Electronic Resources: Does Your Library Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is?

I remember listening to a discussion a few weeks ago about library budgets and how dollars are allocated.  If you take away salary and benefits much of the library’s budget is used on resources like databases, journals, books etc., which isn’t much of a surprise.  Also not a surprise is how much of this money is now put towards electronic resources and how less is put towards printed resources.  I do think libraries in general have a way to go before they are entirely online and have no printed books or physical materials on the shelves.  (As to if and when that ever happens, it will probably depend on the type of library and its scope.)  But there is no doubt that we are collecting more online and the amount we are spending for online resources has increased significantly.  Depending on how your library classifies resources you might find that at least 70% of the total resource budget goes to online resources. 

What was kind of surprising was the percentage of staff costs that go toward the non-electronic resources.  What do I mean by this?  Well on a very simple model (one person library) think of how much time a person spends checking in printed journals, binding journals, ordering and processing printed books, photo copying, routing table of contents, etc. 

Now ask the question, “Is your library staff structure in balance with your resource spending?”  While the amount staff time may not be exactly equal to your spending, it should not be completely out of whack.  For example how effective is it for your library to have people focusing on BackMed to fill out a collection when your library is shrinking its print collection?  Do you need to have somebody checking print issues in when you get the journal online? How indepth do you need to process a printed book if it is available online? 

Let us look at it from another angle.  How many people access your website and how many staff do you have to maintain it?  How many staff are doing the high touch outreach services and also adding online tutorials to those they can’t reach?  Now compare that with the how you staff the reference desk where you pay your staff to sit and wait for a question. 

These are overly simple examples, the true answers can be a little more trickey.  There are also exceptions to every rule and there are reasons we do what we do, but one of the reasons should not be, “We’ve just always done it this way.”  It is easy to fall in to ruts and continue what we have always been doing.  We are creatures of habit.  But every now and then we need to step back and look at our library from a different perspective, look at where the majority of our money is going and whether we are appropriating staff time, knowledge and skills accordingly.

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