The library budget is a tool for turning library dreams into reality. The budget determines the services that will be offered by your library and the resources devoted to each library program. A carefully developed budget will ensure that available funds are effectively utilized to realize your library’s service objectives.
The Budget Development Process
The first step in developing a library budget is to look at what the library hopes to accomplish in the next year. The availability of a current strategic plan will make this step much easier, because the plan should already document your community’s library service needs and the library activities necessary to meet those needs. So, at the point that the board wishes to begin planning the budget for the coming year, it should review the strategic plan and its chosen objectives, reflecting on the financial implications of the objectives for the coming year. The second step is to determine the total financial resources necessary for what the library wants to accomplish in the coming year. Often, increased funding is necessary because of increased costs, increased usage, and/or new services that will be offered. Additional resources for new services can also be made available by shifting resources from a lower priority to a higher priority service. Draft budget documents are prepared by the library director and library staff .
The library board and/or library board finance committee may have input into development of budget drafts. The board of trustees will then review the draft budget(s) with the director, propose changes, and finally approve a finished budget.
After the written budget documents are approved by the board and submitted to the municipality or county, the final step in the budget process is securing the funding needed to carry out the planned service program. Trustees, as volunteer public representatives, are especially effective budget advocates. Trustees should be involved in presenting, explaining, and supporting the library budget that was approved by the library board.
The board may need to make budget changes if the funding needed to balance the budget is not secured. Budget changes may also be required during the budget year if, for example, certain expenditures are higher than expected, or costs are lower than expected.
Sources of Funding
One of the most important responsibilities for library trustees is determining the appropriate level of funding for the library and working to secure that funding. Fines may be a source of library revenue, but the policy of charging fines is the subject of debate concerning their effectiveness in encouraging the return of materials, and concerning their public relations effects. In establishing a fine policy, a library board should consider not only the possible revenue but also the potential negative public relations effects.
Grants and gifts can be an excellent source of supplementary funds for special projects. In addition, community citizens are often willing to make significant donations to cover part or all of the costs of a new or remodeled library building. Grants or donations should never be used to justify reducing or replacing the community’s commitment to public funding. Donors will quit donating, volunteers will quit working, and granting organizations will quit awarding grants to your library if they see that their efforts are resulting in reduced public funding for the library instead of improved service.
Desirable Budget Characteristics
There are four practical characteristics that your budget document should include.
1. Clarity: The budget presentation should be clear enough so every board member, every employee, and every municipal governing body member can understand what is being represented.
2. Accuracy: Budget documentation must support the validity of budget figures, and figures must be transcribed and reported carefully, without variation from the documentation.
3. Consistency: Budget presentations should retain the same format from period to period so that comparisons can be easily made. All budgets are comparative devices, used to show how what is being done now compares with what happened in the past and what is projected to happen in the future.
4. Comprehensiveness: Budget reports should include as complete a picture of fiscal activities as is possible. The only way to know the true cost of the library operation is to be certain that all revenue and expenditure categories are included within the budget.