Skip to main content

More than a good book: contingent valuation of public library services in England


Libraries in England have an important role as providers of a range of services, from book-lending and computer access to children’s activities, training courses and meeting spaces. Understanding the value of libraries is a complex issue due to the wide-ranging services that libraries provide and their inherently non-market nature. This study estimates the value of engagement in library services through a large contingent valuation study of around 2000 library users and non-users. We find that average willingness to pay (WTP) to maintain current library services (above the core book-lending and computer/Internet services) among library users in England is £19.51/annum and £10.31/annum for non-users. This provides a combined annual WTP for these local library services of £723.4 million. This is the first study to disaggregate WTP values by the services that respondents report having used. Those using health services, attending lectures and using library space for socialising are willing to pay more on average to maintain all services at their local library. Library use is also positively associated with subjective well-being, suggesting that libraries have an important role in users’ quality of life. This provides supporting evidence that the values for public libraries can be interpreted as reflecting primary benefits stemming from welfare changes associated with library engagement.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. We convert foreign currency to GBP at the time the study was published using the relevant consumer price index (CPI), and then convert this amount to present-day prices using annual retail price index inflation (figures based on the RPI as of May 2016. Source: Office for National Statistics).


  3. General population targets for gender were closely met (51% female). General population targets for age and region were loosened slightly to allow us to capture target quotas elsewhere, but are broadly representative of the general population.

  4. Fisher (2013). Libraries and Learning Resource Centres. Routledge.

  5. Pilot respondents were asked their views on key and potentially complex parts of the questionnaire, such as the valuation question. 86% of the sample found the scenario of government cuts to be ‘realistic’ or ‘quite likely’. 97% of the sample did not find it hard to select a monetary value that they would be WTP in additional council tax to support the services provided by their local library. 95% of respondents agreed that the survey provided enough information about the services offered by local libraries to answer the CV questions, and 67% found the library photos used in the survey instrument helpful for picturing its work and activities.

  6. For library expenditure data, we used the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) Public Library Statistics (2012–2013: Where data were missing for local authorities, we supplemented them with 2011–2012 CIPFA data. Data were missing for Cambridgeshire, Cornwall and Middlesbrough across both CIPFA data sets, and hence, people from those counties were dropped in this analysis. .

  7. Using ONS 2013 estimates of English population and conservative estimates that 35% of the UK population visit libraries on an annual basis (DCMS 2014). This is calculated as (53,493,600 * 0.35) * £19.51 = £365,281,047.60.

  8. Using ONS 2013 estimates of English population and conservative estimates that 65% of the UK population do not visit libraries on an annual basis (DCMS 2014). This is calculated as (53,493,600 * 0.65) * £10.30 = £358,139,652.

  9. The average council tax band is Band D, and for England in 2014–2015, the average level of council tax in this band is £1468 (Department for Communities and Local Government, July 2014:


Download references


We would like to thank Iulian Gramatki for his assistance in final drafting of this manuscript.


This study was funded by Arts Council England.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ricky N. Lawton.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Aside from the funding received from Arts Council England by Daniel Fujiwara, the authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Primary data were collected from a population aged 16 and above following ethical standards set by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 33 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Fujiwara, D., Lawton, R.N. & Mourato, S. More than a good book: contingent valuation of public library services in England. J Cult Econ 43, 639–666 (2019).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Contingent valuation
  • Stated preference
  • Willingness to pay
  • Cultural value
  • Public goods
  • Public libraries