacts are indicated by `benefit measures'. These measures assist library managers to demonstrate the impact of their library in the community, referred to as the `benefit approach'. (42)

Fitch and Warner (43) search the literature for positive impacts, to arm the Canadian library community with proof of dividends or benefit.

Value

The concept of value was used much more loosely in the studies reviewed here, than the economists' definition alluded to earlier. The Lane Cove research (44) focused on `social value'. This research sought to assess the library's perceived influence. However the data collection tools did ask directly for benefits and prompted for positive contributions by the library to quality of life and equity.

The dominant definition of impact, then, has been one of meaning, difference, experience and influence. Impartial definitions such as these may drive assessment tools in a more neutral path. It must be acknowledged, though, that significant research has been conducted specifically with regard to benefits--positive impacts--only. These studies may unduly influence the data collected and neglect opportunities for discussion of negative or neutral impacts.

Motivations for assessing the social impact of public libraries

Augment or justify resources

Combined with some other research interests the need to secure or improve funding is a common thread through most of the research reviewed. The resourcing issue overtly motivates some studies. In Pennsylvania, McClure and Bertot (45) acknowledge the need to justify existing and future expenditures so as to improve overall public library services in the state. Likewise, The library's contribution to your community is a manual to assist public libraries to `secure resources from municipal funders'. (46)

Others include resources as one motivating issue. A safe place to go (47) recognises that libraries are `under pressure' to respond to economic measures and that `issues of the significance of social relationships have slipped from public agendas'. The authors hope that their findings may distract decision makers away from purely numerical facts increasing their interest in the importance of public libraries in social relationships. The Counting on results study (48) is partially aimed at providing public library decision makers with use and impact data to justify budgets and allocate resources. In their social audit of public libraries Usherwood and Linley (49) confirm that as one element of the social impact research program through the British Library, the report's rationale was in part to demonstrate that public libraries are `value for money'. The impact of funding cut backs was the concern of Proctor, Lee and Reilly (50) indicating the usefulness of such a report in the funding wrangle.

It seems strange, and Kerslake and Kinnell (51) concur that, with a longstanding requirement for public libraries to have an impact upon society, attempts to actually assess this impact are only recently emerging. They, too, list funding as a major area of concern, which is driving this development in research.

Improvements in public library services

Black and Crann's investigation (52) was funded through the Library and Information Commission under the Public Libraries Research Program, which has as one of its aims `service improvement' as well as research into the impact of libraries in the community. (53) The mass observation project in particular hoped to deepen public library policy makers' understanding of where the public library stands in the public eye. (54) In the same way Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk (55) wanted to inform library managers and professionals by increasing their knowledge of user characteristics, behaviour, needs and attitudes towards the public library. Fitch and Warner (56) also hoped to develop a reference tool for the use of those advocating and planning for strong public libraries. Usherwood, in his 1999 article on value and impact studies, maintains that the interest in this research is driven by an increasing emphasis on organisational quality, standards and accountability. (57)

Holistic Social approach to library assessments

Linley and Usherwood (58) aim to analyse public libraries from inputs to outcomes in order to provide decision makers and library professionals with information that demonstrates that the aspirations of the public library system are indeed fulfilled. Related to this new view of organisations, the research into `Libraries and social capital' (59) was motivated by the fact that little assessment on a holistic basis of what libraries can offer as public institutions has been conducted. The Lane Cove Library administration decided to collect stories on the value of the library, as they also desired a more complete picture of their library. (60)

Harris (61) and the The library's contribution to your community (62) wanted individual libraries to be able to conduct their own assessments beyond the common output based evaluations. Methodological issues also motivated Black and Crann. (63) Shortcomings in the `traditional ways of researching the public library from a user perspective' combined with the desire to generate public commentary on the public library as a whole, resulted in their unique assessment.

The Counting on results project (64) sets as one of its goals the development and demonstration of `collectable service specific output and outcome measures' and tools with which to collect data without imposing a burden upon librarians.

Social changes

Demographic changes and the emerging information society were the other two issues isolated by Kerslake and Kinnell (65) as factors in the rise of assessing the social impact of public libraries. Unemployment, poverty, flexible labour conditions, job insecurity, an aging society, a mobile workforce, a skills deficit and continual skills upgrading all indicate a useful role for educational and cultural resources, such as that provided by public libraries.

