April 19, 2018

Paying for People | Budgets & Funding


If last year’s budget theme was cautious optimism, LJ’s 2015 library budget survey of U.S. public libraries, distributed geographically by size and type, continues the general upward trend. Libraries of all sizes, across the board, showed an increase in operating and salary budgets, and most, though not all, saw materials budgets rise as well. Of the 416 libraries that responded, 73% reported an increase in their total operating budgets from 2013 to 2014, up from 68% last year and 60% the year before. The overall change in total budgets was a healthy 4.3% increase. Compared to last year’s more modest 1.3% gains, these numbers indicate that libraries nationwide are beginning to find their fiscal footing after some lean years.

2014 Average Full-Time Equivalent Staff

Population Served
Under 10,000 3.6
10,000–24,999 10.2
25,000–49,999 19.1
50,000–99,999 38.0
100,000–499,999 96.7
500,000–999,999 320.2
1 million or more 560.6
Total Weighted 63.7
*Weighted to reflect the PLDS breakdown of public libraries by population served

It was a good year for library workers. The upward movement was notably reflected in personnel and salary budgets, which also rose by 4.3%. A full 81% of libraries reported an increase in salary and personnel budgets, and only 16% indicated a downturn.

Materials budgets showed more conservative growth, with just over half of the libraries—55%—budgeting more in materials dollars over the past year and nearly a third budgeting less than they had previously, for an overall modest increase of 1.5%. (The 2015 materials survey, with a different group of respondents, had a somewhat more robust figure of 3%; for more, see LJ 2/15/15.)

Not all increases were consistent. The Lafourche Parish Public Library in Thibodaux, LA, for instance, reported a total operating budget increase of 26.7% from 2013 to 2014. Within that calculation lies a more complex story, however, with the library’s salary budget increasing by a significant 42.9%, while its materials budget decreased by nearly 20%. Sherry Lucas, the library’s finance/HR manager, explains: “First, our pay scale had not been updated since 2009. We researched prevailing rates in our area, looked at comparable positions/pay levels within our municipal government, and adjusted our scale upward accordingly,” she says. “Second, for the first time in the history of our library system, our Library Board of Control agreed to pay for the cost of dependent health care—and at 95%. It also increased the percentage of employee health care the library covers, from 72% to 98%. So while this does look unusual in the budget at this one period of time, future years will not show such ­variations.”

On average, though, 11.6% of libraries’ total operating budgets were allocated for materials, with 66%—up from last year’s 60%—going toward salaries.

Budget Trends

Population Served Total
Budget 2013
Budget 2014
% Change to
Budget 2013
Budget 2014
% Change to
Budget 2013
Budget 2014
% Change to
Under 10,000 $241,000 $246,000 2 $31,600 $32,000 1.3 $159,000 $163,000 2.5
10,000–24,999 768,000 803,000 4.5 90,400 92,200 2 483,000 505,000 4.6
25,000–49,999 1,469,000 1,533,000 4.3 170,000 175,000 2.9 939,000 976,000 3.9
50,000–99,999 3,260,000 3,367,000 3.3 386,000 392,000 1.6 2,034,000 2,112,000 3.8
100,000–499,999 7,920,000 8,191,000 3.4 984,000 1,004,000 2 5,290,000 5,475,000 3.5
500,000–999,999 30,315,000 31,763,000 4.8 3,701,000 3,718,000 0.5 19,782,000 20,907,000 5.7
1 million or more 52,118,000 55,408,000 6.3 5,312,000 5,545,000 4.4 37,413,000 38,986,000 4.2
*Weighted to reflect the 2005 Public Library Data Service (PLDS) breakdown of public libraries by population served

Personnel priorities

This emphasis on library personnel reflects a welcome return to focusing on the people behind the programs, after years of downsizing. More than half (56%) of the respondent library directors reported no change in staff size over the past year, but more libraries increased than decreased their total number of ­employees.

In 2014, the overall average full-time equivalent (FTE) personnel across all libraries was 63.7, with the smallest libraries averaging 3.6 staffers and the largest districts employing more than 560. Libraries serving populations of 500,000 to 999,999 stood out from the crowd, with a surprising 59% reporting an increase in staff—much of it prompted by restoration of cut hours. Within the District of Columbia Public Library system, for instance, neighborhood libraries extended hours significantly for the first time since 2009. The library added 132 FTE last year.

