Navigating towards new insights on library value with the Impact Compass

This spring Roskilde Central Library and Seismonaut released the study “The impact of public libraries in Denmark: A haven in our community”. Our ambition is to put people and community at the center of the debate about public libraries and to change the way we talk about the value and impact of libraries getting behind the numbers and expand the language and understandning from “how many books did the library lend out” to “what did it mean to the citizens to lend the book”.

But our ambition is not just to create significant insights into what the public library actually mean to people in Denmark and the impact and value the bring to communities. We want inspire other libraries and institutions of culture to adopt this logic, take on the method and design and construct new and local insights, knowledge and conversations about the library and how it effect people and communities. To support this we are releasing a User’s Guide to the methodology in English for others to use.

Find it here: A Guide to the Impact Compass  

The Impact Compass

The guide offers advice on how to expand the conversation and understanding about the impact of the public library – with local politicians and the administration, with your colleagues at the library as well as with the media and relevant partners. But also with those without whom there would be no library; the many citizens who use the library services – and who demonstrably experience great impact from it. In the guide, use of the Impact Compass as a methodical approach is explained and it provide specific tips on how you can investigate and show the impact your library has on its community.

Our study introduces a new tool, the Impact Compass, which can be used to investigate and communicate the impact of individual public libraries to people, as well as to develop and evaluate activities at libraries. This guide shows you how to use the Impact Compass in practice and consists of two perspectives:

1. The extended conversation: You can use the Impact Compass to add more details to the conversation about the public library’s impact on users, with politicians, administrations, partners, etc. – for example in connection with library strategies, communication strategies, construction of new library buildings or development of new goals and visions for the local public library’s activities and development.

 2. The daily practice: The guide can also be useful when developing and evaluating activities at the library. Specifically, the Impact Compass can be used to evaluate activities, or to start a conversation about the intention of new activities, for example with relevant partners. The Impact Compass is suitable for formulating user-oriented effects in line with existing methods of evaluation.

In order to qualify the conversation about the impact of the public library for citizens, it is necessary to have an eye for nuances. The public library does not have one particular impact, but multiple. The Impact Compass is built around four overall dimensions of impact, which makes it possible to get all the way around the users’ experiences. The four dimensions of the compass are:

• Emotional impact

• Intellectual impact

• Creative impact

• Social impact

The four dimensions stem from extensive British studies of various cultural activities. On the basis of the British preparatory work, we have addapted the concepts so they support an analysis of the public library in a Danish context.

One compass – multiple versions

The Impact Compass basically consists of four dimensions, which in connection with the impact of the library have been translated into: Haven, Perspective, Creativity and Community (see Figure 2). In many cases, the concrete user experiences will move across these dimensions. The four dimensions are therefore not closed boxes; on the contrary, they play together and will often appear at the same time in users’ experiences. Each dimension consists of some supporting parameters.

These parameters can be changed to suit the context you work within. If, for example, you need to develop an activity targeted at senior citizens, the dimension “Creativity” may have a different character than in the case of primary school students. To meet this difference, one must adjust the individual parameters under each dimension of impact according to the situation. The basic structure of the Impact Compass – the four dimensions – should in turn be retained in all the contexts in which you use the compass. It will contribute to the gradual development of a common language on the impact of the public library. At the same time, the four dimensions are rooted in research, which gives the tool a strong methodological foundation.

A library visit is more than a number
An example of an Impact Compass on library facilites from the study

Expanding the language and understanding

I believe our study holds significant insigths but obvious it is not the full story. The picture might look different looking only at Roskilde Municipality or at Bratislava or Toronto. And the study is not covering every aspect of the library – it could be intereseting to look closer on the impact of how collaboration with schools foster a joy of reading for kids or maybe take a specific look at the digital
library. My hope is more studies and insights from around the world will follow this work.

I believe it will be the shared amount of work done in this field that over time will change the language and understanding of what public libraries truly brings to communities and how they bring impact to the lives of individuals.  

This is why we are releasing the method and design and it can be scaled in many levels. Our study builds on over 1.500 interviews but you might only wonna talk to 10 and it can be used for that too.



Further readings

Onepager with main findings

Blog post: A haven in our community: The impact of public libraries

Blog post: The public library is a place with a heart

Interview with IFLA: From usage to impact: Showing how libraries make a difference

Collected documents in English: New study: The impact of public libraries in Denmark


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