Tag Archives: library funding

Cut, maintain or invest: three choices for library funders

While public libraries are often organised as a specific service within local or regional government, or at least linked to it, in reality they support delivery of priorities across the board.

There are countless stories of library staff receiving questions related to other policy areas, such as health or access to justice.  Similarly, many of the people coming to use library computers have been sent by other agencies – for example those working to provide employment support or benefits.

In responding to this demand – to the best of their ability – libraries provide an important complement to these other services, contributing to their effectiveness, in particular in reaching those most in need.

Yet, of course, the people working in libraries are information professionals, not health, legal or social care professionals. It can be daunting for library staff to face requests for information on questions which are hugely important for users, and over which they have little training.

This situation translates into three broad choices for those taking decisions for funding about public spending in general, and libraries in particular.

Option 1: Cut

The first option is to cut budgets. By reducing opening hours, cutting staff, and no longer investing in new equipment, library funders could claim to be saving money.

However, it is highly questionable that this will be the case. For a start, the communities for the benefit of which decision-makers are supposed to be acting lose a key public space and driver of the enjoyment of key rights. As set out in our interview with Christian Lauersen, these impacts can be as important as they are varied.

But, crucially, it no longer becomes feasible for other government offices and services to tell people to go to the library if they need help to get online, or to get support.

Employment agencies can no longer count on jobseekers being able to search for work online. Health services cannot rely on people being able to use telehealth, rather than needing to come to hospitals or general practitioners. Benefits agencies cannot expect that the people who they are supposed to serve will reach them. Individuals cannot access the information they need to understand – and so enforce – their rights.

This is a recipe for reducing the effectiveness of public services, and so their ability to promote growth and inclusion.

Option 2: Do nothing

The second option is to maintain budgets at similar levels to currently. This would allow libraries to continue to provide services as now, with library staff providing information within their means, and internet access within their resources.

Clearly, this can already have a positive impact, as testified to whenever a library professional is able to connect a user to the information they need.  However, there is arguably still unrealised potential when library staff do not have the support needed to maximise their effectiveness in helping users in different areas, and indeed face anxiety about whether they are even able to do so.

Moreover, as the consequences of the pandemic continue to be felt, the demand for the sort of public services highlighted in this piece seems likely to grow. With the shift to digital-only public services only likely to continue also, even sticking with the status quo could mean a less scope for libraries to deal with individual requests.

As such, doing nothing, while better than cuts, cannot be seen as particularly desirable.

Option 3: Invest

The final option then is to think about how additional support could help libraries achieve all that they should be able to, given their unique characteristics as a public, non-commercial space staffed by dedicated professionals.

For example, making resources available to support training or the hiring of professionals can be transformational in terms of helping libraries provide accurate and effective support to users.

Enhancing capacity to provide meaningful internet access – both through modern hardware and skilled staff support – can also make libraries far more powerful as an enabler of the success of any number of eGovernment and other digital services.

For example, the Australian Library and Information Association secured support to offer training to librarians in order to be able better to support users in engaging with a new digital health records service.

Also in Australia, and a little earlier, the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales recognised the value of upgrading libraries’ abilities to respond to legal questions, and so paid for the development of new training and materials.

Beyond projects supported by partners from other sectors, there are also of course projects driven by more dedicated library funders which can provide useful pilots to demonstrate what can be done also. Naturally, any such efforts do require libraries themselves to organise themselves in order to maximise their own impact.


Clearly, the coming years are likely to be times of difficult decisions around budgets. However, it will also be a period of intense need for effective public services in order to support recovery.

Faced with this need, there is a strong case for investing the relatively small amounts necessary to realise the potential of libraries to ensure that these services have the greatest impact and reach possible.

The costs of non-access: why we should talk about the impacts of not investing in libraries

A lot of advocacy for libraries focuses on showing the return that our institutions provide on investment. Through this, we work to demonstrate that however much governments or other funders spend, the value created by the presence and work of libraries is more.

These arguments can be very helpful at times when governments need to take decisions, by building the case for choosing a new, renovated, expanded or enhanced library.

