In the 2009 Library and Book Trade Almanac (54th edition, pp. 415-419). (formerly the Bowker Annual) I have an article entitled Library Budget Dollars Shrinking in Real Terms—Are We Eating Our Seed Corn? (ISBN: 978-1-57387-349-9) that attempted to analyze the effect of inflation on U.S. Public Libraries. In that article, alas, I made an error of analysis that overstates the effects of that inflationary effect. I will correct that error here. In addition, since writing the article, the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) published the FY 2007 public library data. These data have been added to the two longitudinal series documented elsewhere on this site. Data in this analysis comes from one of those datasets—PUSUM. I will, therefore, also take the opportunity to update some of the analysis with these newer data. I have not updated all the analysis from the printed publication, only that which most needed to be corrected.

Inflation and Public Library Budgets, FY1992 – FY2007

The news is not as bad as I concluded but it is scarcely good and, given that the current national-level data are through FY2007 and we know worse news is on the way, there is little to be happy about in public library funding. This analysis uses the Consumer Price Index. I give a bit more background on measuring inflation in libraries separately.

In the published analysis, compared the sum of “current” dollars—dollars as reported each year of the data as well as in “constant” dollars. It was in calculating the “constant” FY 1992 dollars that I made the error. The published analysis concluded that the effects of inflation on Total Operating Expenditures had resulted in a downturn in FY 2002 in real terms. That is, I concluded that dollars spent by U.S. public libraries had risen steadily but the purchasing power in “constant” 1992 dollars peaked in the FY 2002 data. This conclusion is not correct as the first chart and the table below show. The constant value of these dollars has continued to increase and my error was in not analyzing this trend correctly. See Table 1 for the revised the Total Operating Expenditures figures in current and constant 1992 dollars. Chart 1 displays the data graphically. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Chart 1

Total Operating Expenditures

However, note that the expenditures for collections still shows the peak in FY 2002 that was reported in the printed analysis. That is, there are more dollars spent each year on collections but the purchasing power of those dollars is less in a pronounced dip after FY2002. In the FY2007 data, this variable’s constant 1992 dollar value reverses and finally surpasses the level for FY2002.

Chart 2

Total Expenditures for Collections

Table 1

Total Library Expenditures at US Public Libraries, FY1992 – FY2007
Year Total Expenditures
(current dollars)
Total Expenditures
(constant 1992 dollars)
Total Expenditures
on Collections
(current dollars)
Total Expenditures
on Collections
(constant 1992 dollars)
1992 4,546,748,000 4,546,748,000 690,392,523 690,392,523
1993 4,720,699,198 4,579,078,222 707,236,576 699,321,549
1994 4,949,622,071 4,702,140,967 736,127,946 690,392,523
1995 5,226,215,759 4,808,118,498 788,715,213 725,617,996
1996 5,555,415,682 4,944,319,957 841,526,051 748,958,185
1997 5,857,721,522 5,096,217,724 890,898,746 775,081,909
1998 6,193,640,435 5,326,530,774 953,144,846 819,704,568
1999 6,631,995,976 5,570,876,620 1,014,120,972 851,861,616
2000 7,027,907,527 5,762,884,172 1,069,974,873 690,392,523
2001 7,571,645,315 5,981,599,799 1,069,974,873 877,379,396
2002 8,024,132,936 6,258,823,690 1,158,577,244 903,690,250
2003 8,297,707,518 6,306,257,714 1,153,831,960 876,912,290
2004 8,643,027,806 6,395,840,576 1,143,743,151 846,369,932
2005 9,066,039,651 6,527,548,549 1,197,062,468 861,884,977
2006 9,595,567,855 6,716,897,499 1,262,231,935 883,562,355
2007 10,205,597,774 6,939,806,486 1,340,646,782 911,639,812

Other variables mentioned in the printed article such as those measuring circulations and circulations per capita continue to show increases. These measures of demand for library services continue to increase echoing a conclusion drawn analyzing these data through FY20041.

July 8, 2009

1Squeeze Play: Public Library Circulation and Budget Trends, FY1992-FY2004, Robert E. Molyneux, Public Library Quarterly, 26, 3 / 4, 2007, pp. 101-107.