You are here

New Director Orientation: Basics

Budget and Finance

Typically, for most public libraries, the primary source of funding is your municipality. For consolidated counties, it is your county. For municipal libraries, in addition to your municipality, typically you receive county funds, some state funds (through SCLS), possibly federal funds (through LSTA grants through SCLS or on your own, or other federal programs or grants), grants, donations, fines, fees, gifts, etc. Some libraries have a foundation, endowment, bequest, or other source of additional funding.

Each year you must estimate how much it will cost to run your library the following year, how much money you expect to receive from other sources, and how much you will need from your municipality. Information on estimating your budget needs and preparing your budget request can be found at Budget Resources and Tips. Additional information can be found in Trustee Essential 8, Administrative Essential 13, and "Money Matters!" an SCLS Continuing Education session.

Wisconsin Statutes 43.58(2) prescribes the procedure for paying library bills. The library board approves invoices, which are in turn paid by the municipality. Consequently, the library board must meet monthly in order to approve bills. Some regular, ongoing payments such as salaries may be paid, before they are approved, but must then be approved at the next board meeting. Information about managing the library's money can be found in Administrative Essential 14 and Trustee Essential 9. It is important to remember most library funds must be deposited with your municipality. The only funds the library may retain control of are gifts and donations (Wisconsin Statutes 43.58(7).

Reporting where you received your money from, and how you spent it, are important parts of your annual State Public Library Report, so it is important to keep good records, and have a good relationship with your municipality so that you receive regular financial reports.

Collection Development

Collection development involves acquiring materials (in all formats), replacing worn but still useful items, and removing material that is no longer useful. Removing items is called "weeding." A standard weeding method called CREW is now also available online.

Because it should be your library's goal to satisfy the information needs of your community, it is vital that you get to know the community well. You and your staff should be involved in the community at every level; you might even consider conducting a community survey.

There is often discussion within the library community as to whether public libraries should provide what the users want (bestsellers, popular literature), or what they "should" want (classics, established literature). A good public library, and its wise staff, of course, will provide both.

While libraries are known for their collections of books (and we do have a lot of books), it is important to keep abreast of, and experiment with, providing new formats as well. 16mm films gave way to videocassettes, which gave way to DVDs. Current "newer" formats include playaway and downloadable books, video, and audio formats. Be sure that you are keeping up with what is new and available, and what your users want.

Most public libraries order the majority of new items from commercial book and media jobbers; large national jobbers typically offer large discounts on most materials. Depending on the jobber, you may order the items online, or manually. But many libraries also shop for materials at local bookstores, and even "big box" stores. Use the method that works best for you, and ask your colleagues where they order from. Additionally, you will receive gifts and donations. You need not accept all donations--Your collection development policy should indicate how you handle donations. All of your decisions about what to add to your collection, whether purchased or donated, must be consistent with your collection development policy, which should be reviewed regularly and updated as necessary.

Sample selection/collection development policies can be found at More collection development resources can be found on the SCLS website.

Cataloging and Classification

While there are several classification systems, most public libraries use the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), to assign call numbers and Sears Subject Headings to assign subject headings to library materials. The goal of call numbers and subject headings is to help users find the material.

There are many sources of suggested call numbers and subject headings: Most books currently published in the United States contain CIP (Cataloging in Publication) data in one of the book's introductory pages, and for books already published you may find information in LINKcat, WorldCat, or other library catalogs. However, it is a good idea to see how these pre-assigned subjects and numbers fit in your collection. Typically, you will want books on the same topic to sit next to each other on the shelf, which may mean adjusting a call number.

Currently there is a lot of discussion about using BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) in place of Dewey and Sears.

The majority of SCLS member libraries pay a fee to participate in LINKcat, our shared Integrated Library System (ILS). LINKcat membership includes cataloging support.

Reference and Information

One of the most important services public libraries provide is helping users obtain the information they need, whether for a school assignment, a professional question or need, a leisure activity, or just plain personal interest. These are called reference questions. The internet has changed the ways libraries find the answers to reference questions, but the service remains the same. At one time, most libraries had special collections of reference materials--in most libraries, these reference collections have shrunk. But no matter whether you use a traditional reference book (dictionary, encyclopedia, atlas, etc.), another book in the reference collection, a source from your circulating collection, the internet, or an online library resource, the goal is to provide the answer to their information need. Assisting users to use library resources, including online resources, is also part of the reference transaction.