What we tend to do less is explore what are the costs of not acting. In other words, what are government and societies missing out on, if they do not allocate resources to the library? What harms can this cause to the achievement of wider social, economic and cultural goals?

This reflection is likely to help in developing arguments in the coming months and years. We have difficult times ahead – and already with us in many cases. Those who are currently not facing challenges are likely to do so when stimulus packages come to an end, and austerity hits, at least in many countries.

It seems more likely that the choice facing funders will not be where to spend new money, but rather how to allocate reductions in budgets. In this situation, the goal then is how to cause the least pain.

From the point of view of our institutions, it will be necessary to be able to show that cuts to library staff and services should never be an easy option.

Fortunately, a lot of the time, this can simply require ‘flipping’ existing arguments for libraries.

A case for a literacy programme that increases reading confidence and performance can also be presented as an avoidance of cost – without the library’s intervention, participants would be less likely to read, both reducing demand for books, and leaving them less able to cope with information around them.

In this situation, there would be harm both to the individual, who would be deprived of possibilities to discover new opportunities, participate in the cultural life of the community or engage in civic and political life. This community in turn loses out by having members who are less able to become involved and active. And the economy loses out when people are not able to realise their potential, with bookshops and others in particular suffering from a smaller reading population.

Similarly, an argument for having a space to welcome local community groups can also be phrased in terms of the cost of not having such a space. Forcing groups to meet in private or commercial spaces may exclude individuals, or simply make these sorts of meetings impractical.

This would have a negative effect on community cohesion and civic engagement. When not all people feel comfortable joining groups, then opportunities to build social cohesion and inclusion are lost. Local civil society does not reflect the wider population, and so loses impact. And of course, if groups which may not be able to afford private space are unable to meet, the community as a whole risks being poorer.

Provision of internet access and internet-enabled devices offers another example. The costs of non-access to the internet through public centres such as libraries will, for some people, mean significantly reduced possibilities to get online, for others it may mean none at all. There are also impacts in terms of losing a key part of the digital skills infrastructure.

For individuals, the negative effects include a lack of access to eGovernment services, to information about jobs and business opportunities, and to a growing share of culture and information in general. When skills cannot be provided, the risks of under-use (and even mis-use) of the internet grow. eCommerce also suffers from there being fewer customers.

So many other library activities can also be argued for in this way. In doing so, it is important to make sure you are working on the basis of reasonable evidence, for example surveys of what users would miss.

Clearly, such arguments should be used carefully. It is important not to end up looking excessively negative, or ‘crying wolf’ – i.e. claiming things that are unlikely or hard to believe. Furthermore, while concern about harm is a powerful motivator, so too is a friendly face and a positive approach.

Nonetheless, an ability to talk about the harm caused by not investing in libraries is an important part of any advocacy toolkit.

Copyrights and Library Resources: Two Sides of the Same Coin

So much library advocacy is about funding – ensuring that our institutions have the support necessary to carry out their missions. This can be more or less explicit, from directly campaigning for stable or increased budgets, to working to ensure libraries are featured in wider policy plans which provide the basis for allocating resources later.

This work is vital. Its impact is also relatively simple to demonstrate. Without funding, there cannot be professional librarians, equipment, adequate buildings or collections. With it, there can be longer opening hours, new computers and books, more staff.

Compare this with advocacy around copyright. This can immediately seem like a much more complicated goal, involving concepts and terminology which are some way away from the everyday life not only of the targets of advocacy, but also of librarians themselves. Decisions are taken at the national level – often in a faraway capital – or beyond, not in local town and city halls.

Even outside of advocacy, copyright as an issue is often simply left to the experts. In libraries, often enough, one person (if anyone at all) ends up with the responsibility of answering questions, while in government, it is a subject for the lawyers, unlikely ever to win or lose elections. It can feel like a minority concern.

So far, so far apart. But as this blog argues, these two subjects for advocacy are in fact not so distant from each other, but, as the title suggests, are rather two sides of the same coin.


It’s not (just) what you’ve got, it’s what you can do with it that counts

This is because, in short, copyright laws can have a major impact both on libraries’ spending power, and on the ‘return’ on the investments they make.