The future of public libraries, as a public institution involved in civic life, and the changing social and economic context in which libraries now work, was the motivation for the Comedia study Borrowed time? (66) Although an awareness of the increasing financial and social pressures facing libraries played a motivating role, the research was primarily concerned with assessing what may be offered by libraries in an uncertain future.

Methods used to assess the social impact of public libraries

Conceptual tools

Impact areas

Due to the intangible nature of the concept of social impact, several studies have approached its assessment, using `impact areas' to assist in understanding the whole. Research tools are then focused on these impact areas and participants were given more concrete issues to consider. Results from the assessment of impact areas were then collated to give a picture of social impact as a whole. Matarasso, (67) The library's contribution to your community manual, (68) the Counting on results project (69) and Borrowed time? (70) all approach the topic using this technique. The Lane Cove study also outlined a framework of social value for participants. (71)

Table 1 lists the social impacts (Service responses) outlined in the Counting on results project and those of Matarasso as impact areas. The service responses of the Counting on results project are modelled on a set of services described by public librarians themselves and Matarasso's understanding of social impact is a slightly more creative. Together they provide a comprehensive list of impact areas against which the concepts used by other studies are compared. Where each study includes a similar concept in their outline of impact areas it is asterisked and the coinciding impact area noted.

The point to note from table 1 is the appearance of areas of agreement. Two impact areas--Literacy and Library as place--are included in all outlines of social impact and two others, Economic/Career and General information (including keeping abreast of current topics, current titles, information on topics of interest and lifelong learning) are included in four of the five studies. As well, a correlation seems to exist between the Counting on results project and The library's contribution to your community manual in its view of impact areas and also among the Lane Cove, Borrowed Time? and Matarasso projects. The later group include big picture impacts, indicating that they may have concentrated on the `cumulative level' of social impact, as described by Kerslake and Kinnell. (72) The first group's impact areas focus mainly on what Kerslake and Kinnell called the `immediate level' of impact. Each is valid in the assessment of social and this distinction may in fact indicate useful structures for future assessments, thus educing information from respondents on one or both of these levels.

Assessment tools

Many studies reviewed combine the use of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. Several research tools, it will be seen, were commonly used, although the populations targeted vary. This, together with the fact that the similarities occurred across several continents indicates some consensus as to appropriate research methods for this area of research.

There are some individual research tools in the British study Borrowed time? (73) that are not included here. Borrowed time? was a large scale study aimed at stimulating national discussion about the function of public libraries and their future. Within it, case studies were undertaken to assess the meaning and influence of the public library to users. Tools used in these case studies are the only tools referred to here. The other undertakings in this project concentrate primarily upon the national library policy and directions.

Questionnaires

Library science students, (74) library staff (78,79) and research staff (75,76,77) administered questionnaires. Also, in The library's contribution to your community manual, (80) sample questionnaires are supplied to assess the impact of the library upon users, business users, the general community, community groups and participants in library programs. Matarasso (81) made limited use of questionnaires where possible with staff and project participants. Questionnaires evidently were readily selected as a tool to assess the social impact of public libraries. Interestingly the Counting on results project (82) also attempted to utilise the internet to administer questionnaires, with responses submitted online via participating library web pages.

Interviews

Interviews were used for a variety of purposes in the research reviewed here. They were conducted to ensure the inclusion of the experience of specific social groups, (83) library staff and local council representatives. (84,85,86) Key informants, those who can describe with expertise and credibility specific social impacts delivered by a library, were the target groups suggested for interviews in the manual produced for the Southern Ontario Library Service. (87)

Interviews were the primary research tool in Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk's library strike study (88) and one of two major tools used by Proctor, Lee and Reilly (89) in the study of library closures. In both these studies they were used to record user experiences. Matarasso (90) used interviews for most data collection in his assessment of particular library projects, focusing on staff and other stakeholders.

Focus groups

Focus groups allow for a large number of participants to have input, yet consider their initial responses after hearing those of others. Scripts are devised for use in these sessions to ensure consistency.

Harris (91) sees the only possibility for progress in this area is to develop a process that can be universally applicable so that public libraries can assess their own social benefit to their community. He chose to use discussion meetings as his main research tool as did Linley and Usherwood (92) and Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan. (93)

All use of focus groups included groups of library users. Some also included groups containing
 Nonusers (Harris (94) Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan (95) Linley and
 Usherwood (96)) Specific social groups (Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan (97)
 Linley and Usherwood (98)) Library and local authority staff (Briggs,
 Guldberg and Sivaciyan (99) McClure and Bertot (100) Linley and Usherwood
 (101) Comedia (102))


The favouring of focus groups in this research area is due to their usefulness in obtaining rich data following the discussion of opinions and experiences. The result is a collection of `impact statements' illustrating a point that may have been made several times in a group or reflects the consensus of the group. These statements are included in the text of a report to give substance to the results.

