Holding Pattern | Budgets & Funding

LJ’s 2018 Budget Survey shows overall budgets continuing to increase slightly, but federal funding disputes and new tax laws raise concern.

LJ’s 2018 Budget Survey shows overall budgets continuing to increase slightly, but federal funding disputes and new tax laws raise concern

Last year, LJ’s budget survey showed libraries nationwide staying above water throughout 2016. In 2017 that trend continued, with libraries of all sizes reporting an overall average increase in funding for operating, materials, and personnel budgets. The trend seems to be leveling out, however. While total operating budgets rose modestly, concerns over a contentious federal budget that originally sought to eliminate federal library funding, as well as new tax laws, leave libraries unsure of what the future may hold.

An initial look at LJ’s 2018 Budgets and Funding survey of U.S. public libraries reveals a 2.8% increase in 2017’s total operating budgets, representing continued improvement since the lows of 2008—although down from last year’s gain of 3.4%. Overall, 77% of the 329 responding libraries reported an increase in total operating budgets from 2016 to 2017. In terms of individual locations, this is an improvement over previous years; 70% reported upticks in 2016, and 74% in 2015.

Distribution by library size was weighted to match previous years, but this year’s sample included a notable increase in suburban respondents and fewer midsize libraries. While in 2016 small libraries saw some of the most robust increases, this year libraries in the 100,000–249,000 population range led the pack with a 4.4% rise in total operating budgets and a 5.2% increase for personnel, and libraries serving one million or more easily doubled the average increases for both materials, at 5.2%, and technology, at 9.1%.

Overall, however, both materials and technology saw slower growth; materials budgets rose by an average of 2.5% versus 2016’s increase of 3.7%. Technology budgets grew by only 4.5%—just over half of 2016’s healthy 8.4% uptick. Personnel budgets increased by 4.5% as well, topping last year’s gain of 3.8%. Still overall, these numbers represent a flattening of the past few years’ gradual catching up.


Open hours for systems nationwide have risen slightly, with an increase of 2.1 hours in 2017. But at an average of 52.8 hours open per week, libraries have a way to go before they approach 2008’s high mark of nearly 60 hours.

Roughly half of the libraries in LJ’s sample consist of a single building; the average number of locations is 4.5. As has been the trend in recent years, open hours were proportional to system size. But when it came to individual locations, those open the fewest number of hours—the smallest libraries, with an average of 46 open hours a week—came in just behind the largest, which reported 49.8. Most midsize libraries kept their doors open above the average of 52.8 hours each week. Libraries in the 50,000–99,999 range, however, were alone in claiming fewer open hours in 2017, with an average loss of -0.5 hours per system.

Operating Budget Projections

Total Independent Library District Subject To Local Budget Appropriation
Projected change in total operating budget for 2018 +1.9% +0.7% +1.9%

Capital challenges

Capital needs continue to account for significant—and often unexpected—outlays. A number of measures in ­November’s elections ­focused on new construction and renovation to address aging or outdated infrastructure, such as New Jersey’s historic $125 million library construction bond.

Some took on additional urgency in the wake of 2017’s hurricanes, floods, and fires, such as the $123 million library construction bond passed in Houston two months after Hurricane Harvey devastated southeastern Texas. The recent Museum and Library Services Act of 2017 introduced in the Senate in December, which reauthorizes the core federal programs administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), contained an update clarifying that state grant funds can be used to help libraries get back online to serve their communities in the event of disasters.


Libraries continued to put money into their workforce in 2017, with 85% reporting an increase in personnel budgets from the previous year. However, much of this went toward pay raises for existing workers rather than augmenting library staff. Salary budgets rose by 4.5%, while the percentage of libraries reporting new hires remained essentially flat.

More than half of respondents reported no change in staff size. The largest libraries added an average of 9.7 employees—a significant jump from the number of new hires reported by the next largest, in the 500,000–999,000 range, at 2.4 employees. The only respondents to see a contraction in staff size were larger midsize libraries, serving 100,000–499,000, which reported a 0.4 reduction in FTEs.

This year’s average number of full-time employees, weighted by population served, is 64.8—slightly up from 2016’s ten-year low of 63, but still well below 2008’s average of 86 employees. Urban libraries and libraries in the South are most likely to provide full-time employment; the nationwide average of FTE is 46%, which increases in proportion to library size. One in five employees holds an accredited library degree; at the largest libraries, this rises to 28%. The Northeast has the lowest percentage of FTE of any region (37%) but the highest percentage of MLIS credentialed librarians (26%).