Clearly, using such economic vocabulary may feel a little odd, as of course libraries do not make a financial return on their acquisitions. However, thinking more broadly about the impact that libraries aim to deliver – stronger education, research and access to culture – we can still think about how much progress they can make towards these goals for every dollar, euro or yen spent.

One of the most direct examples is around eBooks, where the lack of regulation means that rather than buying eBooks at a consumer rate, libraries are often obliged to buy more expensive copies. There can also be limits on the number of times a library can lend a single book out, or the length of time for which it can lend it.

These facts combine to risk meaning that libraries end up paying much more for every single loan of an eBook than they would for a physical book, or, in other words, get far fewer loans of a book for every dollar, euro or yen spent. This obviously limits the possibility for libraries to deliver on their missions to support literacy and a love of reading, as well as to give access to a diverse range of content.

Copyright can also affect libraries’ ability to give access to other types of work. A key issue during the Pandemic has been the barrier copyright represents for libraries in many countries to digitise the physical works in their collection and give access to them remotely. In effect, during the pandemic, this leaves libraries unable to realise the potential of their collections to support education, research and access to culture.

Outside of the pandemic, these same restrictions on digitisation and remote access mean that libraries cannot realise their potential to give access to people who may not be able to travel to visit collections in person. In effect, out-of-date or overly restrictive copyright laws mean that libraries cannot realise their mission to reach out to all members of the communities they serve.

Similarly, in the research space, text and data mining (TDM) offers strong possibilities to accelerate research and scientific progress. Once again, however, the ability of libraries to allow researchers to carry out TDM will depend on whether copyright law allows this, and subsequent activities, such as sharing results. Without the right laws, libraries can offer less for the money invested in them.

A final example – libraries invest considerable effort in the preservation of works in their collections. Yet this, like many other aspects of library work, faces pressure to demonstrate impact. Being able to make preserved works available online can be a great way of doing this. Yet again, copyright can stand in the way, reducing the ability of libraries to show their own value, and so potentially risking funding.

As set out above, in short, library funding and copyright are two sides of the same coin – a library with a generous budget still risks having less reach and impact (putting this budget at risk) if copyright laws do not allow it to make full use of works.


Complementary Advocacy Strategies

It follows from the above that a comprehensive library advocacy strategy needs to include both advocacy for funding and, where laws are creating problems, advocacy on copyright.

Clearly these can require different sets of knowledge, and work at different levels. Clearly, the atmosphere can also sometimes be different, with copyright reform discussions sometimes more adversarial, although with the right people and a readiness to talk and find areas of agreement. Moreover, it can be uncomfortable for those opposing you to be seen as ‘anti-library’.

However, there is also much in common. Writing to a local government councillor to ask for sustained or increased funding is just as simple as writing to a national senator, deputy or member of parliament. Both require the ability to build up links with decision-makers, creating confidence and understanding.

Crucially, the goal is the same – effective library services in a position to support education, research and access to culture for all of their communities. The same materials, and often the same arguments can be used for both.

It is therefore important for libraries to ensure that, in evaluating their current situation and determining advocacy priorities lie, to think about both funding and laws in order to make the best case for libraries.

The 10-Minute International Librarian #19: Map Your Library Ecosystem

No library is an island.

It has almost always been the case that libraries rely on others for budgets, in turn providing a key service to their communities.

Increasingly, libraries can be seen as partners and platforms. By combining their strengths with others, they can be better able to respond to the needs of their users.

With so many interconnections, we can see libraries as part of an ecosystem, made up of lots of different individuals, groups or institutions, interacting with each other and their environment.

While this term originates in biology – and is particular relevant with the UN Summit on Biodiversity this week – it can also apply to libraries.

Indeed, it offers a helpful model for structuring thinking about the environment in which our institutions operate.

So for our 19th 10-Minute International Librarian exercise, map your library ecosystem.

You can do this as a diagram, on your own or with colleagues. Try to identify the other people and institutions around you which can help you achieve your goals.

Of course, funders are key here. But so too are the actual and potential partners with whom you can work to provide services.

This can include not only other official institutions, but also individuals and community groups.

This map of your ecosystem can help you think both about your own plans and priorities, but also about the impact that changes may have.

Good luck!