Observation

Observation was a significant element of several methodologies. Observations were used to record impressions of impacts such as in the critical incident logs devised by McClure and Bertot (103) and the researcher recorded observations in A safe place to go. (104) In addition, observation is used to chronicle use data and use patterns. (105,106) Observation was used in combination with other research tools in each of these studies.

Mass observation/autobiographical correspondence

Black and Crann's 2000 project was the least directive. It aimed at outlining not so much a measurement of impacts but a commentary on `where the public library stands in the public eye'. The good points, bad points, uses (past and present) of public libraries and the meaning the library holds for the general public were sought. (107)

The research planned by Black and Crann (108) utilises the Mass Observation Archive (University of Sussex) which conducts unobtrusive research into everyday social practices and attitudes. Correspondents respond to `directives' in as little or as much depth as they wish. They report their own views and actions and are also asked to project the image of public libraries from their observations over time and respond to free association tasks. Responses vary in style, from personal diaries to observation, comment and judgement. The result is a combination of questionnaire style and autobiography reflecting the suggested theme.

Output data

The inclusion of output data in social impact research proves useful as a framework within which to consider the qualitative data collected. Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan (109) and Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk (110) complement the qualitative data with detailed analysis of demographic data, library output statistics and local council planning data. Recorded output measures were collected for the Counting on results study, (111) including some user activities and collections usage. The library's contribution to your community manual (112) suggests collecting performance indicators--numerical data describing what services the library provides and how much they are used. When this data is expressed relative to some other measure eg population, one has a benchmark which measures efficiency. Both performance indicators and benchmarks are included in this assessment methodology along with qualitative tools in order to satisfy the information needs of decision makers, who are one of the target groups of the research.

The populations studied ranged from national (Lance, Logan and Rodney (112) Proctor, Lee and Reilly (114) Vavrek (115) Matarasso (116) Black and Crann (117)) to statewide (McClure and Bertot (118) A safe place to go (119)) to a few libraries and their communities (Linley and Usherwood (120) Harris (121)) to an individual library's stakeholder population (Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan (122); The library s contribution to your community manual (123) Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk (124)).

User/nonuser

All projects assessed impacts for library users to some extent. However only half deliberately included nonusers in their study. More were interested in the views of library staff, and almost as many included business representatives specifically as one of the population strata. Immediately some hesitation arises regarding the validity of studies into the social impact of the public library where those who are not library users are excluded. (125) Zadek, cited in Usherwood, (126) maintains that anyone who can affect the organisation should be considered a stakeholder. Given that public libraries are almost totally dependent upon public funding and therefore public goodwill, the views of nonusers would be significant.

Interestingly, though, those who did consult nonusers produced findings as positive as those who did not. Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan (127) noted regret at not consulting nonusers and The library's to your community (128) leaves the inclusion of nonusers to the individual library. The social audit approach (129) is the most purposefully comprehensive in its population base as the basic premise of the method depends upon all stakeholders being involved in the assessment. As well, the purely random selection of respondents employed in the Vavrek (130) survey of adult Americans ensures as broad as possible population base.

Selected groups

Youth, business and community groups were singled out by several studies for their view of the impact of public libraries (Comedia (131) The library's contribution to your community (132) Linley and Usherwood (133) Briggs, Guldberg and Sivaciyan (134)). This indicates that it is acceptable practice to highlight the impact of a library service upon particular user and community groups. With regard to individual library assessments, the inclusion of specific samples such as this is a positive thing. It encourages local application of assessments in a way that suits the unique community structure that each library serves, as in Proctor, Usherwood and Sobczyk (135), as well as capturing general social impacts.

Library staff

Staff members were consulted widely to collect their experiences, impressions and observations of the social impact of the public library. In some studies they were also used to collect data (McClure and Bertot (136) Lance, Logan and Rodney (137)). Heavy reliance on the perceptions of library staff could possibly bring a study's results into doubt as the results could be weighted by the possible bias of staff towards finding positive impacts. Only the Matarasso (138) study does so.

