Thursday, April 15, 2010

National Library Week - How Libraries Struggle

Today I have with me a great blogger and even greater librarian - Michelle from Literarily Speaking. Michelle is a fellow Illinois librarian who works in a small public library and is the only actual employee. I can't even imagine what I would do without my library aide in my elementary library nonetheless run a whole public library! And that is exactly the topic she's broaching today - how she does what she does especially in our economy.

When I became a library director about a year ago, I knew I would face some interesting challenges when it came to money. My library's population is just a hair under 1,300, and property taxes in our county steadily have been falling for years. Just this year, we received word that the State of Illinois was cutting the amount all libraries across the state would receive from the per capita grant by 15 percent -- a huge cut for a library like us.

There never seems to be enough money in libraries to keep up with the patron demand for programs, books, movies or computers. People constantly want the latest and best book hot off the presses, and sometimes providing that is a struggle for those of us who have to watch the books while choosing what gets bought and what gets passed over.

I am allowed about $8,500 annually to purchase all materials -- books, DVDs, magazines, etc. That averages out to just over $700 a month. Just $700 a month must provide new materials for all levels of readers. This means I have to make some really tough choices.

Do I buy the slick set of books on different biomes on Earth for the juvenile non-fiction section, or do I pick up the latest James Patterson and Danielle Steel books for adults? Do I give in to all the great young adult fiction out there, or do I buy some DVDs so families can have free movie nights? Do I buy books by just the authors I know people will check out, or do I try and expand their horizons and buy books by authors who aren't well-known?

It's an incredibly tough decision to make, and I often have to tell patrons that I "just didn't have the money this month" to buy every new book that came out by their favorite authors. Often, my young adult and juvenile fiction sections get sorely overlooked because there are, proportionally, a lot fewer young adults and children checking out books than there are adults. Up until New Moon was released, I hadn't purchased a DVD in months, and the last time I purchased any was at Wal-Mart at the after-Thanksgiving sales on my own dime.

The biggest way in which I try to save money on materials is by comparison shopping. I've actually found that Amazon has some of the best prices on books, better than book suppliers in a lot of cases, and they don't charge shipping fees if my order is over $25. Ordering from Amazon has saved me a lot of money, especially if I take advantage of their clearance pages, and it helps me bring in many new books.

But still, no matter how much I economize and no matter how many bargain bins I visit, sometimes, it just isn't enough, and I have to look for other ways to increase my book budget.

My library doesn't receive a lot of big donations in a year, mostly because we're in an area with a large low-income population and people just don't have the money to spare. That fact also rules out a lot of other great fundraisers, such as auctions and T-shirt sales and sponsored bookplates. People just don't have the money to spare, and honestly, I feel bad asking them for it.

One of the best methods I've found for increasing my book budget is to hold book sales. I get a lot of donations at my library, often of books that are just too old to put on the shelves or that we already have in the stacks. I also weed out books that aren't circulating as they should, and I have nearly an entire back room full of books for sale.

People love to buy books. They love to have a book to call their own, read at their leisure and then put on a shelf. Book sales are great places to increase a private collection for a lot less money than it would cost to buy the books brand new. Every book that goes out of my library at a book sale not only brings in money for the library, but also clears out some extra space.

When my library board made the difficult decision last summer to close our final remaining branch library, we needed a way to get rid of all the materials and furniture in the building quickly. In one weekend, we sold more than $8,000 worth of books and furniture to people, and the money was used to replace some outdated computer monitors and computer furniture, which many patrons have commented on since. These are things we probably never would have been able to find the money for in our regular budget, but since we held the book sale, our patrons were able to enjoy some new materials.

As readers, I know many of you frequent library book sales. I do too! Just know that, while you're increasing your TBR piles and your book stashes, you're also helping your library provide essential programs and materials for everyone to enjoy. Your librarians thank you!

Thank you Michelle for sharing more about your library and how you run it! I can't believe the budget cuts going on in Illinois - I was afraid for my job as an elementary school Librarian and am glad to still have my job. I have no idea if they cut my budget for next year though and am crossing my fingers that they won't (since I already have plans for half of it!).

Please leave a thoughtful comment below and I'll give you another entry into the giveaway for this week.


  1. So true Michelle! Money from my library's booksales go right back into the library. That's how we were able to remodel my teen space last year-with money from the Friends of the Library booksale. Even if you donate books and they get put in the booksale instead of on the shelf, you're still helping the library.

  2. I never realized how much work it is to run a library! It seems like a rewarding job that is definitely challenging at times.

  3. Very interesting post. My library is having a big book sale next week, so the topic drew me in. I worry about my local libraries in this economy, I really can't live without stopping by once a week.

