How much does a library service cost?

9 11 2012

This week I attended Costings training for NHS libraries.  The course was all about how to break down seperate library services into several components, calculate the cost of each component, then add them all together to work out the total cost of that service. 

For example, the cost of an Inter Library Loan isn’t simply the fee that you pay to the British Library (or whoever provides you with a copy of the article).  The cost should also take into account the time spent by library staff on each step in the process of sourcing the article, ordering it, liaising with the customer etc. (and this will vary according to the grade of the library worker undertaking this task).

During the training we also calculated the cost of setting up a library service from scratch, and all the different factors that should be taken into account including staffing, facilities, marketing, management and overheads like rent and heating costs.  The end cost is mindblowing!

It really made it clear to me how much libraries have got to start thinking with a more business-like approach.  So many of us provide services that aren’t properly costed, and we end up providing a service at a loss.  What business would operate like that?  They certainly wouldn’t be in business very long.  OK, it’s not all about making a profit (most of us become librarians because we enjoy helping people), but for us to be sustainable and demonstrate value to stakeholders, it’s necessary.

I do think that health libraries are particularly bad at this and I’d be interested to hear from libraries in other sectors about whether they take a more business-like approach to costing and pricing services. 

It also struck me that I’ll have to start brushing up on my finance and business skills if I want to remain in this professional for the foreseeable future.