Problems in assessing the social impact of public libraries

Difficulties encountered in assessing the social impact of public libraries include the following

* problems because of unevenness of activities and library size arise when comparing libraries (139)

* library initiatives are often not sustained and good practice often not disseminated (140)

* for many library functions the tools to demonstrate their value are not available (141)

* research needs to be conducted over a longer time frame (142)

* several research tools need to be utilised so as to appeal to as wide a cross section of the population as possible (143) and allow comparison of results for consistency across methods--triangulation (144)

* most people who feel the impacts of public libraries are invisible. Thus much of the impact is `impossible to identify let alone evaluate' (145)

* there can only be an association from the cumulative power of numerous members of the population expressing similar perceptions of service and the conclusion that a social impact exists. A clear causal relationship cannot be established. (146) However Matarasso (147) claims that to deny this cumulative data would be folly

* results are valid for the location/s studied. Generalisations from qualitative data is difficult but `reasonable extrapolation is possible' to similar situations. (148) Matarasso (149) concurs that tangible outcomes are often specific to a community and so are difficult to compare but nevertheless are social impacts

* qualitative data can be difficult and expensive to collect--therefore may be perceived as not cost effective (150)

* it is different, recent and complex research and this adds to the lack of recognition (151)

* with many researchers already focused on quantitative assessment turning the focus to qualitative social impact assessment is difficult (152)

Problems highlighted during the review process include

* the need for sufficient resources to include all stakeholders in a project (153)

* the lack of a clear understanding of `social impact' that can be carried across multiple assessments. With some studies defining social impacts for participants and others not, analysis of the findings is difficult

* in order for these results of these studies to have an impact themselves the findings must be disseminated. Vavrek, (154) the A safe place to go report. (155) Matarasso (156) and The library's contribution to your community (157) all emphasise that unless this issue is discussed and findings such as these made known, research may as well not continue.

Results

Major trends in the assessment of social impact

The major trends detected throughout this review have been the similar choices made in research tools. Focus groups, interviews and questionnaires were used in most studies, with fewer using observation and output data. The fact that similar tools were used across widely different population bases show that with sufficient resources, these tools can be very flexible in their application and they are perceived by researchers as suitable to this area of study. Interestingly, focus groups were not selected in those studies with a national population base. Questionnaires, interviews, observation and output data were utilised across all populations.

It appeared very useful, and indeed popular, to view social impact as a group of preconceived impact areas. Research instruments were then structured around these impact areas. Projects structured in this way seemed more systematic in their data collection. However they also were restricted to producing results, albeit strongly positive, about the public's view of the local library's impact in those areas. Whilst studies such as Black and Crann, (158) A safe place to go, (159) and McClure and Bertot (160) did begin from nonprescriptive positions and resulted in more participant driven descriptions of the social impact of public libraries as a whole.

Most studies aimed at devising methods for assessment at the same time as informing the library community with the results. This may be due to the relative newness of the area of research. Similarly, some hoped to arm libraries with tools for their own assessments. As these techniques are implemented, preferences may arise and some more standardised method/combination of methods for assessing social impact may emerge from among the present selection.

Major social impacts identified

The various research projects described above tend to reach similar conclusions following somewhat different paths. It should be remembered that given the descriptive results that emerge from qualitative research, determining the major impacts identified required comparison of descriptive reports rather than simple comparison of statistics.

Both Harris (161) and The library's contribution to your community (162) concentrated on exploring frameworks for assessing the social and/or economic impact of the local library, rather than actually applying them. Even though case studies utilising the The library's contribution to your community resource exist, (163) and positive results in all areas chosen for study were found, neither of these projects was included in the analysis below. Likewise, the two major literature reviews (164,165) will not be included in the analysis below, as they do not represent original research.

The analysis below shows that

* ten of the fifteen (67%) social impacts identified were reported in four or more of the studies examined

* nine of the eleven projects (82%) had 70% or more of the social impacts they identified also reported by three or more other studies

* seven of the eleven studies (64%) had 100% of the impacts they revealed also reported by three or more other projects

* no project scored below 60% of impacts identified, also detected by three or more other projects

* five out of fifteen social impacts (Community building, Decreasing social isolation, Health and general information, Education and Public space) were reported by 50% or more of the projects

* the aspects of social capital detected in A safe place to go fall in categories among those most frequently reported, indicating that issues that build social capital are both valued and articulated by the stakeholders in the public library community.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Areas for further research

The findings presented here are very comforting but these projects have generated further questions and areas for research refinement. Particular areas for attention are described below.

