In an increasingly digital world, school and public libraries’ use of digital tools, ebooks, and other resources continues to grow—even as their own budgets do not.
So says the most recent spending survey from School Library Journal (SLJ), in which youth services and school library media center librarians responded to a series of questions about budget, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and digital resources, including ebooks. Librarians were vocal about where they see the need for change. The adoption of digital tools and content sat high on their must-do list, even if money to support the shift was not sufficient.
“I would like to add to my databases and ebooks, but the funding is not there for it,” says school librarian Joan Abraham from Lee Williams High School in Kingman, AZ. Abraham supplemented her small budget by getting free ebooks from a vendor, as well as making use of free databases provided by her state library.
Jessica Wismar, a library media specialist with Bethel (CT) High School, also voiced her wishes to expand an ebook collection for her students—but lacks the financial resources as well.
“A main concern is finding the funds to be able to build and maintain an ebook collection with some depth of selection,” says Wismar. “Ebooks are prohibitively expensive, and library budgets are not often increased to compensate for this expense.” The 43 percent of school libraries buying ebooks in 2012-2013 spent an average of $1,100 on them, and 34 percent expect to spend more this year, according to the survey.
Wismar and Abraham are hardly alone in looking to adopt more digital materials for their schools. Nearly half (45 percent) of school librarians say they’re purchasing more digital reference materials than they did two years ago. And almost half (47 percent) of those who responded to the survey say they’re seeing the use of digital reference materials increase.
Print reference use is on the decline, in keeping with the digital adoption, with 59 percent of those surveyed stating that the use of print reference in their school libraries is on the decline. As a result, three-quarters (79 percent) of school librarians plan to purchase fewer print references going forward, with two-thirds (66 percent) of public librarians following this path as well.
“Our biggest shift is to digital,” says Elizabeth vonTauffkirchen, children’s services coordinator at Pine River Library in Bayfield, CO. “We are spending more on digital and less on physical copies, especially in regard to books on CD.”
Though the numbers reveal an increasing push toward digital materials, both school and public librarians say they have even smaller budgets than they used to. School media budgets have fallen about 0.5 percent, say survey respondents, with public library YA budgets down 1.1 percent, and their children’s materials budgets decreased by 1.4 percent.
While 85 percent of school librarians can gain access to electronic resources for free from their state, like Arizona’s Wismar, just 59 percent of states in the western and mountain regions of the U.S. have those free resources—meaning huge costs if they must pay for them on their own.
School librarians work with media budgets that average $6,970 a year—or a spending allowance of about $10.64 per student annually, according to the survey. Elementary schools budgets are lower, with just $8.86 to spend on each student, with middle schools slightly higher, spending $9.55 on overall materials per student. High school budgets, however, are significantly better padded, at $13.47 per student.
Yet school librarians are expecting those numbers to fall in the 2014-2015 school year by an average of 1.6 percent. High schools expect budgets to dip even further, by 3.4 percent. Public library YA services programs are also expecting a drop—of 1.3 percent for the coming year, with children’s materials budgets dropping 1.2 percent. But overall public library materials budgets increased by 1.8 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to a 2013 Library Journal survey. School and public librarians are feeling squeezed, with collections suffering.
“Spending? What spending? I have virtually no budget, down for the 2014-2015 school year to $1,000,” says Lila Page, library media specialist with Greene (NY) Central Schools. “The book budget was cut in half from last year, when it was a whopping $2,000. I am spending all of my funding on fiction and graphic novels for the students to read. It is impossible to do careful collection development with such a low budget.”
Lorraine Wiener says that after years of having no funds, she needs to upgrade DVDs, computers, and ebooks, as well as purchase databases. “The entire collection needs help,” says Weiner, school librarian at Inglewood (CA) High School.
“We were just starting to look at the Common Core needs when the city came into a financial mess and slashed our budget,” says Angela Pilkington, youth services librarian at the Burlington (IA) Public Library. “We will not have a book budget (except what we receive in donations) for 2014.”
The Common Core factor
School librarians are closely engaged in the rollout of the CCSS and evaluating its impact on libraries. Many respondents stated that new standards have not changed their spending patterns yet. However nearly half, or 47 percent, have spent more on nonfiction materials, compared to what they spent just two years ago, particularly at elementary schools.
“Spending shifts are taking place to address the need for more informational texts to support Common Core,” says Trisha Connolly, a librarian at the Washington Elementary School in Evanston, IL.
Diane Johnson, a librarian at Sunkist Elementary School in Port Hueneme, CA, says that the CCSS is starting to influence the books she buys as well. “When we purchase books, I have Common Core standards in mind,” she says.
Others are concerned about stretching already meager funds to purchase CCSS resources that their teachers and districts want.
“If more materials are requested, then our budget is not enough,” says Mingzhu Chen, a school librarian at City as School High School in New York City.
Using their own money
How are school librarians managing to stretch their budgets, then? Some are building partnerships with public libraries so that students can access books the school library doesn’t carry. Two-fifths of school libraries also report they’re communicating with the local public library about decisions such as book purchases to ensure they’re not doubling up on titles.
“I also have been trying to buy more books that will assist with school assignments,” says Danielle Diamond, head of teen services at Coal City (IL) Public Library District. “Many changes have been made to the school curriculum. I try to consult with teachers prior to a new school year. I check in regularly to school campuses to try to stay in touch with what the kids are doing in the classroom so I can order materials accordingly.”
School librarians are also taking their few dollars to the sales rack—literally. Some surf used book sites and remainder lists online, note upcoming public library book sales to get a first look at retired titles, and even snag display racks at stores going out of business to stretch their dollars.
Judith Rodgers, media specialist at Wayzata (MN) Central Middle School, got “two very useful rolling display racks from a Borders bookstore,” she says, and purchased wooden bookcases from an estate sale.
They’re also padding their budgets themselves. Ninety-four percent of school librarians responding to an slj.com poll reported that they’re dipping into their own pockets, using personal funds to help ends meet at their media centers.
Pam Meiser, a library information teacher with the Barbara B. Rose Elementary School LMC in South Barrington, IL, has an agreement with her public library where she can request bags of books for teachers, and arrange for them to be delivered and picked up from the school. For other materials, she just writes a check—from her own bank account.
Librarians who choose not to open their own wallets, however, are still using book fairs, one of the most popular sources for extra funds and undertaken by an average of 65 percent of schools—although just 14 percent of high schools.
“I run a Scholastic Book Fair, do Scholastic Book Club orders, take book donations, solicit funds from the parent group and the student council, and buy books at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale and at used bookstores,” says Martha Hovanec, a librarian at Pennsville (NJ) Middle School.
Among high school librarians, 37 percent rely on gifts or donations. Some schools have a parent/teacher organization like the PTA that helps bolster finances.
Navigating tight budgets is a familiar reality for both school librarians and those who work with younger patrons in the public library sector. Looking to the year ahead, they will likely have to continue drawing on their resourcefulness. Just ask school librarian Marcella Kehler of York Haven (PA) Elementary School: “I have to spend smarter and stretch further.”
About this survey
SLJ’s school and public library children’s/YA resource surveys were emailed in December 2013 and closed in January 2014, with 347 school and 421 public librarians responding. School results based on total were weighted by a breakdown of elementary, middle, and high school libraries nationwide. Public library results were weighted by population served.