The Institute of Museum and Library Services has just released a report on the pathetic spending on state library administrative agencies (SLAAs).

Among other roles, the state agencies offer assistance to local libraries in areas such as tech and content, and they administer federal funds and plan at the state level. Does your local library need a new WiFi network or more money for e-book-related services? What are the your library’s chances of winning a federal grant? People at a well-run state library agency might help improve the odds.

That is why this arcana is of interest, and why I’m rooting for the agencies’ budgets to be higher.

Part of the report:

In FY 2014, SLAAs reported revenues totaling $1.1 billion across federal, state, and other revenue sources; 82 percent of this revenue was from states and 15 percent from federal sources. Expenditures totaled $1 billion with the bulk spent on financial assistance to libraries ($688 million) and operating costs ($345 million).

In the preceding 10-year period, Reported SLAA revenues decreased by 17 percent overall. Available Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) funding to SLAAs also decreased by 17 percent during this 10-year time period. The contracting revenue was accompanied by contracting expenditures with an 18 percent decrease in expenditures by SLAAs from FY 2004 to FY 2014. SLAA spending of LSTA funds decreased by 17 percent in the same period.

A closer review of SLAA revenues and expenditures for this period reveals a more nuanced picture. Between FY 2004 and FY 2008, revenues for SLAAs fluctuated annually but increased slightly overall. From FY 2008 to FY 2012—the period roughly corresponding to an economic downturn for the country—SLAA revenues contracted sharply and continuously, falling by nearly 21 percent. FY 2014 showed a modest increase in both revenues and expenditures….

Some might argue that operating costs are far too high. Perhaps—I haven’t researched it. Yes,  I’m all for efficiencies in libraries and the rest of government at all levels. Could IMLS paperwork be simplified and further automated so local libraries could handle it better on the own and reduce reliance state agencies (even though state-level coordination will always be necessary)?

If so, Washington should go for it. I wonder how much the states and IMLS use slick wizard-style forms. The forms could tailored for individual states and local people filling them out could get feedback along the way—for example, on whether a neighboring library system was seeking a similar grant for a specialized service.

That said, some operating costs come with the territory, and the report says that just 13 percent of SLAA jobs are in administration. Besides, why did revenues for SLAAs go down “by 17 percent overall?”

Whether the issue is tech or collection development, libraries are cash-strapped in some crucial areas. U.S. public libraries can spend only about $4 per capita per year on books and other content. That’s around $1.2 billion or less than the cost of one military office complex here in Alexandria, Virginia.

Even with plenty of trimming of bureaucratic waste—a different issue from laying off librarians providing actual services, including those related to the popularization and absorption of books—public libraries could use a lot more money than they’re getting now. Hence the need for a national digital library endowment.

If Donald Trump, an infrequent reader of books, wins the Presidential election, the existing IMLS budget of some $230 million could sharply decline. In the past, House Speaker Paul Ryan has even called for defunding of IMLS.

The best response to budget cutters would be for IMLS and state agencies on their own to strive for new efficiencies.

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Detail: Yes, I’d welcome more up to date figures.

(IMLS report  via InfoDocket.)