Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Library Budget Breakdown

I work part time at a university library, so I think a little bit about the roles the library fulfills for the university and the cost the university pays the library to provide services.

The traditional library roles as cataloger and archiver of scholarly research are anachronistic. Nearly all of our scholarly journal subscriptions are online, and we download catalog records for most of the books we purchase. The library continues to spend a large portion of its budget maintaining its book collection, but it is likely that in the near future services like "Google Books" may offer subscription services for institutions to access e-books online.

Like most research libraries Auburn's has sought out new roles to fill for the university. First, a large part of the main library building's space has been cleared of books to make room for a media and digital resource lab, learning commons, and coffee shop. Second, the library has developed a digital library for online collections of scanned historical material, and university intellectual property like electronic theses and dissertations. Finally, the library web site has evolved to be a better gateway to the online databases we subscribe to.

In many ways the library budget and personnel structure continue to reflect the library's past rather than its future. In 2008-2009 Auburn University Libraries spent a total budget over $12.76 million - about the same as the school of pharmacy, about 10% less than the college of education, and more than human sciences and forestry combined. Over $7 million of the library's $12.76 million budget paid salaries, and only about $5 million paid for books, journals, and database subscriptions. For every $1.00 the university pays for books and journals, Auburn pays the library $1.40 in salaries to take care of that book.

An overhead of $1.40 for every $1.00 of investment in materials gives a sense of the library's finances, but we can achieve a better understanding if we dig a little deeper into the budget. First, the library employs over 12 reference librarians whose primary job is to help students and faculty at the reference desk, so the university invests $1 million or so in salaries to provide a reference desk. Library staff and student employees are also responsible for opening and closing the three campus library buildings, so we can say the university pays at least $1 million a year to manage that space. We can also set aside $1 million for the systems department and software subscriptions to maintain the library web site, MDRL media computer lab, and computer network. Finally, about $1 million in salary goes to the dean's office.

After subtracting $4 million from the salary budget for reference and keeping the library buildings open the library now has $0.60 overhead for every $1.00 spent on books, journals, and databases: $3 million in salaries for $5 million in materials. That looks better at first, till we remember that over 70% of the materials budget pays for online journal and database subscriptions, so $3.5 million of the materials budget pays for online resources, and at most $1.5 million pays for books and other physical materials. The library staff is divided so that approximately $1 million of salary supports the $3.5 million in electronic materials, and $2 million in staff supports the $1.5 million physical material budget.

ServiceAnnual Salaries
Reference Desk $1 million
web site, computer support, and MDRL$1 million
Library Buildings $1 million
Dean's Office $1 million
support for $1.5 million physical material budget $2 million
support for $3.5 million e-resource material budget $1 million

Obviously these numbers are all back of the envelope - I don't have access to the real books.

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