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Name: Marshall Breeding

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Library automation in a Difficult Ecomomy

It’s no secret that libraries face incredibly difficult prospects in these lean economic times. In recent days, for example, American Libraries ran a story about a possible $227.3 million devastating cut proposed for Ohio libraries over the next two years. Libraries of all sorts are taking extraordinary measures to deal with shrinking budgets. Reduced hours, flat or reduced salaries, voluntary furloughs, layoffs. Not to mention reduced expenditures for collections. Not all libraries experience the same level of hardship—some find themselves fortunate and lightly touched, at least for now.

Do these economic times strike the death knell for technology projects? In my March 2009 column in Computers in Libraries, I suggest that at least in some cases, strategic technology projects may prove worthwhile investment. Well-conceived technology projects can help maintain or improve the position of a library forced to make cuts in other areas.

Computers in Libraries April 2008

The downturn in the economy has taken its toll on libraries. Even in the best of times, most libraries have to work with budgets that are barely adequate to support their essential activities. In these recent months, the recession has subtracted significant funds from the parent organizations of many libraries: city, county, and state governments; public and private colleges and universities; schools; and corporations. In the sphere of libraries with which I've interacted, some have faced drastic budget cuts, including givebacks in their current fiscal cycle; others have been more lightly touched, facing only a year or so of zero-growth budgets. I've not heard from any libraries that expect increases in funding on the order of what they had a year ago.

I expect that this harsh economic climate will make an impact on the library automation industry and will likely force many libraries to reconsider the technology projects planned for the next year or so.

Most libraries that I've encountered routinely find ways to execute any given project with the lowest cost and the greatest impact possible. We're frugal organizations used to making every dollar count. Today's environment requires responses that go beyond even the strictest frugality, prompting a strategic reassessment of how a library allocates its resources. In this context, technology and automation may well be wise investments that help maintain the library's mission in times of diminishing resources.

In times like these with budgets constrained more than ever, it's necessary to take a step back to consider technology and automation issues. I don't think that tight budgets necessarily have to mean that all new technology projects should be set aside until brighter times. It's possible that innovative use of technology might provide the most effective way for a library to carry out its objectives with fewer overall resources. Nevertheless, routine technology projects will inevitably suffer. continue reading...

(The full text of my Systems Librarian columns are available on Library Technology Guides 90 days following thier original publication in Computers in Libraries magazine.)

Jun 24, 2009 21:33:43

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