* rural communities are notably neglected in these studies. Vavrek, (166) McClure and Bertot, (167) Lance, Logan and Rodney (168) and the social capital research (A safe place to go (169) do include rural communities in their populations but do not investigate any rural trends, similarities or differences between city and country. This information would be very useful to numerous rural public libraries and their local authorities as well as the library community as a whole

* the studies indicate some overlap in methodology yet the bibliographies of the major studies indicate a degree of ignorance of the work of researchers from other areas of the world. With greater awareness of other assessment projects, future projects could utilise ideas from the full range of studies undertaken to date. From this, a bank of suitable methods for the assessment of social impact could be developed. Without a cooperative outward looking approach, the building of a body of knowledge on the topic is under threat

* future research should incorporate a variety of tools and approaches (triangulation) in the search for more concrete relationships between public library services and outcomes

* the social impacts outlined above indicate a list of more specific areas for future research. With similar systematic research into these more precise areas of social impact the case for the positive social contribution flowing from public libraries would be well founded and influential in the policy making arena. In the UK David Muddiman (170) has done just this in undertaking to investigate social inclusion/exclusion and public libraries

* the narrowness of the Australian research into this issue is evident. One study is concerned with a single library only and the other has a narrow conceptual basis. This leaves the opening for research into the social impact of public libraries in Australia on a broader scale

* with the general finding that public libraries provide positive social impacts, it may be wise to investigate whether public libraries are funded sufficiently to provide such valuable outcomes on a longterm basis

Conclusion

All studies reveal positive social impacts. Those reporting the findings interpret this as the revelation of previously hidden benefits derived from public library services. These consistent results were obtained from various projects, in various nations, across different research populations, using a range of methodologies. However with only a handful of variously designed studies completed and the focus on benefits only in some of the research projects reviewed, more impartially designed studies may be needed before concluding that such glowing reports are irrefutable.

Although very encouraging, the public library community may now want to consider if it is worthwhile to develop a set of standard approaches to the assessment of social impacts or whether research will continue in an uncoordinated way. It appears that projects based on neutral concepts of social impact which

* combine research tools where impact areas are defined with those that do not define the concept

* utilise a variety of research instruments

* consult all stakeholders

may reflect a more complete picture of the social impact of public libraries.
Table 1 Comparison of conceptual outlines of social impact

IMPACT AREA PROJECT

 LIBRARY'S LANCE, LOGAN BORROWED
 CONTRIBUTION AND RODNEY TIME?
 MANUAL

 * * *
 BASIC PART OF PART OF
 LITERACY PERSONAL EDUCATION
 GROWTH

 * * *
 BUSINESS/ PART OF PART OF
 CAREER ECONOMIC & ECONOMIC
 PERSONAL IMPACT
 GROWTH

 * * *
 LIBRARY AS PART OF PART OF PART OF SOCIAL
 PLACE COMMUNITY COMMONS/ POLICY
 DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
 INFORMATION

 * *
 INFO PART OF
 LITERACY INFORMATION

 *
LOCAL HIST/
 GENEALOGY

 * * *
 GENERAL PART OF PART OF
 INFO PERSONAL INFORMATION
 GROWTH/SUPPORT
 TO COMMUNITY

 *
EMPOWERMENT PART OF SOCIAL
 POLICY

 *
 HEALTH & PART OF
 WELL CULTURAL
 BEING ENRICHMENT

 *
 PERSONAL PART OF
DEVELOPMENT PERSONAL
 GROWTH/SUPPORT
 TO COMMUNITY

 *
 SOCIAL PART OF
 COHESION SOCIAL POLICY

IMAGINATION/
 CREATIVITY

IMPACT AREA PROJECT

 BRIGGS, MATARASSO
 GULDBERG & (BEYOND
 SIVACIYAN BOOK ISSUES)

 * *
 BASIC PART OF PART OF
 LITERACY QUALITY OF PERSONAL
 LIFE DEVELOPME
 NT

 *
 BUSINESS/ PART OF
 CAREER PERSONAL
 DEVELOPME
 NT

 * *
 LIBRARY AS PART OF A PART OF
 PLACE COMMUNITY LOCAL
 FOCUS/PLACE IDENTITY

 INFO
 LITERACY

 *
LOCAL HIST/ PART OF
 GENEALOGY LOCAL
 CULTURE

 *
 GENERAL PART OF
 INFO ACCESS TO
 INFORMATION

 * *
EMPOWERMENT PART OF
 EQUITY AND
 SOCIAL
 JUSTICE

 * *
 HEALTH & PART OF
 WELL QUALITY OF
 BEING LIFE

 *
 PERSONAL
DEVELOPMENT

 *
 SOCIAL
 COHESION

 *
IMAGINATION/
 CREATIVITY
TABLE 2 MAJOR SOCIAL IMPACTS OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES IDENTIFIED

