Suburban libraries are far more likely to increase spending on staff than on books and other new materials for patrons.
That's according to a Daily Herald analysis of library audits and Illinois State Library reports that show 44 of 54 suburban libraries increased spending on staffing from one year to the next. Thirty-one of the 54 libraries spent more than in the previous year on books, DVDs, music and other items available to library users. A few reduced spending for both.
At one extreme, Fox River Valley Library District in Kane County saw a 15.4 percent hike in staffing costs and an 18 percent dip in spending on new materials that officials said was created by demand for more programming and a shortage of storage space.
On the other end of the spectrum, Geneva Library District dropped staff costs 10.6 percent to $2.4 million and boosted spending on collections by 46.9 percent to $559,763.
"It's not by accident. It's been a focused effort," said Geneva Library Board President Bob Shiffler. "We saw what you are seeing elsewhere and decided we can't allow personnel costs to continue to grow in that fashion because it does eat into the money we have for materials and programs."
Shiffler said the library examined ways to reduce staffing costs, mainly through "outsourcing some functions." For instance, the district is now using contracted accounting and technology services, he said.
Personnel costs make up most of libraries' annual expenses.
The Illinois Library Association's "Standards for Illinois Public Libraries" handbook recommends no more than 70 percent of a library's annual spending go to staffing. Conversely, it recommends no less than 12 percent be spent each year on new materials.
But association officials are quick to note that these are guidelines and libraries are not bound to follow them.
Among the 54 suburban libraries, few, if any, exceeded the staffing threshold, but it's not uncommon to find libraries that didn't meet the spending recommendations for new materials.
Even with the boost in spending on materials in Geneva, those new items barely topped 12 percent of the library's total spending, according to the district's audit.
All public libraries have to file annual reports with the Illinois State Library. The years compared in the Daily Herald analysis were fiscal years 2014 to 2015, or in a few cases, calendar 2013 to 2014.
In the suburbs, 26 of the libraries increased spending for both personnel and materials. Five libraries decreased spending in both categories. Like Geneva, four others spent less on staffing and more on new materials from one year to the next. And 18 libraries spent more on staff and less on materials.
That was the case at the Fox River Valley Library District, where Director Roxane Bennett said the rising staff costs and declining spending on new materials arose from several issues.
"We're doing more programming than we have in the past, which is in response to requests from our users, and those are things that take staff," Bennett said.
"And in terms of our facilities, in particular, we have no room to add to our collection."
She said the district's two libraries have tripled or quadrupled some of the program offerings, like children's story times, computer classes, or instruction and demonstrations of the district's 3-D printer.
Fox River Valley serves Carpentersville, East Dundee, West Dundee, Sleepy Hollow and Gilberts. One full-service library is in East Dundee and a satellite branch is in rented space in West Dundee.
Bennett said the library district spent significantly more on materials three years ago when the satellite branch was opened. But in 2015, the district's spending on new materials was below the state library association's recommended level of 12 percent.
"Nobody is satisfied with the size of the collection, and we hear constantly that they want more but don't have any place to put more," she said.
|View our sortable list of libraries. Click here see how library spending changed for staff and new materials from 2014 to 2015.|
The library board is planning to ask voters to approve borrowing to finance a new full-service library in West Dundee, and that would allow the library to expand its collection significantly, Bennett said.
That's what the board at Lombard's Helen M. Plum Library District is doing as well. Executive Director Barb Kruser said the district spent 17.5 percent less on its collection in 2015 than it did in 2014 because "we have no space." Meanwhile, staffing costs grew during that time by 4.7 percent.
"It's always part of the conversation as the board goes over the budget," she said. "You have to stay competitive just to have quality staff in the buildings."
In November, Kruser said the district will ask voters to approve either a new library or a significant expansion of the current facility, which will allow the district to expand its offerings.
"We are a hustling, bustling, busy, busy library, and people use us for a lot of different things," she said.