Posted by: Steven Harris | April 4, 2008

Budget Allocation

We’ve never used formulas to do budget allocation at my library. I’ve been looking into the situation and examining various formulas. William H. Walters had a good article in last October’s Library Resources & Technical Services (v. 51, no. 4) espousing regression analysis to develop allocations.

Most formulas allocate to subjects or departments based on various factors like enrollment, number of faculty, circulation, and publishing volume. My problem with most formulas, however, is that they assume these various factors to be unproblematic. At my university they are all quite problematic.

Enrollment: we have a lot of undeclared students, but we also have a lot of students who have declared for a particular college but not a particular department. Do I count them at all? How? We also have a lot of students declared in interdisciplinary programs. In which department do we counted them?

Faculty: while we’re talking about interdisciplinarity, a lot of faculty also serve multiple departments. Really, I’m not even sure what the term department means anymore. They are constantly being changed and reshuffled at my university. What’s here today is gone tomorrow. Several of our departments are a hodge-podge of disciplines anyway: Department of Languages, Philosophy, and Speech Communication. Say what? Or Department of Plants, Soils, and Climate. Can I ever compile objective and meaningful publishing data for a department like that?

Publishing data: When I look at publishing data, it is primarily based on LC classification or general subject groups (as used in the Bowker Annual). How do I shoehorn one of our departments into those groups or classifications? Just the two departments I mention above, LPSC and PSC, are a nightmare to match to LC classification or Bowker subject.

Radical idea: don’t do any subject allocation. Just put all the money in one pot, give librarians a selection assignment, and let them have at it. I could run reports periodically and tell them to either speed up or slow down their ordering. We would try to keep track of new materials based on the LC classification. It will never fly, but I guy can dream, can’t he?



  1. Ahhh… I remember this dilemma. I re-did (well, no one actually knew what the old formula was, just the % amounts) at my previous job. You found an article at least. The best I could come up with that wasn’t theory was the ALA Guide (small pamphlet that had been updated in several years) when I took on this task.

    Our enrollment numbers were hard to come by as well so I didn’t use them. I wound up using amount spent the previous year (yes, if they didn’t spend it, they stood a good chance of losing it), faculty in the department (an issue for you), and total number of courses for each department. Much to my horror, my Director later added number of graduate students in a department (if the undergraduate numbers were crap, I felt like the graduate ones were as well, plus, they were already getting extra for graduate courses). But, I wasn’t the boss. I still have the info if your interested. Good luck.

  2. kewl02: all the numbers are bogus, eh? But send you information, nonetheless! Merci.

  3. I had a phone interview with a college that refused to use an allocation formula. At this point, I’m just waiting for formal rejection to follow up that line of questioning. They indicated it really worked for them, but I have a hard time imagining how!

    We have a pretty baroque formula: FTE’s in dept, # of majors, avg cost of books in field, grad classes, circs in call number range….and we have started adding back in some more subjective measures as well. There are some things I’d like to change, but it all in all it works pretty well.

  4. At the Charleston Conference 2 years ago (I think), I went to a presentation in which different institutions talked about their budget allocation formulas. I am sorry I can’t remember more of the exact information, but “Charleston Conference” 2006 or 2007 is a start. The best allocation situation was in a university that was extremely new so that there was not a lot of legacy of relationships, resentments, etc. My perception was that the effort to quantify the factors was justifiable (and I am someone who would really prefer to quantify and “prove” decisions as much as possible -having a previous background in accounting). For instance, you might apply all of your formulas and parameters after giving agonizing and excruciating thought to whether or not Biochemistry deserves an overall factor of 1.35 or 1.5 and the overall impact on the budget is $94 and everyone is still angry that the increase is not $2,000. Do you follow me?

  5. Oops, I meant to say the effort was NOT justifiable.

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