Good reference service depends on a well conducted reference interview, which includes determining exactly what the user wants, helping them find the information, helping them use library resources, explaining how to evaluate information found (consider age and bias of resources, for example), and verifying that their question has been answered. If you simply look up and provide a factual answer to a question, it is important to cite the resource you used.

Every public library system must contract with a resource library to provide back up reference assistance for the system's members. Madison Public Library is SCLS's resource library. If you or your patrons need help with a reference question you may contact them at 608-266-6350, or via their email form.

It is important to keep reference statistics in order to report them on your annual report to the state.

If the answer can't be found in your collection or online, consider interlibrary loan to request an item from another SCLS library, or another library in the state or the country.

Public Relations/Marketing

Word of mouth is still one of the best forms of marketing. You and your staff should talk about the library whenever and wherever possible--such as being a special guest speaker for clubs and organizations, at special events (parades, festivals) but also just by having tidbits about the library and its services on the tip of your tongue whether at the grocery store or the doctor's office. More formal information can be shared in a regular newspaper column or a newsletter. Newsletters distributed in the library only reach those who are already there, so consider a more widely distributed newsletter, or placing copies in businesses, offices, etc.

Your web page, and online newsletters and blogs, are good ways to make available current information about what's happening at your library. "Current" is the important word here--make sure your page has the very latest information about services, programs, databases, etc. You can also use your web page to suggest resources on specific topics. For example, if you're having a program on beekeeping, in addition to displaying books about honey, bees, beekeeping, and honey recipes, consider making a list of some of the resources and posting it on your web page. This is a great way to harness the interest developed at the program, and get people coming back to the library.

Did you know that for every dollar of taxpayer money invested in Wisconsin libraries, the return on investment (ROI) is $4.06? With legislators, public officials, and municipalities focusing on the economic downturn, this statistic is one that may resonate. See for information about the study on the Economic Contribution of Wisconsin Public Libraries conducted by NorthStar Economics in 2008, which resulted in this ROI figure. You can find the full publication, an executive summary, and a presentation about the findings, as well as links to similar studies done for other states.

Don't do this alone. Educate your staff, volunteers, and Friends so they too can extol the virtues of the library within the community. You want people to use the library, your services, and resources because it's the right thing to do, of course--but also because increased usage, supported by valid statistics, is a powerful tool at budget time, and any time you need the support of public officials (during a building project, for example.)

Serving Populations

It is important to serve everyone in the community, no matter what segment of the population they represent: children, teens, adults, families, senior citizens, disabled, non-English as first language, businesses, etc. Most public libraries tend to have a great deal of public programs geared toward children, and there are many good reasons to do so. But an emphasis on children alone can lead to the attitude that the library has no usefulness for adults and other population segments. This could not be further from the truth, of course, but you want to be sure to emphasize programs and services for all ages. Sometimes you may not have as many people attend a public program geared toward adults, but that doesn't make it less important. Don't forget to look at services, materials, and your facility as well as programs when working to provide a comprehensive library that meet the needs of all the community's various populations.

Your building, staff, and volunteers should be welcoming and friendly, and ideally you will have spaces within the building that are both conducive to quiet study, as well as ones where library users can meet, visit, and enjoy the library as a community gathering place. This can be difficult in a small library, but sometimes areas intended for different uses can be defined by furniture placement or rearrangement of functional spaces.

And yet, although you will want to have "something for everyone" you don't have the resources to have "everything for everyone." Having a strategic plan will help you set priorities when you have to make tough decisions.

Reports and Planning

Be sure to collect all the statistics you need for your annual report and to make your case at budget time. What story do your statistics tell? Are you doing more with less? Would other municipal departments be asked to do the same? You can compare your library to itself over time, or to other libraries in the state, using the compiled Wisconsin Public Library Statistics.

You can use your statistics to support your need for budget request, or to support your need for additional staff, new or remodeled building, or whatever it may be. Creating a local base of support is called advocacy, and it is an invaluable tool in achieving your library's goals. Goal and priority setting are part of a strategic planning process. A strategic plan is like a road map for your library, detailing where it is going, and how you plan to get there. It provides a framework by which to measure your successes. Involving community members in your planning process ensures that you will have a broad base of public support for the priorities you set.

Strive for the unattainable, because it might not be. Evaluate successes and failures and be ready to make adjustments.


For more information, contact: