Economic Impact

Building Burlington's Prosperity:
The Economic Impact of Burlington Public Library

2016 Economic Impact Report

Reported July 2017

In 2016, Burlington Public Library created over $60 million in total economic impact to the City of Burlington for a 475% return on investment. For local residents last year, the $56.20 per capita tax contribution to the Library was lower—but the economic value gained was higher. Every resident gained $328 in economic value that helped to make our community still the best mid-sized city to live in Canada. Compare 2015

The community gained $41.8 million in benefits because the Library was open for business. Compare 2015

Total Savings
  • $27.2M for borrowing library items
  • $6.7M for reference questions answered and use of online resources
  • $2.3M for attending programs
  • $3.4M for technology use and WiFi access
  • $2.1M for using meeting/study space

2015 Economic Impact Report

Reported January 2016 | Read the 2015 highlights

We live and work in a prosperous and livable community. In 2016, Burlington was ranked top mid-sized city and #2 best place to live in Canada by MoneySense during their annual quality of life survey of 200+ Canadian cities. We enjoy a first-rate quality of life where economic growth continues to be a top priority.

Until recently, there was no precise way to measure how much of Burlington’s economic prosperity is generated by Burlington Public Library, but thanks to a ground-breaking 2013 study by Toronto Public Library, now there is.

So, how does BPL contribute to Burlington’s prosperity? To find out, we need to look at the economic impact of the library. Skip the explanation and go to the summary

What is Economic Impact?

Burlington pier by Laslovarga/Wikimedia CommonsIt is the amount of economic benefit that the library’s operations bring to the community, directly and indirectly generated through its people, products, and services.

How is economic benefit calculated?

We can easily calculate the out-of-pocket monetary value of the library to Burlington residents using market substitutions, in other words, by figuring out what it would cost you to buy a comparable library service or offering in the open market. For example, the price you pay to buy an eBook from an online store compared to the price you pay to borrow an eBook from the library.

This is the same as calculating how much the library directly saves you in spending.

On the other hand, it’s not so simple to calculate the library’s economic contribution to the community as a direct effect of the library’s work in literacies development, employment, education and skills training, and support to entrepreneurs and small businesses.

In order to calculate the total economic impact of the library, three measures are used:

  1. the monetary value of products and services that are only possible to get because the library is open. In economic terms, these are direct tangible benefits that represent savings to Burlington residents.
  1. the amount the library directly spends to operate, including capital improvements, employment, and collection items; and,
  1. the ripple effect of the library’s direct spending to operate that are in turn spent in the community and contribute to Burlington’s economy and quality of life. These are indirect tangible benefits. Items 2. & 3. represent economic benefits from library spending in our community.

From these three measures, we can figure out the:

  • average cost of a library open hour and the average value of one open hour
  • impact of each tax dollar spent on the library and the total impact of each dollar spent on every Burlington resident and household
  • return on investment for the City of Burlington’s tax spending

Economic Impact... because YOU SAVE

How do we value everything the library does? By applying a market value to all the things local residents can access at no or low cost because the community is served by a public library, we can calculate the yearly total value of all library hours based on benefits that are only possible because the branch is open, such as:

  • borrowing from in-house collections
  • attending programs
  • asking reference questions
  • getting help with your technology
  • renting meeting space
  • using space to study or relax
  • using computers and WiFi access

direct tangible benefits information

What was the value to Burlington residents in 2015?

The community gained $39.48 million in benefits because the library was open for business.

For Burlington Public Library cardholders, the total direct benefit was as much as $537 for each member in 2015.

Economic Impact... because WE SPEND

The costs of doing business

Like any business, it’s expensive to run the library: keeping buildings safe and comfortable, computers up-to-date, collections and services current and responsive, and staff paid. Our ability to provide the things residents want and need are affected by rising costs and an eroding currency.

We rely on the monies allocated every year through municipal taxes to help pay for library operations—and we apply rigorous stewardship best practices to make sure every tax dollar is spent responsibly. To lessen the burden on City support, BPL generates income to offset costs through fines, fees, grants, and other charges.

total direct spending information

We invest in Burlington

The Library contributes to Burlington’s economy—we do business with local contractors and service providers, we buy locally, and we employ people who live locally, shop locally, and support local organizations.

In economic impact terms, indirect tangible benefits quantify the ripple effect of the library’s direct spending; in other words, the monies that are spent to run the library that are then spent in the community.

By improving local branches, offering access to reading and learning, and employing a medium-sized workforce, the Library generates $7.65 million in indirect benefits to Burlington’s economy. In turn, these benefits yield a lifetime of value by adding to Burlington’s prosperity and economic competitiveness while enhancing its livability and residents’ quality of life.

total indirect tangible benefits information

What was the value to Burlington residents in 2015?

Burlington's economy gained $17.8 million in benefits because the library does business in the community.

Helping Burlington prosper / Summary

Through the economic impact analysis, we can quantify how Burlington Public Library contributes to Burlington’s overall prosperity using real economic measures.

In 2015, Burlington Public Library created over $57 million in total economic impact to the city of Burlington.

That's a solid return on investment of 464 per cent.

The findings show that Burlington Public Library clearly contributes to the quality of life of Canada’s #1 ranked medium-sized city.

In 2015, you gave…

Burlington residents invested $57.20 in per capita tax support towards the Library’s annual operating budget.

In 2015, you got…

For every tax dollar invested in the Library by the City in 2015, the community received $5.64 of economic impact.

That’s an economic value of $308 for every resident and $1,057 for every household. Add to this all the money you’re not having to spend on bestselling books, blockbuster movies, and popular magazines that you can spend in other ways.

total economic impact information

But, what about intangible benefits?

family readingMeasuring the economic impact of Burlington Public Library tells only part of the story. What it doesn’t quantify are the inestimable ways the library brings value to, and makes a difference in, people’s lives every day…

... the relief after finding out how to get an aging parent into long-term housing,

... the skills and access to specialized equipment to make a prototype for a start-up loan,

... the confidence gained from learning how to speak in public,

... the importance of a little me-time after dropping off your child to a maker program,

... the excitement of having professional writers review your best poems and short stories,

... the fellowship of chatting about a good book with others,

... the convenience of having a quiet place to study,

... the comfort of knowing there is a safe place in our community where you'll always find help and a friendly smile.

Burlington Public Library enhances the quality of life of Burlington residents in as many ways as there are citizens.


If you'd like to know more about Burlington Public Library's Economic Impact study and analysis, please contact Lita Barrie, CEO, at 905.639.3611 ext 1100.


Many thanks to Kimberly Silk, formerly Data Librarian with Martin Prosperity Institute, for her diligence in applying the Toronto Public Library formula templates to Burlington Public Library data, and for assisting library staff.


Burlington Public Library: Annual Community Report 2015

Burlington Public Library Strategic Plan: Where Ideas Thrive

City of Burlington Strategic Plan

Economic Impact reports/articles for other Ontario Libraries:

Toronto Public Library

Guelph Public Library

Halton Hills Public Library

Kawartha Lakes Public Library

London Public Library

Milton Public Library

Newmarket Public Library

Ottawa Public Library

Pickering Public Library

Sault Ste Marie Public Library

Stratford Public Library

Vaughan Public Library

Martin Prosperity Institute: University of Toronto think-tank and developers of the economic impact formulae

MoneySense: Canada's Top 25 Places to Live in 2016

Image credit: Burlington pier by Laslovarga/Wikimedia Commons