Still, libraries are prioritizing bringing in the folks who make the magic happen. When asked how they would spend an unexpected budget increase, one third of respondents said that they would put it toward staffing—although many stipulated that they would only do so if the increase were sustainable. Another 9% specified raises for existing staff. (Materials, capital expenditures, and technology were also mentioned in at least one-fifth of the responses.)

Some, with the support of local government, are taking big steps to retain the employees they have now. In 2017, Beaufort County, SC, conducted and adopted a countywide salary and compensation study, instituted to help normalize wages for the area’s high cost of living. The increase, says Ray McBride, director of the five-branch Beaufort County Library System (BCLS), “brought county employees up to where they should have been over the last 20 years.” Three-quarters of the 75-person BCLS workforce received base salary increases totaling $250,000, he reports.

“[The county] also did longevity raises—five, ten, 15, and 20 years automatically—and they also did merit pay for the first time ever. So my staff just got, the week before Christmas, $95,000 in merit pay.” McBride hopes that the increases, which came out of county coffers, will help to retain existing staff—27 are degreed librarians—as well as attract new talent.

Funding: Independent Library Districts vs. Locally Funded Libraries

Average FY 2017 Budgets
Independent Library District Subject to Local Budget Appropriation
Total Operating $9,858,000 $5,264,000
Materials 1,242,000 590,000
Salary/Personnel 6,101,000 3,780,000
Technology 433,000 281,000

Materials and tech

More than half of responding libraries (58%) increased their spending on materials, with just over a quarter reporting a decrease, for a net change of +2.5%. (LJ’s recent materials survey, based on a different sample, returned an even slimmer .1% rise.) Per capita funding averaged out to $55.80, moderately up from last year’s $54.06. As in the 2017 survey, per capita funding is highest in the Midwest and lowest in the South. Per capita circulation numbers were highest in the Midwest and for suburban libraries.

The largest libraries nearly doubled the overall average for materials budgets, with increased spending of 5.2%. Beyond that, few patterns emerged; libraries serving under 10,000 showed the second largest uptick, at 3.8% percent, but the next largest—those serving 10,000–24,999—reported the smallest increase of all, with 1.1% growth. Programming and materials were the top beneficiaries of donation and grant money, with technology in third place.

Technology budgets saw perhaps the greatest leveling out effect. Just over half of the libraries surveyed increased their technology spending from 2016 to 2017, and more than a third—36%—reported a budget contraction. The greatest budget fluctuations were also to be found in that category, from the largest libraries’ impressive 9.1% boost in tech funding to a -2.7% decrease for the next population size, libraries serving 500,000–999,000. Libraries serving under 10,000 also reported reduced technology spending.

The question about technology first appeared on last year’s survey, with many respondents noting those funds often came from other sources than the general operating budget, such as state money, grants, or gifts. These sources have all exhibited some contraction in the past year, and sustainability is top of mind when it comes to the programs and materials that rely on them—both in terms of balancing existing budgets and advocating for the importance of resources whose funding may not exist next year.

Nyama Reed, director of the Whitefish Bay Public Library, WI, notes, “People often want to give grants or donations for enhancements or fun stuff but not operating, not staffing costs.... Nobody wants to help us pay the electric bill.”

Staffing and Open Hours

Population Served Average FTE Staffing for All Locations Average Weekly Open Hours Per Location
Under 10,000 4.7 46.0
10,000–24,999 11.9 55.8
25,000–49,999 21.7 57.9
50,000–99,999 38.9 53.8
100,000–249,999 70.1 51.3
250,000–499,999 179.2 54.8
500,000–999,999 327.5 56.1
1 million or more 430.7 49.8


The total distribution of libraries subject to local annual budget appropriation—two-thirds of those surveyed—and those situated in an independent library district—just under a quarter—remains unchanged from last year.

Locally funded libraries averaged operating budgets of just under $5.3 million in 2017, up a modest 1.7% from the previous year. Libraries in independent districts fared considerably better, with operating budgets averaging $9.9 ­million.

State funding, however, was the revenue source hit hardest in 2017, down -5.8% from 2016. It has declined steadily since the recession of 2007–09, other than an outlier spike in 2014, but this most recent drop more than doubled FY16’s net decline of -2.7%. The smallest libraries were hit hardest, with a -7.3% drop for those serving populations of less than 10,000 and a -11.9% decrease for libraries in the 10,000–24,999 range. Only the largest libraries saw their state funding increase and only by 1.1%. State money in the South dropped -0.8%; the West/Mountain states saw the most damage, with a -9.3% drop.

