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Let’s acknowledge that our educational system generally does a poor job introducing us to the theory, process, and language of budgets and budgeting. Let’s further agree that this leaves many of us unprepared for our first (and second and third) experience preparing and managing budgets when we begin writing grant proposals, managing projects, or assuming our initial supervisorial-managerial position. We stare at endless rows of numbers, line items, index codes, sub-object codes, and income and expense statements. And, if we have any feeling left at that point, we break into a cold sweat.
What makes all of this even worse is that when we turn to those most likely to be in a position to help us—those fulfilling the function of a chief financial officer or budget manager or budget analyst in our organizations—we find that the language they speak—the language of finance and budgeting—is much different than what we have come to recognize as plain English. That, I suspect, is when despair sets in.
Library budgeting, Infopeople instructor Anne Turner suggests, need not be all that frightening or disheartening—even in the worst of economic times. It is, she says, all about “asking why,” translating the answer to that question into something which helps others understand why services and projects should be funded, and keeping the effects of budget cuts visible so those served by libraries will understand what their tax dollars are—and are not—providing.
“Working with a real live budget—it’s not what you get taught in library school…First you have to learn what you can change and what you can’t,” she explained during a conversation late last month, on the final day of her 25-year tenure as Director of the Santa Cruz City-County Library System. “Part of the why is figuring out a way to translate, from the library’s point of view, why (something) is a problem and how to translate that for the board.”
Turner, in her Infopeople “Public Library Budgeting” workshop which will be offered in California libraries from January 13 through March 4, 2009, helps demystify the process, helps participants become familiar with the language and processes of budgeting, and offers some hands-on fun as everyone works on budgets for two hypothetical facilities which she wickedly refers to as “the abysmal branch and the barely adequate branch.”
Literally nothing will be spared during the daylong session, she promises; the dreaded process of considering and implementing budget cuts receives abundant attention during the workshop. A common budgeting mistake, she suggests, is to try to make cuts in behind-the-scenes operations: “You have a lot of trouble getting behind the scenes services back later.
“Cuts need to be visible,” she counsels. “The public has to understand that the library can’t live on love alone.”
N.B.: Online registration ($75 per person) is currently underway for sessions of “Public Library Budgeting” to be held from 9 am – 4:30 pm at Alameda County Library--Fremont (1/13/2009), Buena Park Library District (2/4/2009), San Diego County Library Headquarters (2/6/2009), Fresno—Woodward Park (2/10/2009), Los Angeles Public Library (2/18/2009); Sacramento Public Library (2/23/20098), and San Francisco Public Library (3/4/2009).

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