NB: The inspiration for this post made the rounds when it was first broadcast, I think, but I only came across it at the weekend.
On a recent edition of Front Row, Russell T. Davies was interviewed. Discussing BBC funding cuts, he suggested that:
"it's very easy to say that a school is more important than a play, that a hospital is more important than a drama, and that's because we're talking a totally false language in which these things are comparable and one reduces the other - that's the language of economics that simply does not fit cultural life"
(He also said some wonderfully-cutting things about the Coalition government - I highly recommend listening to the full interview if you have 12 minutes to spare).
Apples and oranges comparisons of ‘value’ in this way are everyday experiences for library services, across all sectors but especially for public libraries, competing against welfare schemes, swimming pools and road surfacing amongst other diverse council responsibilities. It is common to think of the library as a economic cost-centre (especially in business libraries); how, then, do we switch the focus to the library as cultural profit-centre? Equally, how do you measure the impact of a service whose effects may manifest years, possibly decades after its use? Anecdotal advocacy has got us this far, but can it compete against tangible images of suffering which the removal of other services can produce?
Even if they don't seem value-for-money, libraries give values for money!