This idea relates to the IFLA Strategy! 2.3 Show the power of libraries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

As we publish more ideas, you will be able to view these using the #10MinuteInternationalLibrarian tag on this blog, and of course on IFLA’s Ideas Store! Do also share your ideas in the comments box.


Access to Information through Libraries: A Public Good

The International Day for the Universal Access to Information is a great opportunity to celebrate and underline values which are at the heart of the work of libraries throughout the year.

As an enabler of better decision-making, the seizing of opportunities, and the transparency of government, this access is a key part of any drive to create societies made up of enabled, emancipated and autonomous individuals, all contributing in their own way to collective development.

Libraries are a key part of the infrastructure for access to information, through their connections, collections, and capacity-building.

Through providing low-or-no-cost internet access, they are a gateway to the internet for many, and even in the most highly connected societies play a valuable complement to home and mobile access.

Through access to curated collections of material, they can ensure people find the information they need, in particular helping to ensure that copyright does not serve to make access to knowledge the preserve of the wealthy.

Through providing training and support, they give people the confidence and skills to be effective and constructive information users.

Yet the coming months and years are likely to be difficult for libraries. Reduced economic activity, combined with a need to pay off debts incurred, may well see cuts to public and other spending that risk falling on our institutions.

Even in good times, there can be questions about where libraries ‘sit’ in government, or in other words, whose budget should be used to support them? Are they more about culture? Education? Research? Well-being? Through their support in providing access to information, libraries deliver in all of these areas and more, but usually, only one will need to pay.

With an economic crisis on the way, this blog therefore looks to explore to what extent economic concepts – public and common goods problems – can be used to understand this situation, and trace a way forwards, in order to make a reality of access to information for all.


Defining Terms

We talk about a public good when something is ‘non-excludable’ and ‘non-rivalrous’. ‘Non-excludable means that it is not possible to limit access in order to ensure that only those who pay for it can benefit from it.  Meanwhile, ‘non-rivalrous’ means that even when one person uses the good, this does not reduce what is available to others.

Examples include, arguably, knowledge itself as well as services such as street-lighting or public infrastructure. There is always the risk of the ‘free rider’ problem, with people able to use a good or service without paying for it, leading to a risk of under-investment. In the case of knowledge, for example, tools such as intellectual property are used to ‘exclude’ artificially, and so allow for the creation of a market.

Meanwhile, a common good one that is is non-excludable, but is rivalrous. People can access them without needing to pay, and moreover in doing so, deprive others of the possibility to do so. Examples here could be fish-stocks or forests. There is always the risk that people will try to exploit this to the maximum, bringing the risk of leaving none for anyone else, and indeed, causing long-term damage – the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

Managing common goods can either require central controls, or norms and behaviours within communities which set limits on use for any individual.


Where does library funding fit into this?

For the purposes of this blog, we can consider that the users of libraries are not just individuals, but different parts of government. This is because, in providing services to users, libraries are helping  different parts of government to achieve their policy goals .

For example, beyond culture and education, libraries have a proven record of supporting public health, helping people to access key information and online services. This is a positive result for health ministries and agencies, who then see lower levels of disease, and reduced pressure on hospitals and general practitioners.

There is also evidence of libraries playing a role in helping people who are looking for work. From providing the internet access necessary to find jobs and the computers needed to write CVs, to more hands-on support in developing skills and confidence, libraries are effectively making the work of employment ministries or agencies easier. Indeed, there are stories in many places of jobcentres explicitly telling people to go to the library to get help.

A final example: libraries have a particularly important role in helping people who are at greatest risk of marginalisation to get online, find programmes, or even deliver support directly within the institution. People facing homelessness, isolation, or inequality can, in this way, find opportunities to improve their lives. This is a positive outcome for social affairs ministries or departments, whose success is measured in terms of people helped off the streets and back into jobs and communities.

In each of these cases, by ‘using’ libraries, other departments and ministries benefit. And of course, given that libraries work to be open and available for all, there is no question of ‘excluding’ people using the library for any particular purpose.

There is perhaps a more open question about whether library services are rivalrous or non-rivalrous. Clearly, staff time, computers, or books for lending for example, are not finite. If they are being used by one person, they cannot necessarily be used by another. Other aspects of library services are less rivalrous, for example WiFi, as long as the connection is good enough, or access to displays or information within the library.

