Like with many cities, January is budget time here in Oskaloosa. That means as director I get to put on my number crunching, library advocating hat and do my best to justify the library’s request for funding for the next fiscal year. January, I’ve also noticed, seems to be the time when I get the most calls from vendors of all types trying to push their products. They know we’re working on the budget and will try anything, it seems, to convince us to buy, upgrade, replace! Thus, it’s an ever more important time to pay attention and realize what’s necessary and what’s not.
The local listservs are abuzz, too, with the chatter about budgets as colleagues request ideas for making the library’s case, figures to compare against, and much needed moral support. Some are dealing with board of trustees or council members who believe things like “many libraries rely solely on their Friends Groups and Foundations for materials funding” or “the library could be efficiently operated by volunteers.” That’s enough to ruffle my pages! It’s during this time that I keep a few things in mind when preparing to discuss the budget with board and council members:
Money spent on library materials means money saved for the community.
Just and example, the current hardcover price on Amazon for M.D. Sedman’s bestselling novel, The Light Between Oceans, is $18.14. Since we added it to our collection, this title has circulated 19 times. Assuming our patrons would have to buy the title to read it if they didn’t have access to it at the library, that’s roughly $326.52 that remains in the community’s pocket because library patrons aren’t spending it at places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other non-local retailers. Considering the number of new titles purchased against the total circulation of all those items, a $30,000 investment in library materials could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings for the community.
Money spent on library materials and staff is an investment in the community’s future.
Up to date exam and college prep books are expensive. Resume and cover letter guides are expensive. Internet access can be pricey too, especially if you live in a rural area. For those new to computers, filling out applications online can be a confusing and frustrating endeavor. A well trained reference librarian can make the task much less so. People who lack the skills needed to find a job may not be able afford to spend money on the resources needed to do so. The library gives people access to these resources and services, which can increase their chances of getting better educations or obtaining work, which in turn would benefit the community. But the library cannot rely on donations and volunteer work alone.
Librarians deserve to be paid!
Cataloging and processing items, planning programs, organizing information, completing in depth research, managing collections, interacting with patrons and helping them find the resources they need – and that’s just the beginning! Not just anyone can walk in from the street, offer their time for free and be successful at all of these tasks. It takes time, skill and training. Yes, some of the more general tasks could be completed by volunteers, but, believe it or not, reliable, skilled volunteers are hard to find. And don’t forget to factor in things like the cost of volunteer insurance (which some cities, like mine, require), privacy issues and consistency. (This definitely isn’t to say volunteer work isn’t valuable and appreciated, though!)
All of this, of course, isn’t new to the library think tank. However, these are things of which sometimes board and council members and other government representatives need to be reminded again and again as we argue the case for library funding. If you’re in charge of budgeting for your library (or even if you’re not) what other arguments can and should be made? I’d love to hear your thoughts!