  4. Wow I never thought about how small a library budget must be. I frequent my library bookstore several times a week. I did notice the prices going up so I am thinking that my library is having a budget issue as well. Thanks for sharing! :)

  5. Interesting post, but so sad. Like the old bumper stickers said: it'll be a great day when the government, not the [library] has to have a bake sale. Everyone says they want a literate citizenry, but libraries are often the first on the cut lists.

  6. I think alot of people don't realize how small their budgets are. I think we take it for granted since we pay taxes that the funds are always available and alotted to the libraries but in reality its not.

    I know I always try to help out the library via buying books on sale or other ways. We need our local libraries.

  7. That's really sad. To have people who want to read so bad, but can't afford to buy books, go to their library who in turn can't afford it either. It's really quite a mess. I feel bad for you to have all of that responsibility on your shoulders to decide who get's to read what.

  8. This is the most interesting blog post I have read in a long time. My Portland library is so huge that I don't think of how smaller libraries get run.

    I love big library sales, but I'll add my own plug for smaller libraries and their selling techniques: Whenever I go through a small town, I try to stop at the library. The buildings are sometimes old and beautiful, and there is often nice art. But I go because so many small libraries keep a sale shelf going. I've found a lot of nice hardcover books for a dollar or two. And I like to think I get a little idea of what the town is like by what books get donated.

  9. Thanks for the opportunity to post, Kristen! Even the majority of people in my small town don't realize just how small our budget is. They think we have an endless supply of money to use for materials because they pay their taxes, but we don't!

    And, thanks for all the great comments, everyone. It's nice to see so many people supporting their local libraries by donating books or visiting book sales. Librarians really do appreciate it!

  10. Wow, I didn't realize libraries had to buy book like we do. I figured they got some kind of discount, you know? Our local libraries do not have book sales. They sell them to amazon, etc. so they can get more money for them. And the books donated go straight to be sold.

  11. Oh, this post really hit home for me! I'm the sole librarian for my school, which definitely isn't as hard for making acquisition decisions (only one topic to focus on). However, I definitely feel crunched. I don't really have a budget for my library. It's kind of a tricky situation, but I definitely understand feeling crunched.

  12. I'm not an Illinois librarian, but I am an Illinois teacher, so I feel your and her pain about the state of keeping important public services like, oh, I don't know, EDUCATING the next generation of leaders going in our fine state. We won't even have a person to run the library at my school next year-budget cuts have effectively killed that and 85 other teaching positions, not to mention the support staff we are losing. Keep fighting the good fight ladies!

  13. Michelle, I totally hear what you're saying. I teach in a rural school district with very little money. I teach English to at-risk students, grades 9-12. My budget has always been tight, but it may be reduced to only $750 for the entire year. I have no idea how I am going to provide books and materials for my students next year. This is the reason whu I have become so active online in book giveaways and contests. I need books for my students and the least I can do is to sacrifice a few hours a week to blogging! Keep up your creative methods of fund raising and book buying!

  14. I have donated over 2,000 books to Friends of the Library for their old book sales. These sales bring in alot of new books and other things needed at our three local libraries. I also attend these sales and buy books so I give the books then give the money. LOL
    In these times the libraries have a hard time getting any extra money and I feel I am helping a little to provide the material they need.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  15. One of the great things about the library system where I live (or I guess the community) is that funding generally isn't too much of an issue, where tax payer input is concerned. But occasionally you will hear people put up a fuss about "giving money to the library so poor people can use the computers" which you can damn well bet gets me to open my big mouth.

  16. I never realised the money troubles librarians have, i take it for granted that books will be there, but i appreciate the efforts librarian do, to encourage people to read, and promote reading. Although its challenging when you have problems like funding, its rewarding to know you have helped someones education or help their in life overall. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Its so sad that libraries are closing far and wide. It doesn't make sense to me to close them. The liraries in my neighborhood serve as a save haven for children as well as teens to be so they won't get into trouble. Money is a problem as we all know, but really I think the government should do something about this issue before we know it kids will be discouraged to read.

    God Bless to all the hard working librarians out there.

    cindyc725 at gmail dot com

  18. For years I've been donating my used books to the local library rather than turning them in for credit at a used bookstore. The amount I would have gained by reselling them is pretty minimal and I'd much rather help the library out. We've got to keep supporting our libraries - everyone deserves equal access to books and ideas regardless of whether they can afford it.

  19. Wow, I hadn't the struggles that many libraries are currently going through. Especially with the way the economy is nowadays. This has given me a greater awareness for the decisions my own local librarians have to make. I'm moving states soon so I've been clearing out everything I don't need and have a box full of books of books I no longer want. I'm going to give them to the public library before I leave - I feel even better now about helping out a bit!


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