How Has Your FTE Staffing Changed in 2014?

Population Served % Increased % Decreased % No Change Overall Change
in # of Staff
Under 10,000 10 12 78 -0.1
10,000–24,999 18 18 63 -0.1
25,000–49,999 16 10 74 0.1
50,000–99,999 30 24 46 0.1
100,000–499,999 32 29 40 0.2
500,000–999,999 59 14 27 8.6
1 million or more 39 23 38 3.5
Total Weighted 24 20 56 0.5
*Weighted to reflect the 2005 Public Library Data Service (PLDS) breakdown of public libraries by population served

Only libraries serving populations of a million and more even came close to that increase, with 39% adding personnel. Still, small, rural, and Northeastern libraries did report decreases in the overall numbers of employees.

The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) added 51 positions in 2014, gradually rallying from the loss of 328 staffers—28% of its workforce—in 2010, which had resulted in a reduction in daytime and evening service hours. The following year, however, Los Angeles voters approved Measure L, which increased the amount of base funding LAPL gets from property taxes indefinitely and provides the funding to restore library services to FY09–10 levels over four years.

“Thus since 2011, we have been adding 40–50 positions annually,” PR director Peter Persic explains. “As of October 2, 2014, we have met all of the Measure L obligations, which include full restoration of service hours, an increased materials budget from $6.8 million to $10.4 million, and an upgraded technology infrastructure. Measure L has breathed new life into our library system—we are forever grateful to L.A. residents.”

Sometimes bigger is better

ProjectedChangeInTotalOperatingBudget_FY14-15Operating budgets increased in rough proportion to library size. Libraries serving populations of fewer than 10,000 showed the lowest growth, at 2%, while those serving one million or more increased operations money by a whopping 6.3%. This tempers the good news somewhat, as nearly half of the responding library systems consisted of a single branch. While in general, materials funding rose in the last year, a third of the libraries surveyed reported decreases in this category, with 40% of rural libraries seeing a downturn. In addition, the smallest libraries saw the lowest increases in funding at both the local and state level and were the only sector that reported an overall decrease in staffing from 2013.

Numbers varied more when it came to materials and salaries, however. The second largest sector, libraries serving 500,000–999,999, had the smallest increase in materials—0.5%—but the largest jump in salaries, at 5.7%. Midsize libraries in the 250,000–499,000 population range actually reduced their materials budgets by 2.9%—the only decrease reported last year.

Who used what

Funding numbers fluctuated across all demographics. Despite overall growth, urban libraries saw the most reductions in funding for staffing, outreach, and hours. Suburban libraries made out better than most, with the fewest reductions in funds for staffing, technology (at 9%, tied with rural libraries), and outreach, with no reduction at all in funding for hours. Capital improvement dollars favored urban libraries, 42% of which reported an increase over the past year; only 26% of rural libraries surveyed said the same.

This year, in addition to fiscal matters, LJ asked libraries about their usage. Print and electronic circulation averaged 9.97% per capita, with suburban libraries reporting the highest rates. In-library visits were lowest in urban libraries and in the South, with the Northeast and urban areas showing the highest number of website visits. Rural libraries had the least traffic on their websites but the highest program attendance. Unsurprisingly, the smallest libraries had the highest usage of nearly all services, and the largest had the lowest per capita numbers for circulation, in-person visits, program attendance, and library computer and Wi-Fi usage.

Of libraries that participated in 2013’s budget survey and reported back this year, per capita funding for total budget numbers rose 3.5%, from an average of $43.25 to $45.05. Libraries in the Midwest showed the highest per capita materials funding, at $7.20. Libraries in the South, at $4.04, came in 26% lower than the national average of $5.46.

Where the $ comes from

At the federal level, library funding stayed relatively flat; this year’s Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding remained steady at $180.9 million. Locally there was more variation, both positive and negative.

