It sure would be nice, I imagine, to work in the Acquisitions Department of the Library of Congress. With a collection of some 138,000,000 items, it makes my struggles seem small. Each of us, in the context of our library, has to make choices about what stuff to have in them. Often, those choices either start or finish with the question, how much does it cost? And depending on when or why you might be considering that purchase, you might also ask – what benefit does the purchase provide to the library and your school community?
Depending on how long you’ve been dealing with your library budget (if you do), you will have noticed a large shift from your physical collection line items to your database subscription ones. Perhaps you’ve also decreased your magazine subscription budgets, too? Maybe, like me, your institution doesn’t wish to change the conventions of their master budget categories and you find yourself allocating certain costs that only resemble the actual nature of the expenditure. (Is an audiobook service a book or an online subscription?)
Our library is a small one – both in size, staff and, because of our school size (1.5 librarians for 350 students, grades 9-12), relative scope of services. Our budget has, largely, been sufficient. In my ten years here, however, it has been constant – that is, up until this year when I was asked to decrease spending by some 6%. The effort of looking closely at expenditures and where I might need to be more frugal has brought to the fore some of the questions I regularly ask when considering costs.
Is this something the library should have because any school library worth its salt should have it? Or is this something the library should have because it will be used/leveraged to such a degree to make that a value-added proposition? Should I order this book because a patron will read it but maybe they’ll be the only person to do so? Or should I buy a book that we think someone will read it but that perhaps no one will ever read? (I’ll also note that we are very lucky to have an endowed book fund that provides about 50% of our annual physical book budget.)
On a more positive note, as I have reduced costs in areas that were under leveraged, I have been able to allocate some of those funds toward initiatives for which I might otherwise not have had funds. This year, we are trialing a couple of new services that I didn’t, in the past, feel we had funds for. One is the Kanopy movie service and another is Overdrive’s Audio/eBook platform, Sora. We were able to redistribute some of our funds from the too little used Infobase Classroom Video on Demand to help cover those costs. While CVOD is a great resource, my failed efforts to successfully promote it and for it to be used couldn’t justify – within our budget restrictions – keeping it. We also were able to add more digital newspapers (e.g. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post) when we stopped using the NewsBank platform. Again, Newsbank is a great resource, but only if it actually gets used!
So here I am, nearly 67% of the way through my budget year with approximately 70% of my budget spent. It’s at this time of year I begin to think about purchases we made that didn’t get used to the degree I’d hoped. I also consider how to allocate what funds we have left to give our library patrons both what they want, what they ought to have, and what we hope for them to be able to benefit from. I know we won’t always have everything that everyone asks for, but we hope that we’ll be judicious with our allocations such that people can still make requests that we can fill and that not too many people will be unable to get what they need. And hey, if there’s a little money left over, I wouldn’t mind getting one of those seasonal affective disorder lamp visors…. I am seriously looking forward to daylight savings.