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Developing Strong Library Budgets: Information Professionals Share Best Practices
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Introductory Comments by Sarah Thomas

Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas

Thirty years ago, a library consortium for which I worked was in dire financial straits. As I recall, we had a six million dollar budget and a three million dollar deficit. These numbers are so staggering that they seem unbelievable. But I remember clearly the words of the president of our organization as he addressed staff in this hour of crisis: “You will never manage as well as when you are operating under constrained resources.” This observation has echoed in my ears many times during my career.

During this current economic downturn, when so many public and academic institutions are reducing spending, we have the opportunity to practice strong management.

The requirement to cut expenditures can feel like loss and decline: shorter opening hours, fewer titles added to the collection, the departure of long-serving staff. Although it is important to acknowledge these feelings, it is equally important not to be drawn into doom and gloom scenarios. Instead, we have the challenge of managing our resources wisely and creatively. Rather than lamenting what we can no longer afford to do, we must concentrate on our key priorities and provide services that are relevant for the twenty-first century.

During this current economic downturn, when so many public and academic institutions are reducing spending, we have the opportunity to practice strong management.

For libraries to succeed, not just in these somewhat uncertain times, but in the future, we must reinterpret our organizations to reflect contemporary needs and values. This means charting a course that remains true to principles that have guided us since the development of librarianship as a profession, but which also looks to the services we can provide that represent the greatest value for our clients.

This Library Connect pamphlet contains a series of superb contributions that offer a positive focus for librarians. The profession is becoming more evidenced-based, and the excellent pieces on determining return on investment, articulating the value of library and information services, securing support for innovative institutions, and collaborating will be a source of inspiration for the readers of this publication.

As the contributors to this pamphlet observe, we need to develop ourselves and our staff to be flexible and knowledgeable providers of information services, many of which will require us to change or take risks. We can embark on this journey with confidence by taking advantage of the best practices that our colleagues share with us.

The foundation for our efforts should rest squarely on careful and effective management of the resources we steward. Measuring our impact, knowing the cost of our services, and having the courage to eliminate marginal activities in favor of higher-priority services are all prerequisites for a sound operation. Secure in the knowledge that we are demonstrating outstanding application of scarce resources, we are then in a good position to compete for additional resources or to win support for more radical ideas of service delivery, including partnerships with other libraries or commercial entities.

Thirty years ago, when facing a budget chasm, I was too young and enthusiastic to be chastened by it. Today, with the benefit of several decades of experience, I remain equally optimistic about the future. Exciting developments in the provision of information lie ahead of us, and with globalization connecting librarians with a rich tapestry of knowledge, I am pleased to draw on the wisdom of colleagues for insight to apply to my local situation as well as to the challenges of our era.

Kind regards,

Sarah Thomas, Bodley’s Librarian and Director, Oxford University Library Services, Oxford, UK

Sarah Thomas is the director of Oxford University Library Services at the University of Oxford, where she also holds the post of Bodley’s Librarian. From 1996 until 2007, she served as the university librarian at Cornell University. In a career spanning 35 years, Dr. Thomas has cataloged books in Harvard University's Widener Library, taught German at the Johns Hopkins University, managed library coordination at the Research Libraries Group in California, served as the associate director for technical services at the United States National Agricultural Library, and directed both the Cataloging Directorate and the Public Service and Collection Management Directorate at the Library of Congress. In 2007, Dr. Thomas received the Melvil Dewey Award from the American Library Association.