How can agencies participating in a cooperative reference network determine that the value they receive from participation is greater then the effort and resources they contribute? Do private organizations or companies benefit from joining cooperatives largely composed of public institutions? Can this information be used to support decisions about the level of participation and resource-sharing an institution is willing to provide, or provide models of cooperation that maximize benefit to multiple user populations? Samuelson’s general equilibrium model on the provision of public goods attempts to identify the balance at which optimal utility of a public good or service is achieved for a given population where the environment is composed of both public and private services and different consumers place a different value of utility for a given good or service. His model is particularly appropriate to the analysis of virtual reference services where public agencies hope to leverage the expertise of private resources in the most economical method, private agencies want to avoid duplication of publicly available resources, and user populations widely differ in their ability to pay for such services. This panel explores the application of Samuelson’s model to the design and management of virtual reference services. Topics to be discussed include defining the multiple outcomes and desired benefits of virtual reference services, the applicability of utilitarian models to virtual reference services, the effectiveness of the concept of “ordinal utility” in determining the benefits of information services that are valued differently between user groups, and the extent to which Samuelson’s model provides insights or new directions on current research in virtual reference services.