Do You Have?

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?

Thomas Jefferson Building Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
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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!

This photo doesn’t exactly go, but it’s really cool…
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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.

Hurry up, spring!
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Budget crisis

At the end of the school year I was engaged in the usual tasks (and some not-so-usual ones, as I am moving into a new building this fall and had to vacate my old one), one of which is of course handling renewals for the upcoming school year. Undeniably it is always a little bit painful to have to contemplate fall when I can still taste the frosting on the commencement reception cake, but time marches inexorably on, so those purchase orders must get written.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a librarian who felt he or she had enough in the budget. I did have a mentor once who felt like her budget was pretty comfortable, but she didn’t go so far as to say she couldn’t find a way to spend a little more if she had it. Really, most librarians I know are asked to keep doing more with less, and then still more with still less, and so on. Prices go up, but the budget does not expand to accommodate it, and there is no such thing as Spanx to squeeze all those annual renewals in with no obvious bulges.

Time to get ferocious. I have been called a Grocery Ninja more than once. People standing behind me in line at the supermarket have asked me for tips and hints. I’ve been told I should have a home economy blog. (I don’t need any more deadlines I won’t be able to meet!) So, I am used to tackling thrift like I can get an Olympic medal in it and I decided to take an even firmer approach to the library budget this year. Were there surprising pockets of money lurking around in there that I didn’t consider?

Some of these methods may work for you, and some may not. For example, I’ve always processed my own books, from cataloging to stickering to covering. At a cost of at least a dollar per book depending on the vendor, it’s a savings for me but you may not have the staff or time to devote to it.

So, where else did I get creative? Here goes, with the above caveat in mind:

I had slashed and slashed our periodicals till we had gotten down to about a quarter of the magazine titles we had in print when I started seven years ago. I was careful to poll the faculty each time, and to check if we had access to the titles in our databases. I realize that print and digital are not exact equivalents of each other – there’s just no equal to those New Yorker covers! – but our poetry teacher was surprisingly easygoing about consulting American Poetry Review via database. Then I found a different magazine wholesaler who sold me the exact titles I wanted at a savings of $150 a year. Next, I approached individual departments about purchasing one or two titles out of their own departmental funds if they were very specific in focus. The language department was happy to buy a Spanish magazine, and the history department chipped in for digital access to The Economist. That saved me another $150 or so.

The biggest savings I realized were a happy accident for which I cannot claim credit: EBSCO’s Discovery Service is now available for a consortial purchase through MISBO at a steep discount. With those huge savings in hand, I was able to purchase a streaming online video service for classroom use. Because I will now be getting most of our video resources that way, I won’t need much in my budget for buying DVDs.

And then it occurred to me that I was paying for access to catalog records for A/V materials so I could catalog my own DVDs in-house. If I wasn’t going to catalog more than a few DVDs a year, couldn’t I drop that? I could. That’s another $150 or so.

MISBO, like Sam’s Club or Costco, charges a fee for participation and access to discount buying. In MISBO’s case, it’s a percentage of whatever you order. It turns out that this percentage goes up depending on when you finalize. Note that I said finalize: it means you’ve encumbered the funds but it’s not the same as actually paying the bill, so if it doesn’t match your fiscal cycle dates, you’re still OK. The difference between three percent of your purchase and seven percent of your purchase can be a bundle, so if you can get your shopping cart finalized early, you save quite a bit on those fees.

By the time I was done, I had managed to squeeze about $775 out of a budget that previously had nothing to spare. Not a mountain of cash, but if someone told you that you could have $775, or nothing, what would you take? Yup, me too. “Wow,” said my boss, “you should do everyone’s budget. This is amazing. Can we find enough to get a third story on the new building somehow?”

I’ll let you know how that goes. Excuse me. I have to get back to clipping coupons.