Permanent Shift?: Library Budgets 2010
As many libraries are hit by gloomy times, they’re challenged to offer less and work differently
By Norman Oder -- Library Journal, 01/15/2010
It’s no surprise that libraries in LJ’s annual budget survey reported an overall downward trend, with the expected decline in total budgets some 2.6% and the change in materials budgets 3.5% (see Table 1, below). Per capita funding is nudging down after years of steady if sometimes modest increases, with a projected decline of 1.6% in FY10.
After all, the country has not emerged from a major economic downturn, and libraries—especially those lacking a dedicated funding stream—are particularly vulnerable to budget cutbacks and declining property values.
While it may be politically tougher to close buildings than drain services, some library boards and local governing authorities, their backs to the wall, have begun to shut down facilities. In several high-profile cases, however, such as in Omaha and Pittsburgh, branches were saved through fundraising and emergency government funds. And some libraries, notably those in economically healthy areas, are still sailing ahead.
But the general mood is one of caution and concern. Only 16% of those reporting say they are “very positive, upbeat” about their financial future, while 23% are “very negative, depressed.” Notably, 35% of the largest libraries report the latter. More than 40% of libraries have frozen salaries and reduced staff. Libraries serving one million or more population have lost, on average, 50 employees.
Thus, library service has been chipped away; not only have materials taken a hit, but open hours have gone down on average 1.3 hours over the past year, and programming has declined. This occurs, of course, at a time when library circulation remains up—6% in the current year, FY09—and libraries have gained attention for their crucial and continuing role in fostering e-government and, more critically, job-related services (see “When Service Matters”). Nearly 60% of respondents say they’ve heard comments about the decline in library services, hours, or materials. But those losses are not equally felt. Some 74% of those polled say they think patrons care most about hours, not service or materials.
(See expanded budget data here.)
The economic crisis, coupled with continued demands on libraries for traditional services such as books and programming, portends significant, perhaps permanent, realignment regarding library spending. Libraries are relying more on volunteers: on the one hand a rich potential resource, on the other a not necessarily reliable one—or one that could undermine commitment to permanent staffing.
With more than half of those reporting saying they’ve cut or eliminated budgets for conferences, travel, and education, that suggests a further squeeze on in-person national and state conferences, with library association members forced to foot the bill themselves or seek out virtual conferencing. That 51% figure actually understates the impact, because 84% of libraries serving one million or more say they’d cut such support, as do 68% of those serving 500,000 to 999,999.
But libraries and their leaders have come up with creative responses regarding spending and fundraising (see “Fundraising in the Downturn”) and have used staff differently. This year’s budget survey asked for more narrative responses regarding strategies, services, and outlook.
Some libraries had good reason to look on the future positively. An annual fund drive led to an increase of 50% in private donations, while municipal support remains dependable, states the Guthrie Memorial Library, PA (pop. served: 40,711).
“Even with the economic downturn, we are simultaneously building three new branch libraries and adding six new full-time staff positions; we have an outstanding library staff, supportive county council, supportive local state legislators,” plus support from a local foundation and the Friends group, reports the Florence County Library System, SC (pop. 131,000).
Ames PL, IA (pop. 65,805), sits in a university town that has been less scathed than most by the recession. And in New Braunfels, TX (pop. 53,000), near San Antonio, the library is valued as “a strong indicator of livability.”
Weber County Library System, UT (pop. 221,846), notes that property tax in Utah is stable, even growing; the library foundation recently raised $1.5 million to furnish and equip a new branch, protecting the operating budget.
Fort Worth PL, TX (pop. 720,250), reports that, despite the slow recovery and staff turnover owing to salary and benefit cuts, it has a comprehensive plan seen as essential by the city council and has marshaled advocacy to save two branches.
Other respondents are gloomier, including those in Ohio, where libraries have traditionally relied on state funding. “As the state...shifts its historic responsibility for library funding to the local level, the capacity of localities to pick up the [slack] is constrained by property devaluations,” reports the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County (pop. 240,000).
