Value Added Budgets | Budgets and Funding 2023

Library budgets continued to rebound in 2022, with the largest upticks in a decade—and a continued focus on pandemic-era community needs.

Library budgets continued to rebound in 2022, with the largest upticks in a decade—and a continued focus on pandemic-era community needs

Organizations manifest their value systems through their budgets. When budgets and values align, an organization can focus on solving problems and supporting populations. When budgets are inadequate or not properly allocated so as to realize organizational values, management needs and mission priorities are often in conflict. In 2022, library budgets reflected the commitment to community needs amplified during and immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns and appeared to be strong—mirroring the strength of state and local revenue in FY21–22 and the ongoing benefits of federal funding.



  % Change in Total Operating Budgets % Change in Materials Budget % Change in Personnel Budgets
Increased  81 62 85
Decreased  14 26 11
No Change  5 12 4
Net % change +6.1 +5.1 +6.4

Source: LJ Budgets and Funding Survey 2023

Library Journal’s 2022 Budgets and Funding Survey, sponsored by Baker & Taylor and The Library Corporation (TLC), received 257 responses that contained enough budget information to be included in the sample. Top-level survey results show that budgets are up overall by 6.1 percent from 2021, a significant year-to-year increase—the average total operating budget was $8,441,800, up from $7,953,400. This is the largest year-over-year increase since the 2013 to 2014 survey, which saw a 4.3 percent rise in operating budgets. Spending on materials increased by 5.1 percent, and on personnel (including wages and benefits) by 6.4 percent. By comparison, the 10-year running average for materials increases was 2.6 percent, with some years essentially flat. Likewise, spending on personnel has been annualized at 4.1 percent increases over the last 10 years.



There is an age-old debate in library leadership circles about which type of governance structure (independent, municipal, or contract) and funding formula (direct taxing authority or municipal funding) is better for library revenue and management. In 2022, the evidence did not point to one type of governance or funding being more beneficial to libraries than other types in any definitive way. Two-thirds of municipal libraries received an increase in local funding in 2022, up from 55 percent in 2021 and 38 percent in 2020. Among independent library districts, 75 percent reported increases averaging 5.2 percent. It appears that the overall strength of the economy combined with relief programs benefited all libraries, regardless of their funding models.

Geography is more determinant of funding than the structure of the library. Ninety percent of responding urban libraries received an increase in local funding in 2022, while only half of rural-defined libraries saw an increase. The net change in local funding from 2021 to 2022 was up 3.4 percent, and all segments saw a net positive change in local funding. The factors that drove revenue increases appear to be a combination of strong property values hitting the tax rolls, rebounding sales-tax collection following COVID reopenings, and significant use of federal programs through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act rather than type of library.

Americans are generous in their charitable giving even as political conversations about taxes are often fraught. In 2022, donations to surveyed libraries increased 4.6 percent on average. This is on top of a 9.3 percent increase in donor support in 2021. While half of libraries responded that donations were essentially flat, that profile sits on strength from the previous year.



COVID relief dollars from the CARES Act and ARPA were important sources of new library funding in 2022, according to the survey. Most federal relief during the pandemic was dedicated to shoring up state and municipal budgets, providing direct support to COVID mitigations and public health, and providing direct payments to individuals and businesses. Independent library districts were not eligible for direct distributions of ARPA or CARES Act support the way municipalities were. Likewise, municipal libraries were not directly eligible but could benefit from city and county allocations. The Institute of Museum and Library Services was entrusted by Congress to administer millions in grant programs to eligible public libraries along with supplemental aid to state libraries according to the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding formula.

Libraries reported applying for and receiving significant COVID-related grants. Numerous respondents shared that ARPA and CARES dollars were used for technology upgrades including new hotspots, Wi-Fi and routers, kiosks, Chromebooks, laptops, and other work- and study-from-home devices. Several added mobile libraries, bookmobiles, contactless services, and 24/7 access supports, such as lockers, with ARPA funds. CARES Act money, which came earlier in the pandemic, was used for critical health and safety mitigations including PPE, air purifiers, cleaning and sanitation supplies, new equipment and furnishings, and reconfiguring public service and staff spaces. Several respondents highlighted the importance of state library–sponsored hotspot programs and expanded ebook and database collections. One director reported that “these items were used to support customer self-service and [minimize] staff interaction.” Some libraries took programs outside by creating story walks, outdoor library spaces, and health-related events with federal funding.

