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Independent research quantifies social value of Suffolk’s libraries

Independent, in-depth research commissioned by Suffolk Libraries shows the vital and previously unseen contribution libraries make to people’s lives in the county, saving the public and organisations millions of pounds a year.

The impact report Suffolk Libraries: A Predictive Impact Analysis (PDF, 2.4MB) by independent consultants Moore Kingston Smith estimates that every £1 spent on just three of Suffolk Libraries’ services creates £8.04 in ‘social value’. This is based on a study of three of Suffolk Libraries’ key activities – early years sessions for under-fives (Baby Bounce and Tot Rock), Top Time sessions for older people and Open Space groups. The report found these three activities alone generate just under £2m of social value every year.

Social value is a way of identifying the value of change that individuals experience – in this case through their engagement with Suffolk Libraries’ services. Methods of valuation include how much a service would cost if someone had to pay for it themselves or the money it potentially saves other organisations. For example, the study also found the three activities create £284,000 worth of social value for the NHS every year.

The report also focuses on how the sessions help tackle significant social issues which many people in Suffolk face. For example, it states:

“These activities address the very real and critical issues of loneliness and social isolation that many living in the Suffolk area are facing.”

The activities which the study focused on are free and last year received a total of 104,000 visits across Suffolk. Baby Bounce and Tot Rock are sessions for under-fives and their parents. They are highly valued by parents – one mother who visits Halesworth Library recently told Suffolk Libraries:

“I live rurally so can easily go days without seeing people as I rarely get visitors. These groups give me a reason to go out and socialise with other parents and my baby can socialise with other children and engage in lovely singing fun.”

Top Time sessions are social activities for over 55s which attract over 600 attendees at 43 locations across Suffolk every week. Open Space sessions run at eight libraries, offering a chance for people to drop in and talk about their wellbeing. Open Space is run in partnership with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Julian Support, Richmond Fellowship and Suffolk Mind.

Moore Kingston Smith attended sessions over a period of several weeks to understand how people benefited. The outcomes with the highest social value across the activities were:

  • The development of literacy skills for children
  • Improved wellbeing for their parents
  • Improved mental health and social networks for those attending Open Space
  • Increased happiness for over 55’s coming to Top Time.

Bruce Leeke, chief executive of Suffolk Libraries, welcomed the report, saying:

“We’re very excited by the findings of this report as it provides us with concrete evidence of the impact Suffolk Libraries is having on the lives of thousands of people in the county. We see a real link between people socialising through recreational activity in their community and improvements in their health and wellbeing. We see our services making life better every day and now we have conclusive proof that this is the case! This really is ground-breaking research which I feel will have implications for library services across the country as this is the first time such an in-depth study has shown the value of library services in real financial terms.”

The Impact Report supports other research carried out on the Open Space sessions in libraries by The McPin Foundation. Rachel Temple, research officer at McPin reported earlier in the year that:

“I spoke with various people who told me about how Open Space has changed their life. When you are lonely and isolated, there are not always readily available places to go. Open Space is special because it is readily available, every week, to anyone who wants to join in.”

More information:

Moore Kingston Smith work out social value through a series of detailed calculations based on the potential cost of alternative services or activities which people might have to pay for to get the same result as visiting a free library activity, taking account of the cost of running the library session.

Their report also states that the social value created: “…is a very impressive level of return and indicates that Suffolk Libraries is creating substantial impact in its local community for a wide range of stakeholders.”