As EveryLibrary’s John Chrastka notes, “When there were wins, they tended to be big. Where there are losses, they tend to be close.” Those big wins included the Charleston County, SC, $108.5 million referendum approval to build five new libraries, renovate another 13, and upgrade branches and technology throughout the county. This helped make the South a frontrunner in local funding increases with 72% of libraries reporting a postelection uptick. The Midwest saw the fewest increases in local funding (55%).

Thirteen percent of the surveyed libraries nationwide held public referenda last year, most often concerning their operating budgets. (For a closer look, see Chrastka’s article, “Winning All Over the Map.”)

Local funding for libraries—money appropriated directly from town and county budgets—increased overall by 2%. The greatest growth, at 4.5%, occurred for smaller libraries, those serving populations of 10,000 to 24,999. However, the districts serving fewer than 10,000 showed barely any increase, at .2%. The largest libraries saw only a 1.4% increase, while those in the next lowest size range, 500,000–999,000, increased their local funding by 4.2%. Southern and rural libraries fared best, while small-town libraries received the lowest increase in local dollars, only .3% more than last year. The Northeast saw the greatest increase; the Midwest, at 1.5%, the least.

State funding bounced back with a 3.6% increase, but amounts differed greatly by region and library size, with just over half of all libraries reporting no change. The West and Mountain regions saw far and away the greatest jump, with a nearly 20% gain, although this did not engender optimism—when asked about predictions for the following year, the region had the fewest directors anticipating another budget increase. Still, there were many reasons for a sunnier outlook, including June’s elections in California, which saw six library parcel tax measures pass, totaling at least $19.1 million in revenue.

Rural and small-town libraries saw more decreases, as did libraries in the Northeast. State funding for libraries in the smallest districts remained flat, while midsize libraries, serving populations of 50,000 to 99,999, received a 13.8% increase in state funding. Slightly smaller libraries, in the 10,000–49,999 range, saw an average drop of 2.15%.

Actual Change in Budgets from FY13 TO FY14

% of Libraries
Reporting Total
Operating Budget
% of Libraries
Reporting Total
Materials Budget
% of Libraries
Reporting Total
Increase 73 55 81
Decrease 23 31 16
No Change 4 14 3
Overall Change 4.3 1.5 4.3

Spending priorities

When asked what their fastest-growing spending priorities are, directors responded overwhelmingly in favor of technology and electronic materials. Small-town libraries in particular—37%—viewed technology as a crucial line item. Suburban libraries saw the greatest need for ebooks and, tied with urban libraries, electronic resources and digital collections. Fewer than 5% of any of the libraries surveyed mentioned outreach.

When asked last year what they would do to improve service if they received extra funding, the top response was to add or restore staff. When the Ferguson Municipal Public Library, MO, received an unanticipated windfall of more than $350,000 in donations in fall 2014, Director Scott Bonner said his immediate priority would be to hire a children’s/programming librarian. He hopes to find room in the budget to employ more full-timers as well.

Hours of operation are up as well. In his March budget address, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter admitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer that his 2008 decision to cut $8 million from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s (FLP) budget—forcing nearly all of its 54 branches to reduce service to five days a week from their previous six—was “the absolute worst decision I have made in the time I have been in public office.” This year that trend was finally reversed, with an extra $2.5 million in the FY15 budget earmarked specifically to expand library service under a savvy five-year strategic plan instituted by president and director Siobhan Reardon, LJ 2015 Librarian of the Year.

Happily, this is not an isolated incident. While over the past five years libraries’ average weekly hours have fluctuated, down from a high of 59.8 in prerecession 2008 but up from 2011’s 49, this year’s results show an overall increase in 3.4 weekly hours per system; the largest libraries increased hours for the second year in a row.

Looking toward the future

When asked for their budget projections for next fiscal year, library directors were optimistic—within reason. Those in midsize libraries had the rosiest outlooks, with those in slightly larger libraries offering more conservative prognostications. Perhaps encouraged by reports such as those from the Center for an Urban Future, which explored innovative ideas for branch expansions in its 2014 study “Re-Envisioning New York’s Branch Libraries,” 58% of urban library directors cited an anticipated increase of 2.8%, although most other regional and demographic divisions gave numbers mainly between 1% and 2%.

