Following the money in libraries
About a year ago, I heard a startling piece of information at the annual meeting of the Saxon Library Assocation (a state-level organization) in Leipzig. Public libraries in Saxony (Sachsen) spend around 10% of their budget on materials, and what I thought was an outrageous 67% on staffing. Saxony’s percentage is low for Germany, but most states hit around 12-13%. Equally bad, I thought. At the time, I made a mental (and thankfully, digital) note to look up numbers for the U.S. and write something about what felt like a revelation.
Finally finding a moment to do this and scratch it off my list, I was surprised to discover that numbers for U.S. public libraries look much the same. Per the 2008 IMLS statistics for public libraries, the average numbers for the U.S. are about 66% for staff and 13% for collections.
As an academic librarian, this makes my eyes pop out of my head. The 2008 ARL statistics show numbers that seem familiar to me: around 43% of the average budget of a research library goes toward materials, while 44% goes toward staffing.
As I wrap my brain around this, however, it starts to make sense. Public libraries are financially starved in most municipalities, while academic libraries are relatively well supported by most universities. Also, public libraries run more programming and fulfill other community roles that academic libraries can ignore.
Still, that only one in eight dollars goes toward collections seems too low. Would love to hear comments from those who know the history and present state of this issue better.