Do’s & Don’ts in Making a Library Budget Presentation

From the Decision-Maker’s Perspective


  • Start your presentation with simple graphs and charts that anyone can understand - the lowest level of detail.  You may have your whole proposal approved at a minimal level of discussion.
  • Be prepared to add layers of detail should the need arise, but do not offer anything more than you have to.  Work in stages with your detail and supporting materials.
  • In your first (lowest) level of detailed graphs and charts, the following are minimal components of an executive summary:
    • Dollar amount changes, year-over-year, with brief explanations of each line item that reflects a change.
    • Service differences, year-over-year, with a similar level of detail to dollar changes.
    • Staffing differences based on pay-grade with the same level of detail about changes year-over-year.
  • A direct assessment of the changes and the forces driving the changes (dollars, services, staffing, and performance).
  • Once this executive-level presentation has been completed, the nature of the questions should be assessed and the next step will depend on the result of the assessment:
  • If the questions require the next level of detail, if possible, try to refer them to the departmental Accountant or to the Assistant Librarian.
  • If there are lots of questions, try to get the budget authority to send their questions, in writing, so that they may be answered with the level of detail they deserve - this puts the responsibility back on the questioners.
  • Only offer what is needed AS it is needed.  Offering too much information can tend to lengthen the questioning period.
  • Remember, start with broad information and be ready to drill down, but at some point, the authority should be willing to move the questioning out of the public venue if it has many detailed questions.
  • Be a good listener.  Restate the questions to make sure that they are really what the authority wants to know.
    A good Budget Director will have worked with and coached the person making the proposal in advance, obviating many possible pitfalls. 
  • Know how to say NO.  Keep the budgeting authority realistic and on track, some things just can not be done.  Make a compromise offer of what you can do with the resources allocated and offer to report back periodically.
  • A great deal of compromise may be required.  Always remember that your ideal may not match perfectly with those of your budgeting authority.
  • Positivity, no matter the circumstance, is critical
  • Prepare and present a document that summarizes what the library is NOT doing or could be doing better.  Use data from other systems and offer comparisons with similarly sized  systems.  Use per capita or per unit service comparisons to strengthen your arguments.


  • Under-prepare.  Do not assume that wide public support will result in an easy proposal process, be ready for tough questions at every step.
  • Avoid giving a direct or frank response to questions.  Even the hint of holding back will foster negative responses from budget authorities.
  • Fake an answer!  Know when to say that you don't know the answer and that you will get the answer to the budgeting authority as soon as possible.
  • Commit to specific number in a public forum capriciously- if forced, offer a range and agree to follow up at a later date.
  • Respond to confrontation publicly if you can help it.  If you know that you have opposition to your proposal ahead of time, ask your opponent to meet one on one at a later time to work out any concerns or reservations.

Executive Librarians Speak 

Budget Presentations Homepage