Sunday, November 18, 2007

Budget Time

Academic Librarian wrote recently about some reasons why librarians wouldn’t want to be administrators. I sent a comment about how in smaller libraries, there are often more opportunities to build management skills, and to have some administrative responsibility, and yet still do "librarian" work.

One of the administrative duties I have found most difficult to learn how to do is budgeting. At MPOW, we are now preparing our budgets for Fiscal Year 2008-2009, which starts July 1, 2008. This is my fourth time through the budget process since my position was changed. Until this, as head of cataloging, I was not involved in buying things or deciding what to buy. I just cataloged it when it got there. My colleagues in Acquisitions and Serials (who now "report" to me) had been involved, and I basically relied on them to do what they had always done, and tried to understand it all. The process is complicated by the fact that our library accounts are all in our ILS, and the University accounts are all in the Banner system. They match, for the most part, which is good, but it's still confusing.

Each year I have understood the process a little more. We have steadily been moving money from print to online, just like every other library, and we've been shifting money from monographs to serials because faculty are requesting fewer books and we've been spending that money on databases and periodicals. The administration really only cares about the bottom line-- the total, rather than what's in each account. But I have to supply explanations or justifications for increases in individual line items that are over 2 or 3 percent. This is the first year I'm actually going to make some adjustments in certain accounts as a method of planning for what I think we need to be spending our money on, rather than what we've spent.

What I find especially difficult is that we are constantly making decisions about buying things throughout the year, based on requests from faculty, consortial offers, and "deals" offered by vendors. Whatever we add or cancel between now and the end of June will not be reflected in the next budget, because we are submitting the budget now. So the budget request always lags behind what we are actually doing.

This is another one of those things they don't teach you in library school. I really don't see how they could, since every institution has a different process. So every year I flounder through it and learn a little bit more. Also, I am fortunate to work in a very collegial environment, where we make most resource decisions in a group, and I feel very comfortable asking for input and help with the budgeting process from this group and my director.

My director, by the way, is in a similar boat, being a new Associate Provost for the entire IT division. My budget confusion probably pales in comparison to hers. Rather than try to take it over with an iron fist, she has left resource decisions to us librarians in that group I referred to above. This makes us feel more responsible and work harder to explain and justify what we are doing, in order to provide her with the information she needs to present the budget request to her superiors. In fact, she extends this style of management to most of the "running of the library," which I think has strengthened our sense of purpose and made us feel that what we do as administrators actually matters.

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