Most significantly, libraries directed ARPA-funded projects to helping their communities adapt and thrive during COVID. Barbara Brattin, director of the Kenosha Public Library, WI, reported a wide use of funding for “children’s book vending machines, social worker placements, and technology improvements in meeting rooms.” Pioneer Library System Associate Director Aiden Street shared that the library acquired digital materials and databases for its Oklahoma City community. Several libraries focused on workforce development programming along with technology upgrades (in-house and for checkout) that supported job seekers and small businesses. Director Shasta Hochstrasser of Mountain Home Public Library, ID, noted that the library created a “Job Prep Collection” including tests, résumé services, trades exploration, and laptop checkout. Another large system in the Northwest subscribed to a video interpretation and translation service to assist staff in communicating with the community.

The impact of ARPA on state budgets was also evident in states’ ability to increase aid formulas for libraries in 2022. State aid to libraries was reported as being up 1.6 percent by respondents, with all library types reporting some impact. Regionally, state aid saw gains of 7 percent in the Northeast and 3.3 percent in the Midwest, while the South and Intermountain West saw declines of -2.5 percent and -2.2 percent, respectively. This overall increase in 2022 reverses a two-reporting-year decline in state aid in 2020 and 2021.



Two issues that are perennial management challenges for libraries are salary compression and the local prevailing wage. Wage compression occurs when newly hired, less-experienced employees earn close to what current employees make. In some cases, new employees are earning more than colleagues with longer tenures. This wage inversion can negatively affect morale and even create legal issues. Because taxpayer-funded institutions such as libraries generally lag behind the private marketplace, libraries—regardless of size, geography, or funding formula—often have problems adjusting their rate of pay in response to market demands.



  % Change in Circulation % Change in Weekly Open Hours % Change in FTE Staffing
Increased  74 17 28
Decreased  9 6 12
No Change  17 77 60
Net % change +7.5 +0.8 +1.4

Source: LJ Budgets and Funding Survey 2023

Libraries are impacted by minimum-wage requirements and prevailing wage pressures. Kandace Knowlton, director of the Chester Public Library, NH, commented, “We have increased wages to $15 an hour or higher to offer a more competitive rate.” One urban director indicated a need for Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increases for professional staff. Several directors reported using ARPA or CARES Act money for wages, including adding temporary staff. For survey respondents, increases in staff headcounts outpaced decreases again this year, with the net change from 2021 to 2022 at +1.4 FTE among responding libraries. However, increases were not distributed evenly according to the size of the library. Only the largest libraries reported adding significant staff, at +20.8 FTE. Small and midsized library hires were essentially flat, while libraries serving populations from 100,000 to 499,000 were up by +2.7 FTE. The average wage and benefits per FTE in 2022 were $69,413 at responding libraries.

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal $7.25 per hour (for non-tipped workers). In 2022, half of the states increased their minimum wage. In 2023, 27 states will follow suit. To the best of our knowledge, none of these states have automatically reindexed the funding formula for their taxpayer-funded libraries.



  % Change in Local Funding* % Change in State Funding % Change in Grant Funding % Change in Donations
Increased  67 32 27 24
Decreased  9 8 13 16
No Change  25 43 45 53
n/a 0 16 15 7
Net % change +3.4 +1.6 +12.8 +4.6

Source: LJ Budgets and Funding Survey 2023
*Libraries subject to local budget appropriations



During the depths of pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020, library hours fell to a historic low of only 36.4 open hours per week on average. In 2022, responding libraries reported a return to near pre-pandemic averages, with 49.5 hours open per week (2017 saw the peak average week at 52.8 open hours). All but 6 percent of reporting libraries either had consistent open hours (77 percent) or had an increase (17 percent) year-to-year. This is equivalent to one additional hour per week, and is true for libraries regardless of size.

As could be expected, with increased hours comes more programming. More than half of respondents (52 percent) reported an increase in spending on programs, and only 8 percent reported a decrease. On average, responding libraries spent $76,000 on programs—a significant contrast with 2020, when the average reported was only $58,300.



Nearly half of responding libraries (48 percent) said the percentage allocated toward digital materials increased in 2022, with the net change up 8 percent. Only 7 percent reported a decrease in digital spending, with smaller libraries in all regions holding steady or increasing. Interestingly, larger libraries saw year-to-year decreases in digital outlay. In 2022, respondents reported dedicating 26.5 percent of their materials budget to digital items. This is down slightly from 2021 (at 27.1 percent) and up from 2019 (at 20.4 percent). Rural and small-town libraries dedicated a smaller percentage to digital content than their urban and suburban counterparts.

