The Budget Balancing Act: LJ’s Budget Survey Shows Modest Improvement, and Signs of More To Come
By January 9, 2013
Though there aren’t a lot of whoops and cheers to be heard, a cautious optimism seems to describe the 2012 library budget landscape, according to LJ’s annual survey. Some 60 percent of libraries increased their funding, while 36 percent decreased it. Only four percent stayed the same.
Overall, the 488 libraries responding saw an average 1.2 percent increase compared to last year, which saw a 0.7 percent drop. Since 2008, library budgets have remained essentially flat: minor seesawing from year to year has added up to a 0.7 percent increase. Inflation in the same period has increased 6.9 percent, meaning that in comparable dollars libraries have 6.2 percent less spending power.
The year saw some regional variation in library support. Libraries in the Northeast were the most likely to increase their library budgets, at 65 percent, yet those that saw cuts saw the deepest cuts of all: the region was the only one to notice a negative percent change overall. The South and the West hovered closely around the national average of 60 percent with increases, but the Midwest lagged—only 54 percent of libraries saw an increase in funding, and 43 percent suffered cuts. The total change was greatest in the West, however, at 2.5 percent—the only region to beat inflation.
Signs of change
There were happy developments and perhaps hopeful signs of more change to come on November’s ballot. Most notably, Multnomah County, OR, voted to create a permanent library district, a development foreshadowed by the county’s May levy victory by an 82 percent margin. “This wasn’t a narrow victory, it was a resounding victory,” says Jeff Cogen, Multnomah County commission chair.
Vailey Oehlke, director of libraries in Multnomah County, says, “What’s fabulous is that we are now in a position where we can restore services and think creatively about what we need to do for the future. We’ve been in a hunker-down mentality and that is very limiting in our sense of the future and of what’s possible and of what can be, but now, suddenly, the doors are open, and it’s a wonderful changing of the conversation.”
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