Fairfax County library report makes its case in business terms

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“The library has a huge return on investment for the monies that go into it,” says Jessica Hudson.
Photo by Stephen Gosling

Jessica Hudson hopes to show that the Fairfax County Public Library is a sound investment.

In January, the library system will release its Return on Investment (ROI) Report, detailing in business terms its value to the county’s 1.2 million residents.

“We have kept track of our statistical data for decades,” says Hudson, the system’s director. “We started looking at the ROI process six to eight months ago. We wanted to share why it was a great investment to put money into libraries.”

The library decided to create the report, in part, because residents often see it only as a free asset that’s good for “access to books, storytime, etc.,” says Hudson. “We want them to see the other side of the coin.”

The Fairfax library system is the largest in Virginia, with 23 branches and a $37.6 million annual budget. For every $1 invested in the library, the report says, the community receives a return of $6.51 in the form of access to resources, programming, services and technology.

“The library has a huge return on investment for the monies that go into it,” says Hudson, who became director in 2016 after serving as county librarian for the Contra Costa County Library in Pleasant Hill, Calif.

In fiscal year 2017, the report says, the Fairfax library provided $244.6 million in resources and services to county residents.

The library, which has 400,000 cardholders, annually circulates more than 10 million books and 1.5 million digital books. The 5.5 million children’s books borrowed in FY 2017 were valued at more than $94 million.

“Think about how much you would pay to buy those books yourself,” says Hudson. “We want people to see why it’s a good value to contribute to the library system. We’re hoping to spread that message to a wider audience.”

People often use libraries to take advantage of their wireless connections and digital resources. In FY2017, the Fairfax library provided access to 438,890 hours of computer use (valued at $5.27 million) and 1.94 million database searches ($38.65 million).

“They can use those free resources to write a résumé for a job or apply for a job, for example,” Hudson says. “We also have wonderful databases such as that have tutorials on technology skills.”

The library’s economic value to the community is high, Hudson says. “State and federal funding is fairly stable now, but there are always fluctuations up and down. What we are trying to present is that it makes a lot of sense to continue to contribute to the local values of our library system.”

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