01 September 2004

The Fundamental Challenges of Resource Allocation

by Will Ascarza

The budget is a crucial factor in library management. Automation, continuing education, information technology, materials acquisition, personnel salaries, and public relations necessitate funding. Each of these resources is important for any library that wishes to provide excellent services to its employees and patrons. Unfortunately because of poor resource allocation, many library services are phased out or severely cut back. This directly affects the efficiency of the library and also lowers the satisfaction level of the user.

There are many ways of how budgets affect a library. A prime example is in the area of personnel salaries. Oftentimes committees have been established to study and implement salary setting policies. However, it can be difficult to gauge the many factors that need to be considered when determining salary issues. Examples of these factors include experience, education qualifications such as an MLS degree or beyond, and the economic situation in the country at the time coupled with the determination of salaries based upon other library institutions (Williams, D.E.. and Garten E.D. 1999).

Additionally, the budget can affect both materials acquisition and information technology in the library. The cost effectiveness of certain collections of materials should be considered. For example, government documents are often inexpensive to purchase in contrast to some journals or periodical subscriptions (Smith, D.H. 1993). One must also consider possible sources for the acquisition of materials. Budgeting needs to be taken into consideration when considering how much funding should be allocated for purchasing the material and how much reliance should be placed on donations.

The efficiency and cost effectiveness of new technology must also be examined. For example one must consider automatic checkout as compared to circulation checkout. Another consideration that affects IT technology is what operating system the server will utilize to host the World Wide Web. Many libraries use UNIX based information systems to operate their client server network.

Continuing education for library employees is another factor that is dependent upon the budget. Different education programs bring with them different costs. These include both money and time. When creating the budget it's important to evaluate the cost and effectiveness of each program.

Public relations also are related to the budget. Certain allocations of funds need to be made by the library to market its services to the public. Visibility is important for the library so that people know where it is and what materials it has. Orientation programs held weekly would build relationships between both library staff and patrons while �printed guides� could serve as tools to further market the library (McKay, D.J. 1988).

There are difficulties inherent when making allocations within any budget. For instance, not all costs can be readily seen. Whereas tangible factors appear in the budget such as the cost of employing personnel, intangible factors such as the effectiveness of the personnel insofar as their skills are concerned may remain unknown. Another difficulty with budget is that it can be misleading. An example of this would be exorbitant figures in the continuing education of library personnel. The result might be to cut back on continuing education investment because of the cost while not examining the content or duration of such programs. There is also the concern that budgets are created without any real thought concerning their importance. As a result, no improvement is made in the allocation of resources and the library becomes a victim of mismanagement of funds.

There are several good ways to improve deficiencies in resource allocation. One of them is to appoint a Task Force. The establishment of a Task Force produced a positive effect when applied by Webster University in St. Louis , Missouri . (Williams, D.E.. and Garten E.D. 1999). The University created a Task Force that was assigned the responsibility of studying how each resource in the library was currently used and determining whether it was over funded or under funded. It then readjusted how much funding each resource would receive accordingly.

Another option is the use of (ALMS) which stands for �A Library Management System.� The goal of this system is to provide administrative librarians with data so that they may determine needful appropriations in the field of operating expenses and salaries/wages. This system has won the favor of the California State University and Colleges System (Mitchell B.J. 1983).

Negotiation is also a tool that libraries can use should they discover that their resource needs exceed their budget. It is important to be able to bargain with outside sources that may provide additional funding of library resources. A good example of what can be achieved through collective bargaining is found in the case of Egypt and Israel (Bolman, L.G., and Deal, T.E. 2002). Both countries were involved in a land dispute that was resolved by satisfying each other's underlying interests. In a library setting, funds are needed to provide services to the community. Budget processes are governed by parent institutions, such as city governments or universities. These organizational bodies depend upon the library for information and also public support. Like countries, there is room to negotiate between libraries and their parent institutions.

The use of �zero-based budgets� is yet another tool that has led to the success of many businesses (Pell, A.R 1987). Libraries must factor in many resources when examining their budgets for the next year. Companies usually look at the effects of expansion and inflation from the past year when planning the next year's budget. Zero-based budgets examine the value of each item. Items that show productivity are retained in the budget while those that are no longer used are discarded. A good example of �zero based budgets� in a library setting is in information technology. In the past twenty years libraries have updated their search engines from card catalogue to placing their material online. Online information has become a more efficient means of relaying information while the card catalogue system has become outmoded and less efficient. Library budgets reflect this by funding the one while discarding the other.

Another solution may be the benefit of resource sharing among libraries. There is evidence that this tactic has been successful. Three member libraries in the Western North Carolina Network serve as a case in point. They joined together in 1986 to provide fully integrated services with one another that included both a shared circulation and online catalogue system. There was also cooperation in collections development of journals and manuscripts. Materials were efficiently transported from library to library by a van delivery service known as ABC Express. This system proved useful for both the libraries and the patrons. Each library profited from this relationship which reduced the demands on its budget by augmenting their materials with those of other libraries. Patrons benefited from the ability to broaden the scope of their requests to more than one library and have the same amount of time to borrow materials. (Graham, A 2000).

It has been shown that proper resource allocation can conform to the limitations of a budget. It is up to library managers to network as a team when studying the budget and communicate their findings with each other and their benefactors. This can be done through the establishment of Task Forces and collective bargaining. Both resources and budgets are never stagnant and are constantly evolving. That is why they need to be reviewed every year and modified accordingly. The openness to proper investigation and negotiation will lead to a better understanding of how to match resources with budget and merge economy with efficiency.


  • Bolman, L.G., and Deal, T.E. (2003). Reframing Organizations . (3 rd ed.) San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
  • Graham, Amy (2000) Vol. 31 (1) Resource Sharing within the Western North Carolina Library Network: faculty and Student Perspective, Journal of Library Administration .
  • McKay, D.J. (1988). Re-assessing the role of special libraries and information units: internal marketing . United Kingdom : Taylor Graham.
  • Mitchell, B.J. (1983). ALMS: A Budget Based Library Management System . London , England : Jai Press Inc.
  • Pell, A.R (1987). Managing Through People . Garden City: New York : Dale Carnegie & Associates, Inc.
  • Smith, D.H. (1993). Management of Government Information Resources in Libraries . Englewood , Colorado : Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  • Williams, D.E. and Garten E.D. (1999). Advances in Library Administration and Organization . Stamford , Connecticut : Jai Press Inc.

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