Jane Schmidt is the Head of Collection Services at Ryerson University Library in Canada. Her talk was engaging and full of valuable information. She presented many common sense budget resolutions and also put forth ideas from her institution’s budget cuttings that I’d never thought up.
The webinar from ALA ALCTS was offered free to student members of ALA. I still technically count as a student member, so I jumped at the opportunity. The format was simple. I simply listened to the audio of the seminar while viewing the presentation slides in Windows Media Player. The presentation lasted roughly an hour, and, wow, did Schmidt fit in a whole lot of info.
She briefly touched on the pros and cons of protected collections budget options. After this, she urged her listeners to not panic when it comes to budget cuts. I can imagine initially feeling like the end of the world happened if I was asked to lower my collection budget by eight percent. Schmidt pointed out what the focus should be in this situation. First, you should ensure leadership, offer transparency, gather the facts, “stick to it”, beware of “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, and anticipate backlash.
Ensuring leadership just means setting up and making people aware of the chain of command, lines of communication, and putting the appropriate people in the correct positions. If you want an expert on how to deduct from the print serials budget, don’t put the rare manuscript person on the job. Make sure, if you’ve got them, to put subject librarians on the job.
Transparency is pretty simple in theory, but can get mucked up in the real world. Don’t assume everyone involved has all the information just because you do. Make sure communication is a constant and all people who need to be are involved. Also, make sure people are aware of the numbers. Different departments need to be aware of how much all of other departments are being cut. Everyone should be aware of the amounts involved and the reasons behind those amounts. This encourages fairness and opens more communication.
Fact gathering is a major component of budget cuts. I know that sounds so obvious, but people tend to believe gossip and word through the grapevine if those avenues of communication aren’t kept in check with facts. Don’t assume the reference department is spending too much money on irrelevant resources because another department said so. Check out the numbers. Schmidt said a line-by-line budget review is key here. Get everyone on board at this point. What are the expenses for print serials, e-serials, databases, monographs, e-books, audio-visual, office supplies and usage, etc? Why are those expenses on the books? Can you explain why those expenses are necessary? Do you have the evidence to support keeping those expenses? Looking at the largest expenses (e-resources in Schmidt’s case) realizes the highest potential savings most of the time. It also gets the ball rolling and encourages those involved because those areas usually can handle the most cuts.
Schmidt covered several areas where fact gathering can be done. The first places she suggested looking were databases. Reviewing databases can determine if those resources are in use, if there’s redundancy (maybe an aggregator contains a database you have on its own elsewhere), if the number of access points/seats can be reduced, etc. Reviewing and ranking all of your electronic resources provide you with the statistics and reasoning you will need to back up your choices when it comes to cutting resources or retaining resources. Schmidt had her librarians rank e-resources as essential (first choice), important (second choice), and marginal (rare usage). They also looked at the usage data and if resources could be replaced with other, less costly sources. All of this was explained to the librarians and other staff as exploratory and preliminary information gathering. Nothing was set in stone at this point. Decisions were made after the data was reviewed and reviewed again. Departments and subject liaisons were consulted before anything was finalized as far as cuts or reductions.
Some mid-impact areas to look at include serials, standing orders and approval plans, and memberships. Many print serials are becoming obsolete. The cost of housing such resources can outweigh their usage, especially given the popularity of online databases, which house many journals in electronic format. Staff time spent on print serials can shift to areas of greater need. Looking at consortia deals may reveal a redundancy in your serial access. Standing orders should also be reviewed. This can be time consuming but can create savings, including savings from potential weeding. Memberships are another area where unexpected savings exist. If you and your library aren’t getting anything out of a pricey membership, it doesn’t make much sense to keep it.
Other areas of savings included binding, book jackets, vendors, and one-time purchases. Binding serials may not be worth it at this point. Book jackets take time, money, and resources and may not be worth it in the long run. Streamlining vendors may also be a good idea. I can understand the savings in this approach, but I worry about closing out smaller vendors. I don’t want to give the larger vendors a monopoly. That just leads to locks in pricing and services at some point. One-time purchases should be, if at all possible, should be approached with on-time funds (again, if you can acquire those funds).
When it comes time to break the news about budget cuts, consider various approaches and use caution. Newsletters, websites, blogs, and in-person communication work in different ways. Multiple lines of communication are always a good thing. Schmidt found that communications through the liaison librarians to the departments didn’t work as well as communications from the head librarian to the department chairs. It may be the perceived power plays in this case. Make sure to provide facts and be firm in your approach. Honesty is always the best policy. Faculty may be the last group made aware of the cuts. This is not an underhand move. This is simply an efficient way of dealing with possible repercussions. If you have all your ducks in a row, it’ll be easier to break the news to the faculty and explain the process.
Above all, keep in mind that this is a cyclic process. You’re more than likely gonna have to do it all over again next year. Joy! Schmidt made it clear that you have to be determined if you’re going to find more savings every year. And don’t scale back in times of plenty. Keep the budget in mind even when you have a surplus. It makes it easier to deal with the stretches of economic problems that crop up in every country from time to time. And make sure to keep records. Those records can help you in future budget cuts and can also help you see what you might want to add back if your budget goes up in the future.
I told you she packed a hell of a lot of info in that webinar.