 SOCIAL IMPACTS IDENTIFIED

Research Information Local Develop Support
Project literacy history/ IT democracy
Authors genealogy skills

Vavrek 2000

Proctor,
Usherwood &
Sobczyk 1996

Proctor, Lee &
Reilly 1998

Black & Crann
2000

McClure & * *
Bertot 1998

Borrowed
time? 1993

Matarasso
1998

Lance, Logan * *
& Rodney
2001

Safe place to
go 2000

Linley &
Usherwood
1998

Briggs,
Guldberg &
Sivaciyan
1996

Number 1 1 1 1
(Percentage) (9%) (9%) (9%) (9%)
of projects
identifying

Research Culture Increased Equity/ Personal
Project & quality Free development
Authors arts of life access

Vavrek 2000 * * *

Proctor, *
Usherwood &
Sobczyk 1996

Proctor, Lee & * *
Reilly 1998

Black & Crann *
2000

McClure & * *
Bertot 1998

Borrowed *
time? 1993

Matarasso *
1998

Lance, Logan
& Rodney
2001

Safe place to
go 2000

Linley & * *
Usherwood
1998

Briggs, * *
Guldberg &
Sivaciyan
1996

Number 3 4 4 4
(Percentage) (27%) (36%) (36%) (36%)
of projects
identifying

Research Vocational Recreation Community Decreasing
Project &/or building social
Authors economic isolation
 (Social
 inclusion)

Vavrek 2000 * * *

Proctor, * * *
Usherwood &
Sobczyk 1996

Proctor, Lee & * *
Reilly 1998

Black & Crann *
2000

McClure & * *
Bertot 1998

Borrowed * * *
time? 1993

Matarasso * *
1998

Lance, Logan *
& Rodney
2001

Safe place to *
go 2000

Linley & * * * *
Usherwood
1998

Briggs,
Guldberg &
Sivaciyan
1996

Number 5 5 6 6
(Percentage) (45%) (45%) (55%) (55%)
of projects
identifying

Research Education Health & Public Number of
Project general space Soc Impacts
Authors information identified by
 this project
 and 3 or
 more other
 projects

Vavrek 2000 * * 7/8 (87.5%)

Proctor, * 5/5 (100%)
Usherwood &
Sobczyk 1996

Proctor, Lee & * * 6/6 (100%)
Reilly 1998

Black & Crann * 3/3 (100%)
2000

McClure & * * 5/8 (62.5%)
Bertot 1998

Borrowed * * * 6/7 (85.7%)
time? 1993

Matarasso * * 5/5 (100%)
1998

Lance, Logan * * * 4/6 (66.6%)
& Rodney
2001

Safe place to * 2/2 (100%)
go 2000

Linley & * * 8/8 (100%)
Usherwood
1998

Briggs, * * 4/4 (100%)
Guldberg &
Sivaciyan
1996

Number 7 7 7 7/11 (64%) of
(Percentage) (64%) (64%) (64%) projects had
of projects ALL impacts
identifying identified by
 3 other
 projects

(NOTE: Percentage rounded to nearest whole number)


References

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(2) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M Public libraries, public interest and the information society: theoretical issues in the social impact of libraries Journal of librarianship information science 30(3) Sept 1998 p161

(3) Buckley, B Will the library and information service please stand up and be counted, Presented at the Infomedia 98 conference Czech Republic 1998 www.inforum.cz/infomedia98/ english.htm Accessed 21 April 2002

(4) Fitch, L and Warner, J Dividends: The value of public libraries in Canada. 1997 www.cla.ca/ divisions/CAPL/caplcovr.htm Accessed April 21 2002

Reprinted in Aplis 12(1) March 1999 p4-24

(5) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M The social impact of public libraries: a literature review. Great Britain, British Library Research and Innovation Centre 1997

(6) Benton Foundation Public support for libraries Building, books, and bytes: libraries and communities in the digital age 1996 www.benton.org/Library/Kellogg/chapert2.html Accessed 21 April 2002 p1

(7) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S Lane Cove Library a part of life: the social role and economic benefit of a public library Library Council of New South Wales in association with Lane Cove Council 1996

