Magazine article American Libraries

The 1.6% Solution: Continuing Education and Professional Involvement Are Small but Crucial Budget Items. (Professional Development)

Magazine article American Libraries

The 1.6% Solution: Continuing Education and Professional Involvement Are Small but Crucial Budget Items. (Professional Development)

Article excerpt

During my 29 years as a librarian I have noticed that our profession and the public library boards that govern us tend to be amazingly "penny wise and pound foolish" when it comes to investing in the very thing that libraries are supposed to promote--the growth of human knowledge. To an overwhelming degree, the intellectual growth of library staff and trustees enables a public library to be successful and brings about lifetime learning possibilities for many thousands or even millions of patrons. Yet, in the area of providing budgetary support for continuing education and professional involvement of librarians and trustees, great opportunities are often overlooked or rejected outright.

In virtually every case, the largest part of any public library budget is invested in staff salary and benefits, Of our Oak Lawn (111.) Public Library's total 2002 budget of $3.79 million a full 52% ($1.97 million) is designated for salaries and an additional 16.3% ($618,261) for benefits. The total of 68% devoted to salary and benefits is close to the overall average for public libraries within the United States according to the 2001 Public Library Data Services Statistical Report issued by ALA's Public Library Association (PLA). It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of all public-library dollars expended in the United States are devoted to compensating library staff. On the other band, how much is invested by public libraries in the growth and development of the staff for whose services taxpayers have had to pay so dearly? Quite often the answer is, not enough or absolutely nothing at all. That is just about as crazy as spending $30,000 on a new car and then failing to pay for regular oil change s, tune-ups, and an occasional car wash. It just doesn't make any sense.

A wise investment of public money

How much would it cost to provide continuing education and professional growth opportunities for both library staff and board members? Oak Lawn Public Library expends only l.6% of its total budget (about $61,000) per year in a category generally called "Dues and Meetings." Out of that 1.6% professional dues for the Illinois Library Association and ALA as well as several other professional associations are paid in full for interested librarians and trustees; all expenses are covered for those librarians and trustees who attend ALA's Annual Conferences and Midwinter Meetings, and PLA Conferences; tuition reimbursement is provided in the amount of $1,000 per year for full-time staff and $500 for many part-time staff; in-service day programs are funded up to $5,000 per year; and funds are available for other staff incentive and morale initiatives. These funds also include recruitment money that pays for travel expenses for those coming to interview at our library for professional positions. That 1.6% goes a long way and the overall budget line has yet to be exceeded.

What about libraries with lesser budgets? With a small public library possessing a total annual budget of $300,000, 1.6% would represent $4,800 and might well cover all of the expenses noted for Oak Lawn, but reduced in amount to serve the needs of a proportionately smaller staff. In fact, the need for expertise and new perspectives might be even greater in a small public library where few people have to do much more varied work and respond to so many different challenges in the course of an average work day. In such cases, affording the time for staff to participate in professional growth opportunities might be an even more difficult challenge than setting aside the 1.6%. Nevertheless, finding the time and allocating the money are essential. This is especially true for those small libraries that hope to overcome the inertia and lethargy of the "We can't afford it" mind-set.

Professional development budget lines should not be seen as perks or as a fringe benefit of employment or trustee service. The expectation should be to develop human resources and thereby improve the library's overall performance. …

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