Even libraries dealing with significant budget cuts still have an eye toward expansion. Early in 2014, Georgia’s Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System (AFPLS) faced a reduction of $31 million—19% of its general operating budget—owing to insufficient tax revenues. Yet in spite of a loss of hours and staff, a $275 million building program approved in 2008 has enabled AFPLS to move forward on construction on eight new libraries and two renovations, two of which opened their doors in 2014.

This reliance on money dedicated half a decade ago only underscores the need to provide for libraries now. The upward trend is encouraging, but libraries and those who care about their future need to continue advocating for services, materials, and the all-important people who keep them running.


The LJ Budget Survey was faxed to a random sample of 1,800 U.S. public library directors on October 30, 2014, with a reminder fax on November 12. The fax list was obtained from Market Data Retrieval. The field closed on December 8, 2014, with a total of 416 libraries responding, an overall response rate of 23%. The data was weighted by population served to even out fluctuations in respondent sample sizes in each group. Weighted percentages and averages apply to total sample results only. Data appearing for specific population groups is unweighted.

This article was published in Library Journal's February 1, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.



  1. How to interpret “average” across the ranges? For instance, the “average” FTE for libraries 50-99K is 38.0. Does that mean that libraries with 50K, 75K, 99K should all have 38.0 FTE to be “average”? Or would the FTE of 38.0 be “average” for the midpoint?

    I am also curious as to whether any adjustment has been made for number of branches. There are built-in staffing inefficiencies with every extra branch, because there must be a minimum level of staffing and, well, you can’t cut people in half.

    • WELL, you CAN cut people in half, but it doesn’t help efficiency and the authorities generally look down upon it.

      Seriously, I think a much better way to look at it is a % of total budget that is taken up with staffing costs. Here’s what we get based on the numbers above-
      Population % of budget for salary
      Under 10,000 66.26%
      10,000–24,999 62.89%
      25,000–49,999 63.67%
      50,000–99,999 62.73%
      100,000–499,999 66.84%
      500,000–999,999 65.82%
      1 million or more 70.36%

      On top of this, however, I’m curious as to if “salary” includes all personnel costs, such as benefits, unemployment insurance, etc., or just straight pay.

    • This approach would give the same percentage to a system with one building or five. It also wouldn’t be accurate for systems with buildings whose costs are paid by another entity – e.g. a city for a county system.

    • Yes, if there was a library where they didn’t count electricity, lease rate, etc, vs. one who did it would get them all lumped in- but the differences per region are more outliers.

      As for lumping in systems with 5 buildings vs. 1, it shouldn’t matter that much when it’s looked at as a percentage of total budget. For comparison we would have to assume that each library is staff is also used in the same function. A systems with 3 branches most likely has a central processing and ordering system of sorts- meaning that any inefficiencies in staffing due to minimum staffing levels are also felt in the main branch due to functions performed there that aren’t needed at the branches.

      Overall, however, I think the average in your scenario isn’t that complicated. The average staff level of all libraries serving 50-99k us 38 FTE. That makes sense. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty useless statistic. However, if it holds true that the average % of budget spent toward personnel is 62-71% for all libraries regardless of population, that’s a little more interesting. (still, though, I think this is a little low in reality.)

  2. @ Sarah – “average” in this article is meant in the statistical, quantitative sense. The term is not a performance measure, nor is it used to to judge libraries according to quality (i.e. excellent, good, “average”, poor). When the article reports that “the “average” FTE for libraries [serving populations of ] 50-99K is 38.0” it means that the mathematical mean of the variable “total FTE” for libraries who serve populations of 50-99,000 is 38 FTE staff. This is not the same as saying that having 38.0 FTE means that the library is “average”, nor is it the same as saying that “libraries with 50K, 75K, 99K should all have 38.0 FTE to be “average”. If a library has 38 FTE staff and serves a population of 50-99,000 people, that library knows that they are on par with the mean for “total FTE” for the sample of libraries included in this analysis. The recommended number of FTE staff that a library “should” have cannot be determined by the data presented here.

    • Correction: “If a library has 38 FTE staff and serves a population of 50-99,000 people, that library knows that they are on par with the mean for “total FTE” for the sample of libraries included in this analysis **who serve a a population of 50-99,000 people**.