Meeting and Mitigating Challenges – Part 2

Libraries and their support organizations face a variety of challenges every day, it seems. For the past few years we have, appropriately, had a lot of focus on the challenge of providing services during a pandemic while keeping our staff, volunteers, and patrons safe. In working with many libraries around the country, and in our own research, Library Strategies has seen the variety of ways that libraries are stepping up to meet the needs of their communities. Covid may remain with us for a while, but libraries now have an opportunity to evaluate how they will operate in environments with altered budget and service expectations. 

As noted in a report, “[it] has never been more expensive to run a public library in the U.S.” (February 2022). “The total operating expenses of an average library is $765,715.23, which is up 17.35% since 2014.” Many libraries have not recovered to their pre-Great Recession budgets or experienced budgets keeping pace with industry inflation rates for collections, programs, or staffing costs. But libraries, support organizations, and their creative library leadership and staff teams are nothing if not resilient and innovative! 

Library Friends and Foundations are creating opportunities for communities to support non-core services and collections at their library. Core services should still be funded by the traditional budget allocations, but often it is the non-core services that surprise and delight community funders. According to the 2021 Library Journal public library fundraising survey (published April 2022), 10.8% of respondent libraries’ total budgets come from fundraising. Much of this fundraising is through the remarkable partnerships and connections made by a strong Friends group or Foundation providing assistance with grant applications, finding new opportunities, and becoming even stronger advocates for libraries at the local, state, and national level.

Library leadership, including Trustees, are increasing their visibility with creative community engagement and advocacy opportunities. Library Strategies has seen a recent uptick in state libraries’ and trustee associations’ interest for workshops and training sessions about effective governance, learning advocacy skills, and building, or expanding, community partner relationships. The American Library Association published “How to Conduct an In-Person Library Tour” checklist to provide guidance for library staff and advocates to reach out to their elected officials to invite them into the library.

Libraries and their advocates are pursuing opportunities to maintain the library’s role as a vibrant, relevant, and sustainable community resource, going far beyond the expectation that libraries will “tighten their belts” and provide more with less. Funding may not be 100% fulfilled by traditional sources – “[government] funding hasn’t covered the annual expenses of public libraries in 27 years, 85.69% of which comes from local governments” – but many libraries are persevering and thriving with the support of our affiliated support organizations and advocates.

Building the relationship between the library and the foundation and creating priorities in common across service area, library, and foundation smooths the process of surmounting possible funding deficits. Said Paula Sakey at the recent International Public Library Fundraising Conference, “A library foundation can really tick every funder’s box. Don’t be shy.” 

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