Thursday, 17 September 2009

Education matters (and so should libraries)

At a time when there are cuts to library budgets, and large library systems such as the Free Library of Philadelphia look like they might close for good, it is interesting to see that the OECD has come out with its Education at a Glance 2009: OECD Indicators that demonstrates that investing in education will beat recession and boost earnings.

According to the OECD "going to university pays dividends in later life through higher salaries, better health and less vulnerability to unemployment... In most countries, the difference in pay levels between people who have degrees and people who don’t is continuing to grow." The OECD goes on to say that not only do "Government budgets and the overall economy also reap an advantage from higher numbers of graduates", but that there are many other social benefits.

So what has this got to do with libraries? Well,... if you believe that we live in the information age, and that libraries (because they are about information) have a role in education, this must mean that libraries play an important role in building (and maintaining) an up-to-date, educated, and informed civil society. The OECD figures also suggest that the benefits that accrue from building and supporting such a population far outweigh the costs of supporting education (and by extension) libraries.

Of course before you get to university you need to get through school, and after you have left university you need to keep your education up to date, so these OECD figures should also give comfort to school libraries as well as the public libraries who support life long learning.

The challenge for libraries is to measure the benefits they deliver, not in terms of how many people walk through the door, borrow books, or use their databases, (though these metrics are still important), but rather measure the impact they have in boosting their population's social cohesion (though educated does not always mean people are any more cohesive), employment opportunities, health, affluence, and general wellbeing.

Following is the OECD TV report that provides a summary of the benefits they say comes from investing in education. I want to avoid participating in party politics, but the OECD findings also seem to support the Australian Government's AUD $ 16.2 billion dollars Building the Education Revolution economic stimulus programme. A considerable amount of this money has gone towards building and redeveloping Australian school libraries. At a local level it looks like we might get some very good libraries that will make a difference. Lets hope so!

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