Nearly all libraries received some donation money, ­averaging $143,000. Even though donations cover only 2% of total operating costs, those funds offered significant help. Although the largest systems had the fewest donations, at 89%, those they did receive were sizable, at an average of $621,000. Not only did 100% of respondents in the next population bracket—serving 500,000–999,000—receive donations (as did those in the 50,000–99,999 range), their gift amounts averaged $836,000.

Donations rose slightly, up from just under $140,000 in 2016, but grant money contracted sharply. While 78% of respondents received funding through grants in 2017, nearly the same as the year before, the grants themselves shrunk to an average of $70,000—38% less than 2016’s $112,000. Grant amounts and distribution corresponded to size; libraries serving fewer than 10,000 received the least grant money—an average of $14,000, tied with those serving 10,000–24,999—and the largest libraries took in the most, at $470,000.

The 2017 tax bill, signed into law in December, will cut deductions for state and local property taxes (SALT), which experts agree stands to leave taxpayers less open to passing new taxes. Potential midyear budget corrections for FY17 and FY18 may be triggered by shortfalls in state revenue, with implications at local funding levels. As well, FY19 budgets will reflect diminished federal tax receipts, which will have systemic, ongoing reverberations.

In mid-January, the federal government shutdown briefly closed IMLS (not to mention the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, and most presidential libraries). In addition to this most recent disarray at the top, last year more than 20 states missed the deadline to pass their FY18 budgets. Those, such as Connecticut, that reached significant impasses or shutdowns saw disruptions to state aid to libraries and state library budgets, as well as postponements to annual elections for town ­budgets.

Grant and Donation Money

Population Served % Received Grants Average Grant Received % Received Donations Average Donation Received
Under 10,000 70% $14K 92% $30K
10,000–24,999 80% 14K 97% 64K
25,000–49,999 66% 26K 96% 78K
50,000–99,999 85% 44K 100% 84K
100,000–249,999 81% 60K 95% 156K
250,000–499,999 84% 186K 94% 266K
500,000–999,999 80% 205K 100% 836K
1 million or more 89% 470K 89% 621K


Despite the uncertainly of federal, state, and grant funding, when asked to forecast for 2018, libraries predicted an average increase of 1.9%—slightly more upbeat than last year’s prediction of 1.4% but still lagging next year’s projected inflation rate of 2.38%. Respondents from moderately large library systems, serving populations of 500,000–999,999, had the most optimistic outlook for 2018, anticipating a 3.7% gain. Those in the 250,000–499,999 range anticipated a 0.8% uptick. Midwestern libraries projected a 2.8% increase, although they saw the smallest increases in local and tax dollars last year after the Northeast and the sharpest decline in state funding after the West/Mountain region.

As a whole, despite their average operating budgets being 87% larger, independent library districts are expecting a smaller budgetary rise for 2018 than libraries subject to local government funding.

However, libraries may find themselves the beneficiaries of proactive action at the state and local level. “Our county has been building its support for us,” says Skip Auld, CEO, Anne Arundel County Public Library (AACPL), MD, which is about to open a new branch at the Westfield Annapolis mall while the Annapolis Regional Library under­goes rebuilding in 2018–19. He also lauds Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates Michael E. Busch, who recently stated that he planned to work to allow itemized charitable donations to be deducted from state taxes in the new absence of federal deductions—a potentially critical amendment for libraries. “Busch is a Democrat, Gov. Larry Hogan is a Republican,” notes Auld. “And they both are jointly saying we have got to do something to protect our state and our citizens from the impact of this tax law.”

So what can libraries look forward to in the next year? “If people’s purse strings tighten up, they may come back and use the library more, as they did after the recession hit in 2010,” offers Whitefish Bay’s Reed. “If my circulation can go back up if money gets tight again…at least it gives me some silver lining.”


The LJ Budget Survey was mailed via USPS to the administrative offices of approximately 2,000 U.S. public libraries on November 6, 2017. A reminder was emailed to nonresponders on November 28. The address and email list was obtained from Market Data Retrieval. A drawing to win one of five $100 gift certificates was offered as incentive. The field closed on December 11, 2017, with 329 libraries responding, an overall response rate of 16%. Data presented in total or by regional breakdown was weighted by population served to even out deviations in the respondent sample. Data for specific population groups is unweighted.
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Another year, same question - how does a library/system right at the top/bottom of the increments use these numbers? Say your library serves 100K - should you use the 38.9 FTE average? The 70.1? Extrapolate from the midpoint of the two adjoining ranges?

Posted : Feb 21, 2018 02:23



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