74% of U.S. public libraries saw increase in operating budget in 2015, LJ survey finds

LJ_Budgets_2015

Image credit: Library Journal

According to Library Journal’s latest budget survey, U.S. public libraries continue to recover from the recession, but the pace of that that recovery may be slowing somewhat. Of the 371 libraries that responded to the survey, nearly three-quarters (74%) reported an increase in operating budgets between 2014 and 2015, which is equivalent to the 73% last year who reported the same.

Public library fiscal gains and losses were not equal across the board, however. Similar to the findings from last year, larger libraries (with a few exceptions) tended to see larger increases in their operating, materials, and staffing budgets. Overall, materials budgets saw a 3.7% increase and salary budgets rose 4%. The smallest libraries saw the most meager growth in their funding, a factor that has prevented many libraries serving small towns and rural areas from investing in new technology, providing new programs, or increasing their staff size.

Large libraries, or those that serve more than one million people, have seen the biggest gains since the recession. The materials budgets of large libraries grew more than four times (6.3%) that of the smallest libraries (1.2%) in the past year, and the largest libraries were able to increase the amount of hours they were open. In addition to this, it appears the largest libraries have been able to expand at a much higher rate. While three-quarters of the smallest libraries reported no change in their staffing numbers in the past year, nearly four-fifths (79%) of libraries serving more than one million increased full time equivalent positions by an average of 31 people per system.

This looks pretty promising for the largest libraries (especially those in urban, Southern centers according to the survey), but the benefits of library services continue to be skewed to a particular segment of the population. For those in small towns and rural areas, a shortage of funding can mean that libraries must make difficult decisions, especially regarding technology and outreach, which may leave the populations they serve further behind.

Note: This post is part of our series, “The Weekly Number.” In this series, we highlight statistics that help tell the story of the 21st-century library.

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