This places libraries and the access to information they provide – vis-à-vis their ‘customers’ across government – somewhere between a public and a common good.


The Risks and the Possibilities

As highlighted earlier, public good or common good status bring challenges that can require intervention.

Certainly, there is the chance of a free-rider problem, with policy-makers across government benefitting from services that are only paid by one department (or which depend on local funding).

Of course, when someone is able to access a health resource or find a job through a library, it seems harsh to talk about ‘free riding’. Nonetheless, it is  important to ensure that there is recognition by other agencies, departments or ministries of what they gain from libraries.

Even if they are not willing or able to support libraries for the services they offer, they should be made to understand their interest in defending libraries at what is likely to be a difficult time in the coming months and years. There are already great examples of this, for example the work done in the UK to show how much money libraries are saving the health service.

As for the tragedy of the commons, this can also strike. For example, if every government agency sends people onto the library to use the internet or printers, there is a risk of saturation of library resources very quickly, with fewer terminals or lower levels of staff support available than are needed. If levels of service need to be cut in response, this can even make it harder for libraries to justify support, given perceptions of reduced value for any individual user.

The answer here must be to try and ensure that libraries are integrated into wider policy planning, in order to identify where there is a risk of demand being greater than what libraries can manage. Ideally, an explicit recognition of libraries’ role could lead to increased funding and support in order to deliver.

Linked to this is the value of libraires building up a wider range of partnerships with actors across government. Again, we do see such connections in some situations, with libraries fulfilling their potential as partners and platforms for other services. Formalising relations can help reinforce these links, and further strengthen the range of people and institutions who are likely to speak up in favour of libraries in future, as well, of course, as avoiding the saturation of library services.


In conclusion, building an understanding of the risk that funding for libraries (and the access to information they provide) can be subject to the public and common goods problems can be a useful advocacy goal.

We need to avoid situations where parts of government which benefit so strongly from the work of libraries in providing access only realise how important our institutions are too late. Making use of the International Day for the Universal Access to Information on 28 September to build understanding of the importance of access, and moving towards more formalised relations with partners, offer just two possibilities for doing so.

Core Public Service, Corporate Social Responsibility? Supporting Libraries, Now and in the Future

Libraries and their users around the world are facing complexity and uncertainty, both in maintaining operations today, and in their future planning.

Clearly a main area of concern is how to reopen and resume services safely for users and staff, given that our understanding of COVID-19 is still developing. Library associations and authorities are working hard to collect and present the latest evidence in order to inform their members.

Two further areas of doubt are around funding, and legal guarantees for library activities and values. With some libraries already having to furlough or lose staff, and a strong likelihood of cuts in future, there will almost certainly be the need to engage in discussions about how – and how much – library services are paid for.

Meanwhile, with the pandemic forcing libraries alongside many others to switch to digital service provision, the legal basis on which libraries can provide access to information, education, research and culture online has become a major topic.

In both cases, there is an underlying question – to what extent is it advisable for libraries to rely on choices made by private actors – companies, philanthropists, others – in order to carry out their work?

This blog looks at the issues.


Complement, don’t Compete: Funding

The most obvious area where the balance between the public and private comes up is in funding. The Public Library Manifesto makes it clear that this should come from local and national governments.

This reflects the point made in the Manifesto that public libraries are there to deliver on a range of public interest goals. Yet the same goes for other types of library – national libraries which safeguard the historical record, academic libraries that enable research, school libraries that support literacy and education and as well as many special libraries.

Part of this is down to the sense that public funding should – ordinarily – be more stable. It is rare – although not unknown – for governments to ‘fail’. It is also the case that when there is a proposal to amend library funding, this should be subject to due process, with opportunities for review and influence.

The focus on public funding is also, arguably, linked to the mandate of many libraries to serve all members of the community without discrimination, just as other public services are expected to do.

In contrast, private actors can face situations that would force them to stop providing support, or simply can change their minds without such strong obligations to explain themselves. Especially when services are offered on a market basis, they can also often be little direct incentive to serve the poorest and most vulnerable.

