8 Ways to Stretch Your Library’s Budget

According to Pew Research, large majorities of Americans see libraries as part of the educational ecosystem and as resources for promoting digital and information literacy, yet many libraries are struggling under insufficient budgets. Overall, library budgets are expected to increase slightly by 1.5%, but that barely covers the increase in prices. And in some communities, like academia, libraries are reported to receive shrinking shares of the overall budget. Yet in spite of statistics, some librarians are finding creative ways to get the most out of their library’s budget. Here are 8 ways to stretch your library’s budget and get more for your community:

1. Take existing programs and repurpose them. This works especially in situations where you have leftover materials that you can re-use, like craft supplies. If, for example, your library runs a photography program, you could adapt it for different demographics such as a senior, adult, or children’s program, or you could create a new program on creating picture books using photographs or combining it with a Photoshop class.

2. Leverage each program to make sure you optimize usage. If you’re offering a program on robotics, consider combining it with basic coding and offering portions of the program via new technology like tablets or eBooks. This will improve usage of new technology and get patrons to consider taking more than one program, while also getting the most out of your library’s budget.

3. Pull resources from the community itself. In a smaller public library this may mean partnering with local shops to create makerspaces, or asking parents to take initiative to learn and teach programs to children. At Darien, Connecticut’s public library, one parent-child team decided to learn Java and teach it to other children at the same time. In academic libraries, consider partnering with departments to host art show or exhibit entries to an engineering challenge.

4. Rent your resources to the community. Public libraries might rent a tech lab to a local school or to homeschoolers, or rent a multi-purpose room to seniors. Community colleges can rent out makerspaces to the public, to clubs, or special interest groups.

5. Get People in the Community to Advocate for You. “Often, librarians are using faculty as advocates for needed resources. If a specific faculty member wants the library to get a specific product or resource and there is no money, they will have the faculty go to the department head and advocate for it,” says Anthony Marrocolla, Digital Resources Librarian at McGraw-Hill Education.

Local public libraries may have “Friends of the Library” or other community groups who can help advocate for new shelves, resources, or other sources of funds. Parent groups such as PTOs as well as parents of homeschooled children often recognize and support programs for children and will help fundraise or advocate for funds.

6. Pool resources with other libraries or other budgets within your library. Combining funds with another local library might make it possible to afford mobile makerspaces, an inflatable planetarium, or other resources that can be transferred easily. At Darien, Connecticut’s, public library, Claire Moore, Head of Children and Teen services, partnered with the adult division to offer more robust programs. By combining intergenerational programs, she is able to stretch her budget and offer technology she might not be able to afford on her budget alone.

7. Use a Patron-Driven Acquisitions Model. Ellyssa Kroski, Director of Information Technology at New York Law Institute, found a way to offer members a large eBook collection of 89,000 titles valued at nearly $14 million dollars without any up-front costs. “We did this by opting for a patron-driven acquisitions pricing model in which we don’t incur any charges for the eBooks that we offer (and have cataloged in our OPAC) until someone checks them out,” says Kroski. “Even then, we have measures in place to ‘rent’ the eBooks three times to really make sure they’re popular before auto-purchasing them on the fourth checkout.” This type of library service is available to all libraries and is seamless and instant, so patrons can read and access a large collection of eBooks wherever they are, instantly and without hassle – all without putting a strain on your library’s budget.

8. Get a grant, special project, gift, or endowment. Anthony Marrocolla says in academic libraries, “these are often allocated to library departments with a focus on buying materials in those subject areas. Often the librarians for the ‘school of medicine’ would write a grant explaining what they would use the money on if awarded.” Grants can be for more than just books or resources, though. Consider whether your library might be eligible to receive funds for the upkeep of historic buildings, preserve older books, or offer programs for special interest groups. Many libraries in New York City, for example, received grants to rebuild after significant damage from Hurricane Sandy.

If you’d like more tips for working within your library’s budget, please download our white paper The Librarian of the Future.


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