More Service Than Circ

LJ ’s 2019 Budgets and Funding survey shows less lending but more programming, patron amenities, and outreach.

In keeping with the trends of the past few years—and showing some incremental improvements—the 318 libraries that responded to LJ’s 2019 Budgets and Funding survey reported a steady average increase in their budgets for operations, materials, and personnel. Gains have leveled off somewhat from their encouraging climb during the initial part of the decade, but in most areas, libraries of all sizes maintained an upward course.

Total operating budgets averaged $7,046,700, a rise of 3.5%, compared with 2017, though different libraries report each year, making such comparisons subject to variations in the sample. This bested both last year’s 2.8% and 2016’s 3.4% gains. Slightly fewer libraries saw their operating budgets grow—76%, down from last year’s 77%—but those that did saw a larger increase.

Materials budgets grew by 2.4%, representing modest but continual progress when compared with 2017’s 2.5%. Just over half of the responding libraries (56%) increased materials spending, with one quarter reporting a contraction in materials outlay. Funding for staff increased as well, with 83% of the libraries reporting an increase in personnel funds.

These numbers were not evenly distributed across large and small libraries, however. Libraries serving populations of 250,000 to 499,999 reported the largest boost in operating budget dollars, which rose by a full 5%. Those same midsize libraries, however, saw one of the smallest increases in materials budgets, at 0.5%—second only to the smallest libraries. The largest, serving one million or more, were well above the average with regard to growth in their materials budgets but saw the least gain of all library sizes in personnel and operating budgets.

The data was weighted by population served to even out fluctuations in respondent sample sizes each year. When analyzed in terms of customers served, the average per capita funding for 2018 was $50.68, down from the previous year’s $55.80; per capita materials funding dropped to $5.54 from $6.09. Although these figures could reflect 2017’s sampling of above-average funded libraries, the drop in per capita circulation can’t be so easily explained: it dipped to an average of 8.25 items—the lowest in nine years of tracking. And these findings echo those of the separate sample of librarians who responded to LJ’s Materials Survey and also saw a drop in circulation. For more details, see Barbara Hoffert’s “Circ Shift” (coming soon).


For the most part, libraries in the American Midwest continued last year’s trend of boasting the highest average funding, with those in the South typically trending well below the national average. Actual per capita total funding dwindled noticeably, however—down to $64.03 from 2017’s $66.67 in the Midwest and in the South $31.78, nearly $2 a head down from last year’s $33.76. Suburban libraries saw the highest per capita funding averages at $63.63, with those in small towns trailing at $39.75.

2010 10.17
2011 10.19
2012 9.94
2013 10.00
2014 9.97
2015 9.32
2016 8.70
2017 10.10
2018 8.25
Trending is based on different libraries responding each year, but is
weighted to even fluctuations by population served.

Per capita materials funding saw a 9% drop from last year’s numbers. And while this is cause for some concern, it should also be taken in context of 2017’s anomalous spike, when those dollars jumped 11.9% from the year before. Given that per capita materials dipped 2.5% in 2016 after rising 2.2% the year before, 2018’s downturn can be seen as an expected adjustment to 2017’s 11.9% jump. Following the general regional trend, per capita materials funding in Midwestern libraries was 29% higher than the national average and 34% below in the South.

Per capita circulation also saw a spike last year, although not as pronounced as that in materials funding, jumping briefly to an average of 10.10 items per person—numbers more typical of the immediate postrecession in 2010 and 2011.



Materials circulation is not dropping drastically, but even large, thriving urban systems saw their numbers decline. “It keeps inching down,” says Misty Jones, director of the 36-branch San Diego Public Library. “Visitor statistics are up, and program statistics are up—everything else is up, except people just aren’t checking out as many books.”

When it came to book and media circulation, the total average of 1,203,800 was down more than 100,000 items from the previous year. Numbers were highest in Midwest and suburban libraries, with about ten to 11 circulated items per person. Spending on materials was up, at 66¢ per circ on average, compared to 60¢ the year before. Rural libraries spent the most per individual circ, as did those in the Northeast.

There are a number of possible explanations for the drop, including a rise in usage of e-materials that may not be counted side-by-side with physical materials; ­ebooks that are part of vendor packages may also be considered database materials when circulation is assessed. And materials lent by other libraries under consortial agreements are not rolled into the borrowing library’s ILS statistics.