(8) Mercer, C Navigating the economy of knowledge, prepared for the Libraries Working Group of the Cultural Ministers' Council by the Institute for Cultural Policy Studies, Griffith University 1995

(9) Black, A and Crann, M A mass observation of the public library London: Library and Information Commission, 2000 p5

(10) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit p36

(11) Matarasso, F Learning development: an introduction to the social impact of public libraries Stroud, Comedia 1998 p45

(12) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1998 op cit p161

(13) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1997 op cit p2

(14) D'Elia, G and Rodger, E Public library roles and patron use: why patrons use the library Public libraries 33 May-June 1994 p 135

(15) Usherwood, B Value and impact studies in Proceedings of the 65th Ifla Council and general conference, Bangkok, Thailand, August 20-28, 1999 www.ifla.org/IV/ifla64/054-94e.htm Accessed 21 April 2002 p2

(16) Linley, R and Usherwood, B New measures for the new library: a social audit of public libraries London, British Library Research and Innovation Centre 1998

(17) Comedia Borrowed time? The future of public libraries in the UK Comedia, Bournes Green, Gloucestershire 1993 p35-36

(18) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M Counting on results: instruction manual: A research and demonstration project funded by a national leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Library Research Service 2001 www.lrs.org/html/about/CountingOn Results.htm Accessed 21 April 2002

(19) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues: the social potential of library projects Stroud, Comedia 1998 pi

(20) Cram, J Engaged in triumphant retreat? Public libraries and the social impact of the internet Lasie: Library automated systems information exchange 27(1) 1996 p4-15

(21) Holt, G, Elliot, D and Moore, A Placing a value on public library services Public libraries March-April 1999 p102

(22) Hennen, T Haplr index: Hennen's American public library ratings 2002 www.haplrindex.com/ Accessed April 21 2002

(23) Bundy, A Best value: libraries in Alia conference Capitalising on knowledge: the information profession in the 21st century 24-26 October 2000 www.alia.org.au/conferences/ alia2000/proceedings/aln.bundy.html Accessed 21 April 2002

(24) Proctor, R, Lee, H and Reilly, R Access to public libraries: the impact of opening hours reductions and closures 1986-1997 1998 panizzi.shef.ac.uk/cplis/accesspdf.pdf Accessed 21 April 2002 p5

(25) Buckley, B op cit

(26) Bundy, A op cit p13

(27) Griffiths, J-M, and King, D op cit p82

(28) A safe place to go: libraries and social capital. 2000, UTS and Public Libraries Branch, State Library of NSW, Sydney www.slnsw.gov.au/ plb/publish/safe/pdf Accessed 21 April 2002

(29) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1998 op cit p161

(30) Comedia op cit

(31) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit p3-4

(32) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit p7

(33) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, Mop cit p1

(34) Proctor, R, Usherwood, B and Sobczyk, G What do people do when their public library service closes down? An investigation into the impact of the Sheffield libraries strike. Boston Spa, British Library Research and Development Department 1996

(35) Proctor, R, Lee, H and Reilly, R op cit

(36) Linley, R and Usherwood, Bop cit

(37) Vavrek, B Is the American public library part of everyone's life? American libraries 31(1) 2000 p60-64

(38) A safe place to go op cit p13

(39) Harris, K Open to interpretation: community perceptions of the social benefits of public libraries London, Community Development Foundation 1998 p2

(40) McClure, C and Bertot, J Public library use in Pennsylvania: identifying uses, benefits and impacts. Final report 1998 istweb.syr.edu/ ~mcclure/padeptedumerge.pdf Accessed 21 April 2002

(41) ibid p4-5

(42) The library's contribution to your community: a resource manual for libraries to document their social and economic contribution to the local community prepared by IER Planning, Research and Management Services for the Southern Ontario Library Service, Gloucester, Ontario. c1998, reprinted by Auslib Press, Adelaide 2000 p2, 7-14

(43) Fitch, L and Warner, J op cit

(44) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(45) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit p2

(46) The library's contribution op cit p2

(47) A safe place to go op cit

(48) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit p82

(49) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(50) Proctor, R, Lee, H and Reilly, R op cit

(51) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1998 op cit p 162

(52) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit

(53) Library and Information Commission Research programmes-public libraries 1999 www.lic.gov.uk/research.public/index/html Accessed 21 April 2002

(54) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit p7

(55) Proctor, R, Usherwood, B and Sobczyk, G op cit

(56) Fitch, L and Warner, J op cit p1

(57) Usherwood, Bop cit p1

(58) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(59) A safe place to go op cit p5

