Study: U.S. Public Libraries Improve Student Achievement

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago recently published a working paper to explore the effects of public library use. “The Returns to Public Library Investment” working paper studies “how capital investment in public libraries affects library operations, patron usage, and local communities, with a focus on student achievement.”


The study first establishes the link between library capital spending and use:

“We find that capital investment sharply increases library visits (by 21%), children’s checkouts of items (by 21%), and children’s attendance at library events (by 18%). These increases in usage persist for at least 10 years after capital investment. Capital investment also increases library book holdings, employees, spending on salaries, and operating expenditures. In other words, library capital investment increases both the quality and usage of libraries.”

Gilpin et al., 2021, p. 3

Then, the study establishes the effect of library capital investment on children’s academic performance:

“We find that library capital spending increases nearby children’s reading test scores by 0.02 standard deviations on average in the seven years following the library investment shock.”

Gilpin et al., 2021, p. 4

The study also explores the link between library capital spending and housing prices:

“Wefind that library investment has no positive or negative effect on local housing prices, implying that homeowners value the improvement in local amenities enough to oset the cost of local tax increases that fund the public library investment.”

Gilpin et al., 2021, pp. 4-5


The study’s methodology is similar to studies on the causal effects of capital investment in schools. These studies show that “school capital spending positively affect student test scores”. Gilpin et al. used public library data from the IMLS Public Library Survey, test score data from the Stanford Educational Data Archive, and housing price indices from Zillow.


Access the full study at Fed in Print, the U.S. Federal Reserve System research repository.

Gilpin, G., Karger, E., & Nencka, P. (2021). The Returns to Public Library Investment (WP-2021-06). Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

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