This is clearly not to exclude the possibility of private funding. Libraries globally have benefitted from engagement with the private sector in order to invest in capital – both buildings and equipment, where local laws allow for this.

Partnerships can enable the provision of new services, either through corporate social responsibility, or an understanding that investing now – for example by offering internet connectivity or coding classes – can build demand later on. Sometimes, even, private funding allows for pilot projects which are then taken over and scaled up with public funding when they show their worth.

This is welcome, and we can be grateful to library benefactors for all they do. What is clear, however, is that this support should be additional. It should complement existing public (or institutional, in the case of academic libraries for example) funding, rather than replacing it, in order to ensure that libraries retain their universal, public service focus.


Guarantees, not just Goodwill: Laws

The second area where the relationship between the public and private comes up is in law, and in particular, how much legal certainty libraries and their users have in what they do.

A key function of the law is to step in when there is a risk that, otherwise, people’s rights may not be respected. This can happen when one actor is stronger than another – because they are bigger, richer, have more information, or indeed have been granted monopoly powers by other laws.

Key laws for libraries include copyright and privacy. In the case of copyright, most countries – and indeed international law – recognise that there is a need to guarantee the possibility to carry out certain activities – such as quotation, preservation or education – as exceptions to the monopoly rights offered to rightholders.

Yet due to the concept of freedom of contract – i.e. that the terms of contracts override what may exist elsewhere in the law – these exceptions frequently do not apply in the case of digital content (usually acquired or accessed under a contract (or licence)). While some countries – including those in the European Union – have moved to limit the possibility for contracts to override exceptions, his is far from universal.

The impact of this has been clear during the COVID-19 Pandemic, with contract terms limiting the possibility for libraries to give remote access to works that could have been accessed on-site.

While there have been welcome initiatives from many publishers and rightholders to provide access, it seems contrary to the objective of exceptions in the first place to need to rely on goodwill, rather than legal guarantees in order to be able to support, education, research and access to culture. At least ensuring that the law offers a back-stop, where voluntary action is not taken, seems necessary.

Privacy too is a major concern. With many services collecting data from users – either in place of, or in addition to, fees – there is a particular need for effective laws that protect against unauthorised and/or unethical retention and use.

With a much greater share of teaching, research and simple communication needing to take place online currently – in particular outside of campus networks – the risks of tracking usage and behaviours, as well as vulnerability to cybercrime, grow.

There is therefore a pressing need for companies to be held to high standards, with the law providing a guarantee for privacy. It should not be the case that users need to rely on the goodwill of private actors not to gather private data without full and meaningful consent.


Attitudes towards reliance on private funding and goodwill to support libraries will vary from culture to culture, and depend very much on the prevalent political philosophy.

Nonetheless, as highlighted at least the Public Library Manifesto, there should not be any question of excluding public funding. As a result, it is more a case of finding the right balance.

The COVID-19 pandemic – and its aftermath – is likely to force reflection on this balance. It will be important to ensure that we can make the case a situation where libraries can offer a stable, public-focused universal service, and can rely on the law in order to fulfil their missions.

The 10-Minute Library Advocate #7: Define A Long-Term Goal for your Library

Define a Long-Term Goal for Your Library

If you want to move forwards, you first need to know where forwards is.

In order to ensure that the time and effort that you put into advocacy for your library is well used, it’s important to have an idea of your long-term goal.

It should provide a guide to your work, and help you think about whether what you are doing is succeeding or not. It can be an excuse to stop doing things when they are not contributing to your goal.

So for our seventh 10-Minute Library Advocate exercise, think of a long-term goal for your advocacy work for your library.

Your choice will of course depend on your context. Given that you’re focusing in this exercise on your own library, it may be about changing regulations that decide what you can or can’t do, about financing, or even about building support for your services within your community.

It should be ambitious (you want to improve on the current situation), but also realistic (you don’t want failure to be inevitable). If it helps, you can use the SMART framework.

Crucially, it should be something you can easily remember and refer to in your work!

Good luck!

See the introduction and previous posts in our 10-Minute Library Advocate series and join the discussion in social media using the #EveryLibrarianAnAdvocate hashtag!