Unlimited Value: Exploring the Social and Financial Value of Libraries

What are libraries for?  What impact do they have within their communities?  And how can libraries use and improve this impact to inform new business models, which will help them to be financially sustainable?

These are some of the key questions that underpin our research project on the social value of libraries, funded by Arts Council England.  The project brings together Libraries Unlimited with the University of Exeter Business School, the Real Ideas Organization, and Open Data Devon.  Together, the project partners will explore how Libraries Unlimited can identify and maximise the social impact the organisation has, and might have in the future, within local communities.  In so doing, it is hoped that Libraries Unlimited will be able to identify new partnerships and possibilities that will help to ensure its sustainability as a social enterprise.

At the heart of the project is a programme that will build the capacity of Library Unlimited’s staff to support and develop the potential for libraries to bring people together, offer services that make a difference to communities, and play a role in improving the quality of life and opportunities available to people.  This project is important not just to Libraries Unlimited’s future: it has the potential to enable library services across the country to gain a better understanding of the different and impact libraries have.  We also anticipate that the lessons learned in this project will be applicable beyond libraries, for other arts / cultural organisations and for any enterprises seeking to use their social impact as a basis for financial stability.

Some of the methods the project will use include:

  • Analysis of Libraries Unlimited’s borrower/user information. This will help us understand how libraries can better serve the communities that use (and don’t use) them.
  • Action Learning Sets for Libraries Unlimited employees, in which they explore and learn from their own work challenges.
  • Action Research Summits bringing together experts in social enterprise, stakeholders and sector leaders
  • Relationship mapping to capture the partnerships and potential for new revenue generation
  • New tools and techniques for understanding Libraries Unlimited’s impact e.g. through social media, community workshops, and Data Discovery days.