Sunday, April 19, 2015

Strategic Budgeting

Evans and Alire (2013) provide a helpful breakdown of operating expenses falling into the following categories:

  • A materials budget
  • A personnel budget
  • A distribution/expense budget
  • An administrative expense budget (p. 435)

Wearing the hat of program manager for my school’s library, I immediately identify with having responsibility for materials and administrative expense budgets. However, the distribution/expense budget does not apply, and the personnel budget is largely out of my control beyond attempting to influence decision makers regarding the importance of maintaining and someday potentially increasing personnel.

Thus, when presented with the situation of having to cut 20% of the budget, the options within my immediate realm of influence would be to cut money from the materials and administrative expense budgets. And, given that administrative expenses are already streamlined for basic library functions, cuts would largely have to come from the materials budget.

Cutting materials has already become commonplace, particularly due to the 2013 introduction of California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). With LCFF, categorical funding has been largely eliminated, and as a result, monies that our libraries once received in conjunction with the School and Library Improvement Block Grant are no longer earmarked for our programs.

Still, beyond simply buying less materials for students, my goal is to actively increase funding. To begin with, I am concerned that my district’s libraries have not yet become integrally involved with the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which outlines how LCFF should be guided to meet eight key priorities. As noted on the California Department of Education’s website, the Model School Library Standards are included among state standards that must be addressed as part of Priority 2 (see below).


Locating my district’s LCAP, the current plan that I found includes no mention of library programs even though other specific programs are named (e.g., Family Resource Centers, Visual and Performing Arts, Dropout Prevention Specialists, etc.).

Of course, approaching the district means that librarians must first prepare. Cox (2008) provides some basic advice including making a budget, specifying current curriculum needs, and applying usage statistics to justify requests (p. 24-25). These ideas seem obvious and basic, but they are not necessarily easy to implement. What might be useful to keep in mind is one of Holley’s (2014) library planning and budgeting principles: “Having a rough idea of costs is better than having no figure at all” (p. 726). Our plans do not have to be perfectly precise, but we need to make them and make them known.

A final consideration when developing budget plans is to reconsider our “sacred cows.” Steele (2010) raises the point of planning budgets more strategically, including examples such as reevaluating the return on investment with money spent on security gates (p. 58). Nothing should be beyond reflection as we develop budgetary plans.


California Department of Education. (2015). Local control funding formula. Retrieved from

Cox, M. (2008). 10 Tips for Budgeting. Library Media Connection, 26(4), 24-25.

Evans, G.E., & Alire, C.A. (2013). Management basics for information professionals (3rd ed.).  New York: Neal-Schuman.

Holley, R. P. (2014). Library planning and budgeting: A few underappreciated principles. Journal Of Library Administration, 54(8), 720-729. doi:10.1080/01930826.2014.965102

Steele, K. (2010). Budgeting for libraries: "It's ideally suited for that purpose, so we won't be using it that way". Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances, 23(2), 57-59. doi:10.1108/08880451011073527


  1. Thanks for this, Suzanne. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know that inclusion of the Model School Library Standards is a REQUIRED component of all district LCAPs. This is really helpful moving forward!

    1. Don't feel embarrassed! This is a lot to figure out. Now we just need to get organized regarding how it may make sense for our libraries to be included.