Using Comparative Data

Use the Right Data to Get Your Budget Passed!

Powerful data in your budget presentation can pave the way to support from your funding sources.  It can tell your story – where you have been, where you are now, and where you hope to go with library services in your community.  It can give them reasons to support your efforts, and ways to justify this to constituents.  Some things to consider:

  • Find sources of data to use in presentations. 
    • The Public Library Association prepares an annual report with extensive data on library services (  Information includes annual funding and expenditures, collection size and services, etc. for a large sample of libraries in the U.S. and Canada.
    • Many states collect similar data through their library oversight departments and make it available to the public – for example, Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction has annual data going back many years for every library in the state, available in Excel format on their website.  Even if your library is not in Wisconsin, this information can show how libraries of various sizes serve their communities. 
    • More local data may also be available from your library consortium or city and county library service. 
    • Don’t forget non-library data!  You may want to compare your library’s budget requests to cost of living increases or discuss how rising unemployment drives increased need for your services, etc.

  • Consider presenting information on the market value of your library’s services to the community.  Check out: to see what a bargain libraries are!

  • Graphs and charts can make it easier to show the relationships between data points, either for your library compared to others, or your library over time.  (See separate section of this website on graphs.) 
    • Here is an example of a chart that would give some perspective on how the “Presenting Library” stacks up to others on key indicators (data from PLDS Statistical Report 2009, for libraries serving population of 25,000 to 49,999).  Note how we have provided the conclusion that we’d like drawn from the information presented:
Library Expenses on a Per Capita Basis
Materials Expenditure
per capita
Circulation per capita Operating expenditure
per capita

Staff FTE

Mean $7.01 11.79 $56.86 87
Median $5.26 9.30 $40.53 82
Presenting Library $22.57 40.19 $53.40 80

As this chart shows, high materials expenditure achieves exceptional circulation. Yet total expenditure and FTE's are responable.
  • Consider presenting how well your library is meeting generally-accepted standards or how your library has progressed (or regressed) over the last few years.  Also consider presenting information on how you intend to better meet those standards in the future with adequate funding.
    • Wisconsin, for example, has Quantitative Standards for Materials Expenditures, Hours Open, etc. based on population served.  Any library anywhere could measure itself against such standards. 
    • A chart or graph that demonstrates meeting or exceeding many standards while failing at others can be a powerful way to support funding for those areas.

  • Data showing what other libraries are doing: services offered, building size, collection size, etc. can highlight your library’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as show funding sources what is needed for your library to “keep up.” 
    • You can compare your library to those in similarly-sized communities or those with similar circulation. 
    • Budgeting authorities are often especially interested in how your library compares to those in neighboring communities.

  • Create normative/derivative data to make your case.  Some examples:
    • Restating total Materials Expenditures into Materials Expenditures per Capita makes it possible to compare libraries serving different sized populations. 
    • Restating total Operating Expenditures into Operating Expenditures per Circulation enables you to show how economically you deliver your services (or use it to support a request for funding for efficiency improvements, like self-service kiosks).  
    • Funders concerned with your personnel costs may be reassured by seeing your Staff Costs per Circulation, or FTE per Public Service Hour compared to those of similarly-sized libraries.

  • Finally, remember that all this data can do more than just directly support your budget request.  It can also help you to gain the perspective (which you can also share with funding authorities and patrons) that will enable your library to continually monitor its performance and strive to improve its services to the community.  

    3. Citizen Support- Rallying Stakeholders Around the Library

Budget Presentations Homepage