Circulation statistics are the historical benchmark for the health and appreciation of libraries. In 2022, the overall percent change in circulation was expected to increase 7.5 percent over 2021. This anticipated increase in circulation by responding libraries holds true regardless of size of the library or geography. All but 9 percent of respondents expected an increase in circulation and 17 percent anticipated that circulation would remain flat year-to-year. With 74 percent of responding libraries showing a small relative circulation increase, this is good news for the year.

However, the 10-year trend line for circulation continues to decline from a high of 9.94 circs per capita in 2012 to 8.07 today. This downward trend is confirmed by industry analysis in the August 2022 Freckle Report—a survey and review of consumer reading habits—which also shows that the percentage of digital items checked out has increased even as overall circulation declines.



In 2022, many library leaders focused their spending on adapting and enhancing services through an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) lens, with those decisions largely driven by data. “Because there are branch locations across the city in vastly different neighborhoods, consideration of community resources, demographics, and neighborhood history inform our decisions about where to align staff skills, grant funds, and hours of operation,” noted Dallas Public Library statistics and planning manager Jasmine Crayton. Tony Howard, director of Pickerington Public Library, OH, said, “EDI is incorporated in everything we do. We use statistical data to ensure what we spend money on is fair and equitable for our entire community.” Westhampton Public Library, MA, Director Meaghan Schwelm shared that the library has audited its collection carts for diversity and is promoting titles by authors of color through social media and on library displays. Another library described purchasing Baker & Taylor’s CollectionHQ to help analyze the diversity of its collection.

This EDI focus extends beyond collections and programming. One director reported that their library has a dedicated budget line to support EDI, with 3.5 FTE staff. Technology purchases are also driven by EDI priorities. Mary Stein at East Baton Rouge Parish Library, LA, reported that while the library uses data to look at circulation patterns per branch and performs diversity audits on collections, it also uses community data to drive decisions on technology acquisitions. This includes circulating hotspots, virtual reality devices, and telehealth equipment. Stein added, “We [also decide] on where to deploy case managers and social workers [as indicated by] patron use, questions, and socioeconomic data.”



Library directors are generally optimistic about 2023 funding. Seven in 10 reporting libraries anticipate an increase in overall revenue in 2023, with an average projection of 3.9 percent growth. However, libraries in the Intermountain West are predicting a greater increase in 2023 revenue (at a 6.1 percent bump) than colleagues in the South (at 3.5 percent). Likewise, there are variances within governance models; while 75 percent of independent districts forecast revenue expansion, only 65 percent of municipal libraries do—possibly because independent library districts are more directly experiencing the positive effects of recent growth in property values.

In a year of budget increases and access to ARPA and other grant funding, directors were able to dream big about new strategic initiatives. “The library has added programs,” reported Alyssa Cosby, director of Woodville Public Library, AL—“Senior Citizen Game Day, Adult Book Club, Puzzle Exchange, and Teen Coding classes”—while continuing popular reading and play programs for all ages.

Giovanni Tairov, director of Livingston Parish Library, LA, noted, “Our library initiated a new partnership with the state department of recreation and tourism, which will allow our patrons to visit any of the 22 state parks across the state. This pilot project [has] a strong potential to become a statewide program.” Howard County Library System, MD, added two new mobile outreach services. “On the Road to Kindergarten and a STEAM Machine are designed to bring library materials and classes to youth in disconnected and underserved communities,” said President and CEO Tonya Aikens. Another director reported being able to go “fully fine free” in 2022.

Ray Baker, director of Miami-Dade County Library, FL, shared an important insight: “The library has aligned its 2022–23 strategic plan with the overall strategic plan of Miami-Dade County.” Visibly aligning the library with the agenda of its funding partner lowers barriers for funding projects. For libraries to thrive across the emerging ecosystem, they need to remind elected officials, voters, and donors how collections, programs, services, staffing, and facilities are an expression of community values, so budgets can continue to grow.

John Chrastka is Executive Director of EveryLibrary, the national political action committee for libraries, and the EveryLibrary Institute, a public policy and tax policy think tank for libraries.

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John Chrastka

John Chrastka, a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker, is Founder and Executive Director of EveryLibrary, a nonprofit organization that advocates for local library ballot initiatives.

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