10 Things I Know to be True about Budgeting for Libraries

Toni Garvey, Phoenix Public Library Director

  1. Budgeting is a year-round exercise.

    Decision makers need to hear about your services all year – not just when they’re voting on a new budget.  It’s easier to get and hold their attention when they’re not being deluged.

  2. You can’t make responsible decisions without the right information.

    Decide what you need to know and collect that data.  If you know you need to reduce hours, for example, find out what days and times you’re busiest with circulation, visits, phone calls and other electronic communication.  And then think about the data your library should collect next year: what will you need to know to tell the library’s story?

  3. Budget staffs have long memories.

    Do not play fast and loose with the numbers.  If you eliminate 5 FTE by cutting 10 hours of service, you can’t ask for 8 FTE to replace those hours in the future.  The budget folks will remember and you will look like a bad manager at best and deceitful at worst.

  4. It’s easier to build up than tear down…

    and it helps you focus on the future.  If you’re facing substantial cuts, make a list of all the resources the library will still have – buildings, staff, technology, collections.  Then study your usage data and design a new library system with the available resources.

  5. We cannot afford irrelevant excellence.

    We all have those things our libraries do well that aren’t as important as they once were.  It’s just human nature to want to do those things we’re comfortable with and good at.  Have staff at all levels help you find and eliminate those programs or processes that no longer support your service plan and are draining your resources.

  6. Even in bad times, you are building for the future.

    It’s tempting to drastically cut or even eliminate training funds when times are bad.  Don’t.  You’ll need motivated, skilled staff to get through hard times and prepare for the future. 

  7. A communication plan is essential.

    What will you tell staff, the library board, elected officials, the public about the budget … and when?  What formats will you use?  Who will speak for the library?  People need to trust that you will tell them what you can, when you can.

  8. You need to think like your audience.

    Whether you’re justifying a budget request to elected officials or explaining service cuts to the high school parent-teacher association, you must consider your audience and recast the message to resonate with them.  Remember, if a library’s materials budget is cut by 20% and circulation remains level, it will look to some people like a good business decision.

  9. It’s not always about the numbers.

    Nothing beats an anecdote from a constituent in making the case for your budget.   Letters, emails, phone calls, testifying at a budget hearing – these are all opportunities for decision makers to hear what’s important to the community.  Elected officials and other decision makers expect you to fight for the library’s budget.  What will sway them is hearing from the public.

  10. You can’t say “thank you” too often.

    Even when your budget is being cut, make sure decision makers are thanked publicly for the difficult work they’re doing.  At a time when they’re getting hammered from all sides, they will appreciate and remember positive words from your supporters.