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How to Cut a Million – The “Collection Budget Crew’s” Material Budgeting Process

Pierce County Library System, WA

Innovation Summary

Pierce County Library System’s Collection Budget Crew (CBC), a cross departmental team, was tasked to recommend a customer focused and fiscally sustainable materials budget which would provide a quality collection while addressing a system-wide $2.6 to $3 million budget shortfall.

Problem Statement

The CBC was tasked to build a zero-based materials budget, which would result in a significant reduction from previous year budgets while fulfilling the following priorities: • Maintain current customers. • Offer a realistic and appropriate collection budget in light of projected revenue. • Minimize the adverse impact of budget reductions on customers. • Maintain balance in collection between popular and specialized materials. While the team recognized that its challenge was to operate with less funding, it also wanted the Library’s collection to stay vibrant and, if possible, have the reduction go unnoticed by customers. The team wanted customers to know that they could still depend upon the use of a strong Library with an excellent collection.


Staff created a team of support staff and direct service providers. We established ground rules, clearly showed support from upper management, identified a shared commitment, set clear goals and assignments, maintained strict boundaries by moving “scope creep” items to the parking lot, and were intentional about having the right people in the room. We then identified our touch stone: “Don’t diminish the product”. Past budgets were tossed out and we started from scratch. We looked at everything. We collected usage reports and circulation statistics. We reached out to all staff and asked them to get involved by giving us all their ideas on how we can serve the customer and still reduce our spending. We looked at survey data from the past couple of years as well as Pierce County Library 2013: Facilities Master Plan, which represents our long term projections for the next 5 – 10 years. Census data, school enrollment information – we brought all of this to our team of Selection Librarians and Customer Experience Managers to dissect. During all of this, we communicated with staff. We communicated with staff who sent us their ideas, we gave presentations to Leadership Team, Adult and Youth Services Librarians, Branch Managers and our Library Board. By the time we did our final recommendation seven months after we began the project, teams and individuals with whom the team spoke expressed confidence in the process and agreement and support for making changes to the materials budget, which resulted in a $1 million dollar reduction (25% of the previous materials budget).


Lessons learned: Taking the time up front to carefully plan and craft meetings as well as spending time building the team, establishing ground rules, and creating trust made this entire process successful. Pulling in data from multiple sources gave staff and Board members confidence in the final decision. Anticipated outcomes: We expect this reduction to have little visible impact to the public. We targeted areas to maintain while looking for the areas we could reduce. We will review collection data monthly to monitor our decisions. Achieved outcomes: Created a clear picture of our current collection’s performance and identified areas we will continue to support at the current level as well as many areas that can sustain a reduction while still remaining vibrant enough to meet customer expectations. We were, through careful and thoughtful deliberations, able to cut $1 million and help close the budget shortfall for 2013.