Libraries Understaffed; Increasingly Reliant on Private Foundation Grant Funding

A report from the American Library Association, The Condition of U.S. Public Libraries, Trends 1999-2009, summarizes results from different sources to explore trends affecting the number of public libraries and populations served; expenditures; and staffing.

The following are included among this report’s observations and conclusions:

  • Library salaries, health benefits and utility costs are increasing faster than inflation. Premiums for employer‐based health insurance rose by 5 percent in 2008, and average premiums for family coverage have increased 119 percent since 1999.
  • Librarian salaries rose approximately 15 percent between 2003 ($51,362) and 2008 ($58,960).
  • No measurable changes were reported in FY2008-2009 expenditures from local funding sources for salaries or collections. Increases in use of federal funding sources for all expenditures were reported, the most notable the use of federal funds for staff salaries.
  • The most significant variations from FY2008 to FY2009 were in donations/local fund raising and private foundation grants. A 40 percent+ increase in use of private foundation grants for staff salaries/benefits reported by public libraries is troublesome and should be monitored, especially given the modest decline in state support for staffing. Private foundation grants are typically restricted to specific uses and are of limited duration. However, libraries may be reporting Friends of Library or local private foundation grants in this category as well as awards from national private foundations (such as MacArthur, Gates, etc.).
  • In the November 2009 COSLA survey, thirteen states (28 percent) reported they were aware of public library closures in the past 12 months. Twelve states reported closures of five or fewer libraries; and one state (Indiana) reported more than five closures in the past year.
  • Decreased funding reported for FY2009 and FY2010 also is impacting staffing levels at many public libraries at a time when patron demand is vastly increasing. The number one challenge affecting libraries’ ability to help job seekers is a lack of adequate staff to effectively help patrons with their job-seeking needs.
  • Almost 60 percent of libraries strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that the library does not have enough staff to help patrons.
  • About 52 percent agreed or strongly agreed that library staff does not have the necessary skills to meet patron demand; and about 36 percent agreed or strongly agreed the library has too few public computers to meet demand.