"Do not assume that the budget you are given is finite. Generous budgets can always be cut, and tight budgets can often be expanded. It is the responsibility of the school librarian to advocate for adequate library funding; write or talk to school board members, administrators, and other relevant personnel. Your efforts will be more effective if you keep statistics and prove that library funds are well-spent. The most persuasive statistics are those that prove library funding has a positive effect upon student learning and test scores." Alaska School Library Handbook
Learning the “financial ropes” of budgeting can help school library media specialists create a strong media center program and build credibility within their school(s).
Within the budget process, three main phases are required.
- Develop a sound financial plan
- Make wise acquisition decisions
- Accurately account for all spending
It is not enough to commit to selecting and purchasing only quality books, media, and equipment. That effort would be delayed or thwarted if you find because of inaccurate record keeping that there are no monies left to pay for the items ordered. Likewise, it is not always justifiable to make purchasing decisions based on the “cheapest” or “bottom line” prices.
For example, you may decide to purchase an economically-priced laminating machine and find that it heats unevenly, requires too much tweaking, and is not a good equipment choice.
As you consider spending taxpayer funds, it is critical that items to be purchased are connected to your school’s goals, to curriculum needs, and to student needs. Mismanagement comes in many forms such as within a mad rush to meet “use it or lose it” deadlines. Just as bad is the “oh well, I’ll do better next year” attitude for not spending allotted monies. Avoid the “I have no idea how much money is left” pattern because records have not been kept up to date. If you create a budget plan and follow that with accurate use of your school’s purchasing system to help with acquisitions, then monitor expenditures an electronic spreadsheet, mismanagement can be avoided.
Being responsible for someone else’s money is somewhat intimidating, but it can also be fun - - especially after you have carefully taken part in the planning, purchasing, and accounting phases.
Read Linn, M. (2007). Budget Systems Used in Allocating Resources to Libraries (Access requires login). Bottom Line: Managing Library Finances; 20(1), 20-29.
Article provides information about several different budgeting systems that are used to allocate resources to libraries.
How do I get started?
Learn the Process. If you are new to the budget process, then first acquaint yourself with the general process used at your school. Learn the steps required with purchasing. Examine recent budgets to discern the accounting records of the school’s business office and identify the various funding accounts that provide money for your library media center program. Look for regular library budget funds but also check on items such as fundraising, gifts, fines, fees, etc.
Involve Key People. There are a few key people who you work directly with in planning and administration of your budgets. You should gather data and input for budgeting from many sources including teachers, students, and parents; however these persons are involved throughout the process. Keep in mind that your principal is held accountable for all budget accounts in your building. The more completely you keep them informed of budgeting plans, your spending record, and your centers real needs, the more they will be able to support your program.
It is imperative that you justify and prioritize your needs, complete a written budget plan, and present requests to your principal in a clear, organized manner. Support your budget plan with an identification of how spending will positively affect students and how purchases will support the school’s curriculum. In addition to your principal, another key person(s) important to gaining an understanding and working with the budgeting procedures of your school is your library support person(s). Work positively with your staff to meet deadlines and monitor budgets. Remember, the responsibility for a monthly monitoring of all library media accounts can be an “assigned” responsibility for a staff member, as long as you keep the communication line open.
Establish Priorities. Budget planning includes creating a needs/wants list and prioritizing the items listed. Likely you will not be able to purchase everything that you see and like, therefore prioritizing a list of items to be purchased is critical. Your wants/needs list should be kept “fluid.” Make notes of new items discovered/ identified and incorporate them into the prioritized list. Update this list periodically, reexamining items to be sure that they are still sound, credible recommendations in light of current conditions. Attending to this budget planning component avoids making mistakes if “windfall” funds become available, or more likely, if a budget “shortfall” surfaces.
Plan Budget. Budget planning also includes dividing your prioritized wants and needs into specific funding categories. In the school’s accounting records, these are identified by specific accounting numbers (See below). As soon as possible, examine the current budget records and determine how much money is in each account for the library media program. If your school does not provide you with a copy of the budget account records, then note the amounts of each relevant fund for your budget planning and records.
Budget figures change yearly. Remember that in many schools accurate budget figures are not available until after the official enrollment counts are completed (October in some states). In most cases, you do not have to wait until every last available cent is known before you start purchasing. Budget planning often includes needs that are the same or similar from year-to-year.
Meet with Principal. If you have the needs/wants for your program goals identified and updated throughout the year, the budget planning process can be successful. Discuss your budget plan with your principal. See if other funding sources can be found for some of the items on your list. Feel good about your purchase decisions because you know that you have selected the most important items first.
Read Young, R. (Jan 2008). Eight Easy Steps to Maintain and Increase the Library Media Center Budget (Access requires login). Library Media Connection; 26(4), 26-27. Retrieved from Education Full Text database.
One of those steps is to frame budget requests in terms of student expenditures.
Questions to Consider:
- Who should be involved in planning the library media center budget?
- Who should be privy to exact budget figures?
- Does the majority rule when planning the library media center budget?
- Should items that benefit the most people be bought first?
- Are items purchased for the “minority”?
- How often should the library media center budget be reviewed by the principal?
- What are the school deadline dates for monies to be spent?
- Are you aware of any needs the faculty, staff, students, or parents have expressed?
- What things are needed to improve your library media center program?
What needs to be done before purchasing?
- Know all the budgets available to you.
- Know each budget amount and spending restrictions of each (equipment, supplies, repairs, etc.)
- Determine your wants/needs
- Prioritize your wants/needs list
- Do your homework, determine minimum specifications of what you want.
- Determine a spending plan/schedule (calendar for major purchases, books, complete spending date, standing order due, funds for school year end, etc.)
What are short and long term budget planning?
Budgets are an annual task; they are prepared and administered in a yearly pattern. However, budget planning is a continuous process. Consider both current and future needs. Budget planning is backed by detailed analysis of the resource collections and the support provided by the media library center. What are the students and teachers gaining? And how much money is being spent, how much is needed to maintain and improve the collection and services?
Plan ahead, keep notes and records and back them up with logical needs and facts and figures. Gather data. Much can be gained from the automated library systems in place in most schools today, but if needed data cannot be gathered automatically, then it will have to be collected manually.
Think Ahead. Some instructional goals require a budgeting effort that exceeds the yearly span. Before you get far, identify the specific learning needs, budget goals, and develop a proposal for action – what needs to be done. Involve students and teachers; seek their input. Check to see that you are on target. Communicate with your principal and teachers and gain their understanding and support, then work together to develop a staged plan for multi-year funding within your budget.
If the library media budget is credible, you must be able to defend or justify each and every purchase. The library media specialist should have specific reasons for each requested item.
Power: Program Administration - Principle 7.
Sufficient funding is fundamental to the success of the library media program. (p. 100, 109)
Library Budget Sheet with MS Excell - A YouTube video tutorial(Length 4:59 min.) by Y. Denomy.
Library Budget with Google Docs - A YouTube video tutorial(Length 5:16 min.) by Y. Denomy.