In addition, although recent studies have focused on the question of whether library lending has cut into ebook sales, the reverse may also be true: patrons accustomed to the ease and relatively low cost of online ebook purchasing and instantaneous delivery may bypass long holds lists on popular new releases for the immediacy of one-click ordering—particularly if a library’s budget can’t keep pace with the demand for best sellers. “It’s so convenient and cheap now to order off Amazon,” explains Jones, “when somebody wants to read a new book, we’ll have a hold list of 700 people. Some will wait; a lot of people will just buy it themselves.”



Another answer to the question of dropping circulation may involve increases in programming, in-library amenities such as Wi-Fi and Maker spaces, and outreach such as mobile Maker labs. Although this year’s survey did not ask specifically about programming dollars, anecdotal responses indicate that the abundant options open to library visitors have drawn the focus away from checkouts at the same time as materials funding has dipped slightly. Libraries spent an average of nearly $305,000 on technology, with 42% of respondents reporting an increase in tech spending over the previous year (and an equal percentage who said their tech spending remained unchanged).






Under 10,000 96 $9,800 41 $2,700
10,000 - 24,999 94 $37,300 32 $6,500
25,000 - 49,999 97 $67,600 48 $17,000
50,000 - 99,999 94 $111,600 50 $31,100
100,000 - 499,999 100 $398,200 60 $78,400
500,000 - 999,999 100 $1,477,500 50 $183,700
1 million or more 100 $2,298,900 100 $311,800

About half of the libraries surveyed spent money on outreach last year, averaging $53,500. A quarter said this was an increase over the previous year. The larger the library, the more likely it was to dedicate money to outreach, with all of the libraries serving more than one million answering in the affirmative.

All of these strategies serve the community and bring increasing numbers of people in the door but don’t necessarily translate into borrowing.

“While we have seen some softness in checkout of physical materials, we are noticing very strong checkout of e-content, especially streaming e-content,” says Ray Baker, director of the Miami-Dade Public Library System, FL. “More important, we are seeing increased attendance at our library locations, programs, and events and even seeing a higher number of new library cards being issued. It may be overly simplistic, and something that we all already know, but people are enjoying the library in different ways.”

In response to an open question on the survey about what has influenced public support for the library over the last two years, many noted that augmented programming has increased goodwill from stakeholders.

“Our branch library, the Museum of Heritage and Arts, has art and history exhibits as well as our Southwest history collection and genealogy research,” says Cynthia Shetter, director of the Village of Los Lunas Public Library, NM. “We have also taken on tourism by utilizing the municipal minibuses to take people on tours within a two-hour drive of Los Lunas. This [enabled] the library/museum to be part of the tourism task force the village created this past year. Local government officials recognized that we were not only contributing to the economic development of the community...but [serving] as an ecotourism ambassador for the community as well.”



Personnel budgets rose by 3.8%, leveling off somewhat from 2017’s 4.5% boost. Staffing itself, however, is largely flat, with an average increase of only 0.7 full-time employees reported by respondents. Fifty-six percent reported no change in staff size from 2017 to 2018, and only 10% had downsized. But as this year’s average of 64.2 FTE demonstrated, the hoped-for rebound to prerecession numbers is still far on the horizon.

Close to half of library staff are employed full-time, with urban libraries and those in the South most likely to provide full-time employment. Under one-fifth of employees—18.6%—hold MLIS degrees; urban and suburban libraries and those in the Northeast and larger libraries employ a higher percentage of credentialed librarians. ­Government-funded libraries employ slightly more full-time staff than those in independent tax districts; the difference in credentialed librarians by funding source is ­negligible.

About 96% of libraries devoted money to professional development for their staffers, ranging from $1,900 at the smallest libraries to just over $104,000 at the largest. This was an increase over the previous year for 35% of the libraries surveyed; roughly half reported no change.

Open hours also showed little change, although up slightly from 2010 levels. The average number of open hours per location is 51.6 per week; responding libraries averaged 4.7 locations, with over half (53%) operating a single branch. Suburban and Midwestern facilities reported the most open hours per location; rural libraries and those in the West/Mountain region the fewest; none had a net decrease in hours this year.



While the 2018 midterm elections did not produce the groundswell of support promised by 2017’s elections (see John Chrastka & Samantha Mairson’s “Stable Support,” p. 37), funding at both the state and local level has remained solid, with both up from 2017.

