Your example brings up a number of steps for how I imagine specifying concrete savings could happen:
- Focus on a specific library service: Free access to Lynda.com or some other online service, book lending, in-person job skills training, etc.
- Companies or government departments would need to audit their spending to see if they are doing something that the already library offers (for example, if a government department pays for Lynda.com subscriptions for their staff, why not just have staff get library cards and cancel the subscriptions. Immediately and obviously a concrete savings is realized). Training and market research would be primary areas of focus. The library could help with this process.
- Since privacy is a fundamental library value, workers would have to voluntarily disclose ways they are using/not using the library — the value of their use can be quantified in a straightforward way. Especially if something they learned using library resources is essential to their job.
- Basic user research of library patrons through surveys, phone calls, etc. would be a fairly standard way of seeing an actual and concrete ROI, rather than a theoretical one. But that costs money to do, and most libraries don’t have extra to spend.
Freelancers would be a good group to explore when it comes to a library’s ROI. Since workspace/wifi access/and skills training are not so difficult to quantify. For example, before I was a librarian, one of my jobs was as a freelance Computer Consultant. After taking a couple of free Gale Courses through the library on how to program Content Management Systems, I turned around and made a simple one for a client, and followed that up by customizing some WordPress sites for others. Overall, the presence of those courses from the library, plus the time I spent getting through them, allowed me to earn thousands of dollars. In that situation, I’m not sure what my exact ROI was, but it’s definitely substantially higher then $5 for every $1 spent on library service.