Facing Fiscal Challenges – Chama Mpundy Mfula, Sandy Hirsh

This blog post is part of a series of posts from the ninth Knowledge Café, held during the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Dublin, Ireland, July 26-29, 2022. 

The session was co-sponsored by the Knowledge Management Section and the Continuous Professional Development and Workplace Learning Section and was co-chaired by Monica Ertel and Maggie Farrell.

Several Standing Committee Members of Management & Marketing were involved as facilitators or rapporteurs.

Many of the discussions are connected to management and management skills, why we have decided to publish the content also in this blog.

You find all of the content at: https://www.ifla.org/news/2022-ifla-knowledge-cafe-facing-the-future-together-connecting-learning-sharing/

Facing Fiscal Challenges 

Facilitator: Chama Mpundy Mfula  Chief Librarian, National Assembly of Zambia  ZAMBIA

Rapporteur: Sandy Hirsh  Associate Dean for Academics, San Jose State University  UNITED STATES 

Pictured: Sandy Hirsh, rapporteur (far left), Chama Mpundu Mfula, facilitator (far right) – Group 7, 2nd discussion group

Libraries face uncertain fiscal situations. Some have been reduced due to the pandemic. Others managed the pandemic through temporary funding.  Is this true for your library?  And if so, how are you prioritizing services, operations and/or personnel?

A big part of the discussion was focused around the impact that the pandemic has had on library budgets. In the group discussion, several indicated that their budgets had been reduced and others said that their funding remained the same, but some said that their budget allocation has not kept up with inflation. The participants from Zambia and Kenya both mentioned that they had to re-envision the budget so that their budget ties directly to services. Participants generally indicated that budgets are more restricted and regimented than prior to the pandemic. Several people talked about the importance of prioritizing certain types of services in order to stretch the library budget, such as by prioritizing services to a committee rather than to a specific individual. Some mentioned that donor funds helped them enrich their collections and helped with digitization expenses, while others mentioned that donor support had been reduced; so, the experiences with fundraising/donations varied.

In some places, like Kenya, libraries did not close during the pandemic. They had challenges such as: most of the collections were not in digital formats; they had to use their budgets to pay for masks and other COVID-related needs; and they moved meetings to Online but found they were not well prepared for this as most people did not have laptops (so they used their phone instead). They also talked about how the pandemic gave them the opportunity to rethink how they offered their services. For example, the need for digitization became evident so they bought equipment to digitize their collections.

This is not a unique example of the way that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted libraries.  Other participants also talked about how the pandemic necessitated new services. For example, other libraries mentioned how they started new chat services and how they launched electronic reservations to meet the new needs of their users.

Additionally, some said that it had been harder to show their value as a librarian during the pandemic. Even though online services were provided, because people were not physically in the library, “it was out of sight/out of mind.”  Library users do not necessarily realize that the materials and services are being provided by the library.

Some specific themes that came up in our discussion included the following:

Staffing: For all libraries, staffing is a major expense, with collections being a much smaller part of the budget. Some of the concerns raised around staffing included:

  • Recruiting and retaining staff are difficult.There are several reasons that were mentioned.
    • Remote Work:One is that many people now want remote work. While some places are allowing staff to telework, this is not the same as remote work as these staff still need to be a commutable distance from their library. Policies vary based on institutional rules and based on supervisor expectations.
    • Salaries:One participant shared that they recently lost four people to private industry due to salaries as library rates of pay are not competitive with industry.  This is a problem across libraries.
  • Unionized environments introduce complications.Some libraries in unionized environments might have a mix of faculty and staff — some of whom are in a union and some who are not; this can lead to disparities. Also, in some places, there are multiple unions that negotiate different compensation and benefits for their members, also leading to inequities. One participant (from a union environment) discussed how they were fighting for health care during the pandemic as healthcare had been underpaid, and were also addressing concerns around pay gaps (specifically inequal payments to men and women).
  • Challenges for women in the workplace increased due to pandemic. In addition to unequal payments to men and women, some discussed how women usually don’t get to higher positions because of maternity leave. Also, during the pandemic when everyone was working at home, mothers had to provide childcare and this sometimes affected their ability to provide some services, e.g., mothers had kids on their lap during online meeting sessions.

Collections: Generally, collections represented a smaller portion of the overall library budget.

  • However, one challenge was that to administrators, collection budget allocations look expendablein a way that staffing does not, so there needs to be an education piece for decision makers to make sure they understand the implications of cutting collection budgets.
  • Collection budgets have also been impacted due to inflation, so collection funding does not have as much purchase power. Some mitigating factors are that consortiums allow libraries to buy books at a discounted rate and some libraries have received donations that allow them to add more titles.
  • One big collections trend mentioned has been the increase in demand for eBooks.However, eBooks “cost 5-7 times the cost of physical books” which is a problem for libraries to accommodate within limited collections budgets. Given that some people prefer eBooks and some prefer physical books, libraries are having to make some tough decisions about what format to buy materials in.
  • Faculty requests for copies of articles has increased because faculty couldn’t get access to some databases. Because collections budgets were not raised, some libraries have had to deny a lot of requests and face the challenge of deciding which licenses to buy and which requests to deny.

Training/Learning about how to manage finances:

  • Most participants discussed how their training and conference travel funds have been reduced.
  • Our group also talked about what LIS students learn about managing financeswhen they are working on their MLIS degrees. Most students don’t think of themselves as managers so are not interested in management courses while working on their MLIS degrees. However, some LIS textbooks address this important topic. For example, the 3rd edition of the LIS textbook published in 2022 by Sandra Hirsh, Information Services Today: An Introduction, includes a chapter on “Managing Budgets.” Sometimes this topic, budgeting, is included in a general management course in the MLIS curriculum. Often times, library staff are most interested in learning about “managing budgets” when they start working in a library, so learning about how to manage budgets through continuing professional development or workplace learning is a good approach.

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