Economic Impact: ALA Treasurer Sees Challenges Ahead

Article excerpt

Over the last three years, I have tried to share information with ALA members about the Association's finances, and about how their membership supports the Association's programs and strategic objectives.

This will be my last message as ALA treasurer, and I'd like to take the opportunity to talk about the current economic challenges facing libraries and the Association, as well as to make some observations about the challenges--and opportunities--that lie ahead.

Like every organization, ALA has its financial strengths and weaknesses. One of its greatest strengths is that each dues dollar is matched by more than a dollar in revenue generated by conferences, publishing, and grants. As a result, we can accomplish much more than we could if we were totally dependent on dues.

Strength in numbers

Another strength is that because ALA has four major sources of revenue, its budget is more stable than an organization dependent on one revenue source. The bad news is that because the Association has these other revenue sources, it is also vulnerable to forces operating in the business world and larger economy (e.g., the precipitous nationwide drop in advertising last year).

The crisis that hit the economy in fall of 2008 appears to be easing slowly but unevenly. It is also clear that the library economy lags behind the economy at large as economic growth impacts public revenue, which affects library budgets. Given the depth of cuts to libraries in states such as California, and given the huge deficits still faced by many states, it looks like 2011 may be worse than 2010 for many libraries, and that any recovery in library budgets will be slow.

As libraries cut back, there will be less money for everything from conference travel to READ posters. This means that ALA, like libraries, will have to make further budget reductions and cuts over the next two years. …