In California, several libraries cited the strain of decreasing property values. Santa Barbara PL (pop. 227,349), for example, operates in a city where projected revenue is down almost 20%. In Florida, economic growth hit harsh reality; Walton County PL (pop. 50,750) lost 20% of its hours, 85% of its book budget, and all of its programming money.
Michigan suffers similarly. Clinton-Macomb PL (pop. 160,000) is bracing for property tax decreases of at least 10% for three years running.
“Our five libraries currently are staffed by” (at press time) 11 people, 8.5 FTE, laments Chesterfield County Library System, SC (pop. 43,000). “We are desperately short-staffed as it is, and with our use increasing by about 15% a month, we are going to become even more stretched.”
Coping with challenges
While libraries have historically cut the materials budget, LJ asked about new strategies, and the results show some divergence. Smaller libraries rely more on volunteers and have decided they needed to gain grants. And those libraries may be better off; about a quarter of libraries serving populations under 50,000 say their budgets are stable.
By contrast, more than one-third of larger libraries—those serving more than 500,000 people—have had layoffs, and nearly 30% of libraries in that group have instituted furloughs.
While two-thirds of the libraries that have furloughs have maintained hours, a majority of the larger libraries that have had furloughs have lost public hours. (More than one-third of libraries let staffers choose individual days, while 29% institute uniform furloughs, which leads to closings.) And more than 20% of the largest libraries have cut back their bookmobile or similar services.
Some 20% of libraries—excluding those serving populations over 500,000—use volunteers to shelve books, while some 16% of libraries across the board deploy volunteers for computer or technical assistance.
Several libraries say they are using volunteers differently, for registration at reading programs, at the circ desk, at the learning lab, and in the special collections department. Anaheim PL, CA (pop. 348,467), reports success in using subsidized senior worker programs funded by the Department of Labor. And the nearby Santa Ana PL (pop. 353,184) has implemented a “Circle of Mentoring” in which volunteers mentor teens and teen volunteers mentor children.
Asked which strategy offers lessons for other libraries, respondents gave a variety of answers. “Perhaps the greatest lesson is that libraries should never rely on one source for their operation budgets,” comments Lima PL (pop. 89,689). Similarly, Kootenai-Shoshone Libraries, ID (pop. 76,500), cites “independent taxing authority.”
“Budget conservatively and spend frugally,” suggests Greenville County Library System, SC (pop. 379,616). “Maintain a fund balance” to brace for cuts and new expenses.
“Don’t cut anything that can’t be added back when the economic picture improves,” proposes Carol Stream PL, IL (pop. 40,738), citing staff as “the heart of the library.”
At Santa Ana PL, teen programming has relied solely on grants. Palos Verdes Library District, CA (pop. 68,000), has raised revenues by charging for passports, notary service, and room rentals to for-profit organizations.
At Campbell County PL System, VA (pop. 53,789), “adequately training more volunteers has been the biggest help.” Geauga County PL, OH (pop. 85,787), has been able to hire teen pages via a Catholic Charities jobs program.
Focus on “core services critical to the library mission,” advises Woodland PL, CA (pop. 55,000). Thus the library debuted self-check and outsourced processing and cataloging.
There’s still room to leverage public support. “My Library/My Story,” a public awareness campaign adapted from the New Jersey State Library/New Jersey Library Association, generated more than 1200 responses in two weeks at Montgomery County Memorial Library System, TX (pop. 430,000). Those responses helped prevent even deeper cuts.
And in what may be a harbinger of further changes, Johnson City PL, TN (pop. 71,183), suggests that “librarians must be able to manage successfully a larger team of paraprofessionals” as budgets tighten.
“Stick to your key business!” exhorts Maricopa County Library District, AZ (pop. 718,248). “Gaming, programming, etc., are nice, but [our] key business is material out the door.”
There’s no magic bullet for maintaining staff motivation in a time of austerity—many agree it is difficult—but more than 40% of respondents say that communication and transparency is the best policy. Others emphasize staff recognition and asking for staff input. Some make sure to inform staff of free or low-cost opportunities for training.
