Monday, 7 February 2011

Construction over collections and custodians.

From the article discussed.
Libraries and politics. The former can never get away from the latter and the latter saves thinking about the former when they need the "traditional" vote.

Library budgeting always gets me. I find there are three major library budget lines: collections, operations and capital. The first is what the library is holding, the second is running the library and almost entirely goes into paying staff, and the last is the building itself.

I would have to argue that although most people would think that collections, the books and journals and CDs and whatnot, are the most important, I think that paying for good staff and paying them well win every time. You have to have both of course, but a great collection and a mediocre staff will piss off more patrons than a mediocre collection and great staff. I would focus on getting the best people working in your library before pumping money into filling it up with resources. The problem is that, of the two, donations and special funding are always going to collections before operations. It's a rare day when someone wants to fund a special librarian position, but everyone thinks that bringing in the boxes of books from their garage will mean the world. It's much easier and satisfying to give money to the library to "buy more Judaica". Not that it's unwanted. But the more books on the shelf, the more funding is needed to get it processed, keep it organized, patch it up when it's torn, help others find it, etc.

To top it off, the part of library funding I think is least important (at least in terms of customer service), capital projects, namely building new libraries, seems to take priority any time it comes up.  It makes sense of course.  The money is, in the case of school, public and academic libraries, coming from the government, and when buildings are being built, politicians like to take advantage of it.  Funding a new renovation, a new wing, or even a new library building is a one-time splurge that can really look good for an incumbent.  Ensuring funding for staffing for years into the future doesn't communicate well to a public that barely understands what those staff people are doing anyway, but a construction project is big, obvious and a special event.

I'm all for progress.  I like new technology, new ways of doing things and refreshing things to liven up users' experience of a thing.  But I also like rational behaviour.  Too often budget spending seems to come randomly as if on a whim.  And never being so comfortable as to be able to look any gift horse, be it pony or Clydesdale, in the mouth, who are we to question money that blows in and blows away again.  Take it while it's here though it may never come again.

[ Inspired by "Super library arrives as hundreds of others face closure" by Maev Kennedy from on February 6, 2011 ]

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