The value of public libraries : a methodological discussion and empirical study applying the contingent valuation method
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AbstractThe dissertation explores the social value of public libraries by eliciting this value among a random sample of citizens in Norway.
Methods for non-market valuation, developed in economics, are found to add to the theoretical and methodological arsenal of library and information science if they fulfil specific preconditions which are identified from main characteristics of public library service. The methods used must: 1) be able to measure non-use values as well as use values, 2) be capable of integrating valuation motives going beyond the pursuit of individual self-interest, i.e., valuations based on sympathy and some variants of altruism, and 3) not violate the assumption of rationality. The contingent valuation method appears to meet these conditions and is chosen for the empirical study. An objective is to determine if the benefits from public libraries outweigh their costs, seen from the population’s perspective. Secondly, attempts are made to explain why Norwegians, both library users and non-users, value public libraries. Methodological aspects of the study include 1) using two recently developed elicitation formats from environmental economics on a cultural good, 2) detecting response uncertainty and error by developing a procedure for identifying and differentiating possible and actual protest bids, and 3) applying both willingness to pay and willingness to accept, each used on half of the sample due the property rights issue. The conclusion is that, at a national level, the benefits of the public libraries are considerably higher than their costs. An overwhelming majority of the population (94%) perceive they have property rights to the public library in their municipality. Attempts to elicit motivations indicate that 60% of the total library value is justified by use value and self-interest and 35% by social and cultural interests. This is the first study for contingent valuation of public libraries at a national level, in Norway and internationally.
List of papers
Paper I: Valuation of public libraries / Svanhild Aabø. This paper is published in Audunson, R.A. and Lund, N.W. (Eds.). Det siviliserte informasjonssamfunn: Folkebibliotekenes rolle ved inngangen til en digital tid. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2001.
Paper II: Rational choice and valuation of public libraries: Can economic models for valuating non-market goods be applied on public libraries? Svanhild Aabø and Ragnar Audunson. This paper is published in Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 34 (1), 2002. DOI 10.1177/096100060203400102
Paper III: Public library valuation, nonuse values, and altruistic motivations. Svanhild Aabø and Jon Strand. This paper is accepted for publication in Library & Information Science Research 26 (3), 2004 DOI 10.1016/j.lisr.2004.01.003
Paper IV: Valuing the benefits of public libraries / Svanhild Aabø. Information Economics and Policy, Volume 17, Issue 2, March 2005, Pages 175-198 DOI 10.1016/j.infoecopol.2004.05.003