Several mention that small gestures go a long way, such as monthly drawings for prizes. And a few cite “lots of chocolate.”
Not only does Hall County Library System, GA (pop. 184,200), try to offer a special activity day each month, but “we also still insist everyone cross-train.”
“Focus on streamlining what they do,” suggests Washington County Library, MN (pop. 211,000), where fiction awaiting shelving sits on carts for patrons to sift through.
Unsurprisingly, libraries are emphasizing job-related services most of all; 23% cite it as a recent priority. Some 21% mention Internet access/Wi-Fi; a similar number cite programming. And 18% say they’re emphasizing online services and resources.
Notably, at least 18% of libraries serving populations larger than 250,000 are pushing self-check or self-service, with 28% of the largest libraries reporting such a focus.
Pioneer Library System, OK (pop. 341,741), says it is stressing several things, including outreach to rural schools and community centers, mall and convenience store book lockers for pickup, and remote book drops. Alachua County Library District, FL (pop. 250,000), highlights e-government, in a state where social services have migrated to the web.
Technology of course plays a role. Terrebonne Parish Library System, LA (pop. 109,000), reminds patrons to “text a librarian.” Davenport PL, IA (pop. 98,359), has drawn teens via an e-gaming program and has had success with a contest for teens to create their own movie—to be shown on the local IMAX screen and on YouTube.
Services cut back
Libraries are most likely to cut back on outreach, including bookmobiles and school visits, as cited by 14% of the total sample. Some 12% cite materials and hours. However, more than 21% of larger libraries—serving more than 500,000—are slashing materials. Moreover, more than one-third of the largest libraries—serving more than one million—have cut hours.
Harford County PL, MD (pop. 247,760), eliminated its small business librarian. Santa Barbara PL System, CA, axed interlibrary loan. And Sheridan PL, OR (pop. 7500), eliminated both audiobooks and entertainment DVDs.
The wish list
Libraries want to do more. They want to provide computer classes, programming, and hours. Notably, some 25% of larger libraries—serving more than 500,000 people—would like to offer more hours, while about 20% of that sector see the need for expanded collections.
Branch District Library, MI (pop. 47,418), speaks for many with strained bandwidth when it requests 100 Mbps Internet service, the kind that delivers the video so many patrons request. Maricopa County Library District would like “unlimited downloadable DVDs”—a service perhaps several years in the future—though for most libraries even downloadable audiobooks remain a relatively low priority.
Driftwood PL, OR (pop. 16,000), would like the staff time and skills to use social media better.
Omaha PL (pop. 486,929) cites the library’s de facto larger social responsibilities, requesting more help “for the homeless, needy, and un/underemployed.” Not dissimilarly, Denton PL, TX (pop. 118,994), would like to offer more outreach to the homebound, those in detention centers and shelters, and those in nursing homes, retirement villages, and assisted living facilities.
The continuing paradox
As libraries face increased demand and constrained resources, they will have to plan ahead. “Self-check would really have helped with the recession and will help in the future when making public service staffing decisions,” observes Roddenbery Memorial Library, GA (pop. 25,000).
Libraries small and large may be thinking about similar changes. It’s impossible for many libraries to fulfill all their patrons’ needs and wants. So they’ll have to be prudent, keep watch on local priorities, and remind funders of the library’s value as they navigate a challenging future.
|Population Served||Total Budget 2010||% Change in Total Budget||Materials Budget 2010||% Change to Mat. Budget||Salary Budget 2010||Change to Salary Budget|
|Total Sample (weighted)||$6,855,000||-2.6%||$792,000||-3.5%||$4,260,000||-1.4%|
|1 million or more||62,443,000||-4.5%||6,698,000||-6.0%||38,763,000||-3.0%|
|SOURCE: LJ BUDGET SURVEY 2010|
Average Per Capita Funding
|FY 2009||$42.79||NET CHANGE –.3%|
|FY 2010||$42.11 (projected)||NET CHANGE –1.6%|
|SOURCE: LJ BUDGET SURVEY 2010|
|Norman Oder is News Editor, LJ|