Purchasing in Public Libraries Shifts to Digital, Budget Concerns Impact Ordering | SLJ COVID-19 Survey

Ordering materials and resources continues during library closures, although purchasing has shifted to ebooks and other digital resources, according to SLJ's survey of youth services librarians.

So much of life has stopped during the pandemic, but nearly two-thirds of youth services librarians continue to purchase books and materials to some extent, according to SLJ's Youth Services in Public Libraries COVID-19 Response Survey.

When it comes to spending on new materials and resources, about 27 percent are placing orders as usual, while nearly 30 percent say they have shifted spending priorities to more e-books and other digital content (and personal protective equipment, noted one respondent). Ten percent are ordering with a limited budget and nearly nine percent cannot purchase anything because budgets were frozen.

"Our budgets were cut by 20 percent," wrote one respondent. "Grant money can be spent freely."

Many respondents reported creating orders but not submitting them, because the library can't accept physical deliveries right now or because they worry about coming budget cuts and will need to adjust the lists.

Read: Public Librarians Are Working, Making Plans While Facing an Unknown Future | SLJ COVID-19 Survey

What happens next will depend on the new funding numbers. While they don’t know for sure, more than half of respondents (54 percent) are expecting youth services budgets to decrease for the 2020-21 fiscal year. When asked to estimate the percentage decrease, most didn’t want to venture a guess but the average for those who did was a decrease of 23 percent (with a median of 20 percent). On the positive side, 45 percent expect no change in youth services budget at all. With the uncertain future in mind at all times, some are taking it on themselves to try to save money now in hopes that it saves some pain later.

"Trying not to spend too much money in case the city wants to slash our budget for pay or staff," wrote one librarian.

SLJ's survey was conducted from April 23 to May 5, with 570 respondents.

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