Library books are free to borrow, but how much is that really worth?
This week, the National Library of Canada released a report that looked at library borrowing habits across Canada and found the average amount borrowed was $2,500.
What’s the value of that?
According to the report, the average Canadian library user spends $10,000 per year on library books.
The total value of all library book purchases in Canada is $1.9 trillion, according to the Canadian Library Association.
For comparison, the U.S. average library book value is $6,000.
How do libraries justify borrowing so much?
The report notes that libraries have to make decisions that “must be informed by the market and the needs of the community.”
For instance, if libraries are trying to meet a particular demand, they could use technology to improve accessibility or improve access to information.
But, according the report’s authors, libraries often have to weigh the economic benefit of using libraries to meet certain needs against the risk of missing out on a book that is important to them.
“For the most part, they’re doing it for the right reasons,” says Julie Hern, an economist at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
She says libraries are “taking a gamble” on technology.
But Hern says libraries need to be more proactive about making sure they’re not missing out.
“I would say the more they do research, the more you know,” she says.
The report was commissioned by the Canadian Alliance of Public Libraries.
It is based on a survey of over 5,000 libraries across Canada that collected information on book buying habits.
The authors say the survey showed that libraries were spending more money than the average household on library book costs.
And the average library user spent $9,900 per year, according a spokesperson for the National Association of Library and Information Technology Officials.
“You’re looking at $2.9 billion in spending per year that is not a significant investment,” she said.
“That is a huge amount of money that has been invested in library systems and not being used to meet that investment.”
For the average user, library books are worth far less than the cost of the goods and services they’re used to buying.
“Libraries are essentially subsidizing the prices that they are offering to customers, but they’re also taking money away from people,” Hern said.