Barbara Rad-El, Senior Librarian, Ex Libris
Academic libraries are currently facing shrinking budgets, while at the same time finding themselves having to support inefficient existing programs or novel costs. This conundrum, which we have called “the third rail” of modern academia, is another one of the challenges with an especially significant impact on small and medium-sized libraries.
In previous posts, we looked at how libraries could overcome the limitations of a small staff, as well at options for expanding collections and optimizing management systems. Yet, underneath it all remained the questions of funds and cost-effectiveness.
Small or shrinking budgets
Chronic budget constraints make it hard to find and adopt solutions that meet dynamic library needs – and 2021 budgets are tighter than ever due to the impact of Covid19 on academic institutions. Libraries have fewer personnel, inadequate technology, and limited resources, but the demands on them have generally increased.
Limited library budgets often mean fewer staff members. As a result, librarians end up fulfilling a variety of roles, some of which are time-consuming routine tasks.
In addition, smaller academic libraries have a financial difficulty offering holdings and services that parallel those found in larger libraries. For example, library hours or access options may be limited.
Collection development has also been influenced by budget cuts, with small libraries more dependent on collaboration if they want to offer a larger range of resources to students. In recent years, there has also been a wider shift in the philosophy of collection development in many libraries from ownership to access.
And costly inefficiencies
The limitations resulting from smaller staffs and modest budgets make it harder to keep pace with the latest technological developments, both related to management and resource types. As a result, small and medium academic libraries often use out-of-date systems and depend upon a patchwork of solutions requiring constant support.
On-premises versions of library management technology have additional serious drawbacks, the most obvious of which is cost. They often require their own hardware and server space, consuming noteworthy levels of energy and in-house resources. The structural and technical adaptations required for implementation tend to take a long time, while maintenance and upgrades are heavily dependent on the institution’s IT support. The result is waste that might otherwise be avoided.
Centralize, optimize and cut costs
In light of the budgetary constraints, academic library administrators are always on the lookout for opportunities to optimize, cut costs and increase versatility.
When evaluating initiatives or system upgrades intended to save money, libraries should look at several different aspects – cost-effectiveness, total cost of operations (TCO), and return on investment (ROI). For an accurate assessment, they will need to answer a few questions that can highlight potential budgetary waste:
- How many systems are you currently using for library management activities?
- Do you have metrics on the actual time and resources you invest in maintaining and coordinating those systems?
- Do you know precisely how you are spending your time on management of library assets, services and collections?
Once those details are known, it is possible to more accurately determine both short- and long-term operational costs.
Alma – the only unified cloud-native platform for managing print, electronic and digital resources in a single suite – provides the infrastructure, workflows and support needed for maximum cost-effectiveness. And no library, no matter how small, needs to settle for less, as they all benefit from the same system capabilities and services.
With reliable cloud-based technology, Alma’s tools and services are accessible from any computer or mobile device anywhere in the world. In addition, costs associated with locally hosted software or servers are immediately eliminated. Longer-term savings are also realized with reduced dependence on IT support and system maintenance.
Alma consolidates and centralizes library services, as well as automating an array of time-consuming manual processes. Workflows are streamlined end to end and built-in recommendations provide real-time guidance, saving time and conserving resources. A single librarian can accomplish much more in a shorter amount of time, which translates to an improved return on investment across the library.
Investments in collection development and resource delivery are also more effective with Alma, which easily integrates with third-party, consortia and institutional systems. This platform flexibility allows libraries to expand available resources, increase delivery options, and simplifies collaborations without significant added costs.
What about the increasingly dynamic nature of the post-coronavirus library?
Shifting to more e-resources and digital collections, expanding process automation, adding on new services and capabilities, and the like can be accomplished easily, effectively and affordably. There are no large incremental costs for such changes, as Alma consistently uses the same infrastructure, methodologies, training methods, and underlying capabilities.
In short, Alma ensures your library is agile, scalable and ready for the future, while saving time, optimizing resources, and reducing costs today. It is the single most comprehensive solution to the full array of challenges we took a look at in this four-part blog series on small and medium libraries.
To learn more about how Alma can help you tackle critical library service and resource management issues, click here today.
This blog post is part of a series exploring the typical challenges of small and medium academic libraries today – and how they can tackle them. To read and explore more blog posts in the series, please make sure you visit:
Part 1: The Big Challenges of Small Libraries
Part 2: A Small Library Staff Can Do Much More Than You Think
Part 3: Finding a Force-Multiplier for Collections and Management
April 6, 2021