Taxing distribution of the libraries surveyed was nearly identical to last year. Two-thirds of the libraries surveyed were subject to a local budget appropriation, averaging operating budgets of more than $5.7 million in 2018. The 27% of respondents funded through independent taxing districts brought in nearly twice as much, averaging just over $10.5 million.

Yet while tax dollars are reliable sources of income, they are also seeing some backlash from antitax sentiment among voters. The state of Kentucky, for example, has weathered nearly six years of lawsuits over property tax collection for libraries, notes Julie Maruskin, director of the Clark County Public Library, Winchester, with opponents persistently citing two typical issues. “The first of these is duplication of services; many detractors feel that such a large percentage of the population have access to the Internet that libraries are no longer necessary, at least as a publicly supported entity,” says Maruskin. “The second is that library facilities simply should not be supported as a taxing district by those who do not use the services, or who feel that the library serves an inordinately high percentage of the population that the detractor perceives as a tax burden in other ways.”

In last November’s elections, New York’s Woodstock Public Library rallied residents to defeat a community group–led ballot question that would have dissolved the library’s tax district and its governance, incorporating the library under the town board. The silver lining, notes board president Dorothea Marcus, is that the library now has an organized group of advocates whom it can mobilize for future campaigns.



Local funding, while up only moderately from 2017, still represents an increase of 2.4% over last year’s dollar amounts. Some 62% of the libraries surveyed reported an increase in local funding, with the greatest gains reported for libraries serving populations of 10,000 to 24,999, and the least seen by the smallest libraries. Locally funded libraries in the Northeast saw significantly less than other regions—possibly because they represented smaller libraries, as per capita funding in the Northeast was not comparably low. Urban libraries, on the other hand, brought in healthy pieces of the pie, nearly tripling the average of both locally appropriated and independent tax dollars.






Under 10,000 77 $10,475 100 $10,382
10,000 - 24,999 79 $14,725 97 $53,578
25,000 - 49,999 77 $21,713 99 $32,590
50,000 - 99,999 82 $42,122 98 $95,670
100,000 - 499,999 78 $110,649 89 $118,743
500,000 - 999,999 87 $402,688 100 $667,601
1 million or more 100 $2,139,346 100 $1,081,791

On a larger scale, successful statewide measures such as New Mexico’s General Obligation (GO) Bond Issue B, which passed in November by more than 68% and will provide $12.876 million in aid to libraries statewide, helped drive state funding up this year by 1.3% after a three-year turndown. Those dollars were not evenly allocated across the board, however. The largest libraries, serving 500,000 residents or more, saw their state funding drop by more than 7%, and libraries on the smaller end of the spectrum experienced shrinkage as well. Those serving populations of 100,000 to 499,999, on the other hand, saw a gain of 7.5%. Midwestern libraries accounted for much of that increase, while state funding for libraries in the Northeast dropped by 2.4%.

Nearly all libraries receive donation money, which covers some 1.8% of their total operating budgets. Individual and foundation purse strings were tighter this year; the average donation of $123,000 was down from last year’s $143,000. Grant money, on the other hand, was up significantly, averaging more than $107,000 over 2017’s $70,000—which had represented a nearly 40% drop from the year before.

In a year noted for challenges that included floods, wildfires, and violence, a number of libraries received additional donations through relief funds to help rebuild or as gestures of sympathy—although many damaged libraries are still struggling to reopen. After an active shooting event in August 2017 in which two staff members lost their lives, notes Margaret Hinchee, director of the Clovis-Carver Public Library, NM, “There was an outpouring of support (through memorial donations as well as emotional support) throughout the year.”

Budget offices predict a 2.1% increase in total operating budgets for next year. Most libraries are reasonably optimistic, predicting a nominal increase—with the exception of the largest, which anticipate a .5% drop in their total budget. The next smallest size, serving 500,000–999,999, have the brightest outlook, forecasting a larger-than-average uptick of 4.2%.

As many libraries move away from the traditional lending model toward new, often necessary models of engagement, they are reallocating budget dollars toward programming and services—as well as outreach, marketing, professional development, and other proactive requirements. Circulation numbers may be going down, but rather than be a cause for alarm, the 2018 statistics demonstrate how libraries are continually redefining their offerings to benefit their constituents.

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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