(60) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(61) Harris, K op cit

(62) The library's contribution op cit

(63) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit p1

(64) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit p2

(65) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1998 op cit p162-63

(66) Comedia op cit p1-3

(67) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit

(68) The library's contribution op cit

(69) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(70) Comedia op cit

(71) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1998 op cit p164

(72) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit p3-4

(73) Comedia op cit

(74) Vavrek, B op cit

(75) Proctor, R, Lee, H and Reilly, R op cit

(76) A safe place to go op cit

(77) Comedia op cit

(78) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(79) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(80) The library's contribution op cit

(81) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit

(82) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(83) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(84) A safe place to go op cit

(85) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(86) Comedia op cit

(87) The library's contribution op cit

(88) Proctor, R, Usherwood, B and Sobczyk, G op cit

(89) Proctor, R, Lee, H and Reilly, R op cit

(90) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit

(91) Harris, K op cit

(92) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(93) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(94) Harris, K op cit

(95) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(96) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(97) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(98) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(99) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(100) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(101) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(102) Comedia op cit

(103) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(104) A safe place to go op cit

(105) Comedia op cit

(106) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(107) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit p7

(108) Black, A and Crann, M A mass observation of public library use, operation and image: a project funded by the Library and Information Commission. School of Information Management, Leeds Metropolitan University 1999 www.lmu.ac.uk/ies/im/Research /project2.htm Accessed 4 January 2001

(109) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(110) Proctor, R, Usherwood, B and Sobczyk, G op cit

(111) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(112) The library's contribution op cit

(113) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(114) Proctor, R, Lee, H and Reilly, R op cit

(115) Vavrek, B op cit

(116) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit

(117) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit

(118) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(119) A safe place to go op cit

(120) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(121) Harris, K op cit

(122) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(123) The library's contribution op cit

(124) Proctor, R, Usherwood, B and Sobczyk, G op cit

(125) Harris, K op cit

(126) Usherwood, B op cit p2

(127) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(128) The library's contribution op cit

(129) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(130) Vavrek, B op cit

(131) Comedia op cit

(132) The library's contribution op cit

(133) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(134) Briggs, S, Guldberg, H and Sivaciyan, S op cit

(135) Proctor, R, Usherwood, B and Sobczyk, G op cit

(136) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(137) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(138) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit

(139) Harris, K op cit

(140) ibid

(141) ibid

(142) ibid

(143) ibid

(144) Williamson, K Research methods for students and professionals: information management systems Wagga Wagga NSW, Centre for Information Studies

(145) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit p3-4

(146) ibid p4

(147) Matarasso, F Use or ornament? The social impact of participation in the arts Stroud, Comedia 1997 p6

(148) Linley, R and Usherwood, B op cit

(149) Matarasso, F Use or ornament op cit

(150) Cram, J op cit

(151) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1998 op cit p161

(152) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1997 op cit p2

(153) Cram, J op cit

(154) Vavrek, B op cit

(155) A safe place to go op cit p10

(156) Matarasso, F Beyond book issues op cit p51

(157) The library's contribution op cit

(158) Black, A and Crann, M 2000 op cit

(159) A safe place to go op cit

(160) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(161) Harris, K op cit

(162) The library's contribution op cit

(163) Ontario Library Service The library's contribution to your community: Case study reports 2001 www.library.on.ca/consulting/ CaseStudies/casestud.htm Accessed 1 May 2002

(164) Kerslake, E and Kinnell, M 1997 op cit

(165) Fitch, L and Warner, J op cit

(166) Vavrek, B op cit

(167) McClure, C and Bertot, J op cit

(168) Lance, K, Logan, R and Rodney, M op cit

(169) A safe place to go op cit

(170) Muddiman, D Public library policy and social exclusion: a progress report www.lmu.ac.uk/ ies/dmudd/dmudd3.htm Accessed 21 April 2002

Received May 2002

Barbara Debono BSW MAppSc (Lib & Inf Mangt) is a librarian at Hinchinbrook Shire Library North Queensland. She has held this position since completing her library degree but has worked part time at the library since 1996 whilst studying externally towards her Master of Applied Science (Library and Information Management) through Charles Sturt University. Her background as a social worker has inspired her interest in the social impact of libraries. Address: PO Box 366 Ingham 4850 tel(07)47764683 fax(07)47763233 bdebono@hinchinbrook.qld.gov.au
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