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Budgeting for books

Must be budget time since lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions asking “how do I determine a budget for print resources in my library?”

First, nearly the entirety of my accumulated knowledge about budgeting practices, pathetic as it is, can be downloaded from the workshop handouts, “Budgeting for Mean, Lean Times.” Please use the information as you can.

For me, the quick and dirty of budgeting for print (and other things as well), has always been to establish a maintenance budget. Administrators tend to understand the wisdom of maintenance. They certainly have to do this when it comes to tuck pointing brick work, resurfacing parking lots, replacing carpeting, etc. Since a library print collection represents a major capital outlay, it too should be regarded as something that needs to be maintained.

My magic formula is simple. To determine the dollars needed to maintain a print collection you need three pieces of information:

  • Size of collection to be supported.
  • Life expectancy of the material.
  • Average cost of a book.

How do these things get determined?

The supported collection size in our district was established some years ago using old library standards (when they were more quantitative and less qualitative) and then approved by the district library advisory committee. For schools of under 500 students we maintain a collection of 10,000 volumes; for schools of 500-1000 students we maintain a collection of 12,000 volumes; and for schools over 1,000 students we maintain a collection of 14,000 volumes. Your numbers may vary, but you should have them officially recognized as viable via a district advisory committee or your building administrator. (Note that collections, if not weeded will grow to more than the “supported” size. This is not a good thing.)

For life expectancy of the material, we chose 20 years. Too long, yes. Some materials will be worn out or obsolete in 5 years. Some Newbery Award winners will last longer than any child now reading them. Again, make sure the life expectancy is validated by people who are in a position to make budget decisions.

Average cost of a book is easy. Instead of using the School Library Journal figures that come out each spring, we take a few book purchase orders, add them up and divide by the number of volumes purchased. This reflects discounts, cataloging, shipping, processing etc.

So the formula is easy. It’s just collection size X rate of replacement X average book cost. Replacement rate = 100%/number of years in the life span of material. For our books this is 5% (100% divided by 20.)

So our 10,000 volume print collections need about $7.500 each year to be maintained if the average cost of a book is $15. If this amount is not spent each and every year, the collection will either get older (if not weeded) or smaller (if weeded). I strongly recommend weeding. See the handouts and “Weed!

So how does the influx of commercial online resources impact this budget? Well, in only one way that I can see. We need to look closely at how large our supported print collections need to be. Currently at the elementary level, I don’t see a lot of print information being replaced by online resources – yet. But at the secondary level, we should look closely at how our reference and non-fiction collections are being used by our Net Genners. A small but vital print collection supplemented by good commercial online resources might better serve these kids' needs. (Or is is it, gulp, good commercial online resources that are supported by a small, vital print collection?)

I’d be delighted to hear from other librarians if they have found an effective means of determining ways to justify their library’s book budget.

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Reader Comments (4)


I use your formula in general, but apply it to specific parts of our collection. For example, hardcover and paperback fiction have different physical lives, as well as replacement costs. Non-fiction has a shorter useful life than fiction. Finally, reference materials have their own peculiar useful lifes and are treated individually.

In addition, our building has a fairly high transient population (sadly). As such, we lose a large number of books to families who leave without notice, taking our books with them. To make up for those losses, I estimate that amount, gleaned from "lost" and "missing" on our Follett system, and add it as a separate line item to our funding request. This is important, otherwise we never get "back to zero" if you will.

Comments on this formula would, of course, be appreciated.


One Elementary School's Formula:

•Hardcover Fiction sections (Picture Books, Spanish Books, Chapter Books, etc.):

>>> 3500 (materials) X (100% / useful life of 20 years) X $17.45 (average replacement cost) = $3053.75

•Paperback Fiction sections (Picture Books, Spanish Books, Chapter Books, etc.):

>>> 1000 (materials) X (100% / useful life of 5 years) X $4.95 (average replacement cost) = $990.00

•Non-Fiction section:

>>> 4000 (materials) X (100% / useful life of 10 years) X $17.45 (average replacement cost) = $6980.00

•Lost Books

>>>164 books lost or missing at an average cost of $17.45 = $2861.80.
December 22, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Dyer
Hi John,

Yours is a better and more sophisticated way to determine what you need. I appreciate your sharing it.

Unfortunately too many librarians still just take what they are given without informing administrators/site teams what is really needed to keep a collection current.


December 23, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug,

The example for the school is very helpful, thanks!

I was wondering if you could point me to the "growth" formula?
You gave it at AISA, but I can't seem to find it.


June 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Hi Kim,

The growth budget is simple. It is a funding request that is in ADDITION to the replacement budget, not instead of it.

Here is how it works. The growth budget is the desired collection size minus the current collection size divided by the number of years until full size is obtained times the average cost of a book.

For example, let's say you'd have a 6000 volume collection but want a 10,000 volume collection in ten years. The formula would be 10,000 - 6,000 = 4000. 4000/10 = 400. 400 x $20 = $8000 growth budget.

Let me know if you have any questions.


June 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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