Editors: Ann P. Dougherty, Mountainside Publishing; Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan, Emeritus
Contributing Editors: William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Barbara Fister, Gustavus Adolphus College;  
Larry Hardesty, University of Nebraska at Kearney, Emeritus;
Mignon Adams, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia;
Steven Bell
, Philadelphia University; Kathleen Miller, Florida Gulf Coast University; Mark Tucker, Abilene Christian University
Vol. 26, No. 6 July 2006

 How Much Does Biology Really Need, Anyway?:
Determining Library Budget Allocations

by Rebecca Donlan

A significant chunk of college and university budgets is used for libraries and about 50 percent of academic library budgets are used to buy books, journals, and other information resources. How do librarians determine the right ways to spend what some still quaintly refer to as the “book budget?”

Once upon a time (not all that long ago) libraries dealt primarily with print materials — that is, books and journals. As the number of electronic resources available in all disciplines grows, seemingly exponentially, so does the collective campus appetite for the newest, latest, and most technologically advanced databases, none of which come cheap. Libraries can now purchase not only databases of full-text journals, but electronic collections of recorded music, art images, bird songs, and repackaged virtual editions of classic reference works that are far easier to search online than were their print counterparts.

Faculty and student demand for e-resources require that Library collection managers stretch their dollars to acquire these useful tools in addition to dealing with the continued demand for traditional materials. Faculty in every program on campus can and will make a case for more library money to be spent on resources in their disciplines. Of course most libraries would like to have a bigger share of the campus pie so that they can buy these wonderful aids to learning! But there is only so much money to go around for every department.

If, as a faculty member and administrator, you are satisfied with the current library budget allocations on your campus, then this probably isn’t the article for you. But if you are not satisfied, or think there might be a better way to allocate funds, then this description of one library’s efforts to discover how to equitably and fairly allocate library resource funding might be just what you are looking for.

The need to define “fair” often arises because of a genuine imbalance in book expenditures among the disciplines. Some subject areas can be overspent because the faculty are very vocal in their requests. Other areas are unnecessarily shortchanged because their faculty is frugal — laudable in some cases, but it can also mean the over-spenders get funded and thus important areas of the collection get shortchanged. In the face of this type of situation, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) decided they needed to develop a rational, data-driven formula for equitable book buying.

Identifying your Institution’s Priorities

FGCU began with the conviction that an allocation formula should attempt to reflect its institution’s values, not reform them. FGCU is a regional comprehensive university, with an emphasis on undergraduate and professional education. An allocation formula for such an institution needs to support its existing programs and clientele. A review of the library literature identifies several common variables of allocation formulas, which include:

· Existing budget

· Student needs (i.e., undergraduate vs. graduate and the level of research support required by each)

· Faculty needs (sometimes measured by productivity in terms of grant dollars received)

· Credit hours per discipline

· Levels of library usage

· Resource costs

· New program costs

· Collection needs analysis (e.g., gap analysis)

The first variable — existing budget — is critical. Unfortunately, for the busy manager who could use a quick answer, there is no simple formula to determine what your share of the overall institution’s budget should be. For many years, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Standards for College Libraries were quantitative, and gave that “magic formula.” The standards are now more qualitative and less prescriptive.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Without a pat formula, library managers must look to their internal constituencies and to their regional and national peers to get a sense of what needs are to be filled and how they are addressed at other similar, or aspirational, institutions.

If you are an academic leader on your campus — a dean, say, or a program director — talk to your library director. Describe for the director the kind of support you need from the library, and whether there are particular services or resources you think your programs need. The library director needs to know about projected enrollment changes in various programs, if there are plans to expand, change, or end current programs, and whether there are new programs in the works. At FGCU, librarians serve as members of the two key curriculum review committees, so that they have first-hand knowledge about program changes.

To learn more about what regional and national peers are doing, library collection managers are excited about a new tool from OCLC called WorldCat Collection Analysis. WCA allows comparisons of a library collection to any other OCLC member’s collection. FGCU, for example, can compare itself to similar Masters’ II institutions in Florida, or in the Southeast, to determine if its collections are on par with its peers. Or, in the “projected growth” mode, a library can run comparisons of its collection to those at larger institutions. This allows collection managers to identify titles for new programs and to fill gaps in existing collections. It also allows a library to see how other libraries have balanced their collections among the disciplines.

Creating an Allocation Formula

For its pilot budget allocation program, FGCU decided to apply the formula to its 14 approval plan profiles, rather than attempting to account for every single book purchase. Most of the FGCU library’s books are purchased through these plans, and the purpose of the allocation project was to balance expenditures fairly. FGCU spends about $400,000 on approvals each year.

So, having determined how much money was available and how the allocation formula would be implemented, the next step was to devise the actual formula. A large research library might, quite appropriately, place greater emphasis on faculty and graduate program research support. The important point is that any budget allocation formula must reflect your institution’s values. For FGCU, a Master’s I institution, it was concluded that the variables of credit hours by discipline, book price, and library usage were most important.

Credit hours by discipline. The Division of Enrollment Services provides FGCU librarians with an annual registration report. Credit hours for colleges and areas are totaled and assigned to the appropriate approval plan discipline. To convert these credit hours into usable data for a formula, determine the percentage of the entire enrollment that, for instance, art courses represent. The total number of credit hours for all courses taken at FGCU in 2004-2005 was 55,831. The total number of art-related credit hours for that period was 1,313, or 2.35 percent of the whole.

Book price. Costs of books in different disciplines vary considerably. Many vendors can supply information about average book costs. Blackwell’s Book Services (a major supplier of books to college and university libraries), for example, publishes an approval coverage and cost study each year. This study presents information on the numbers of titles treated and their average list price by subject. In 2004-2005, according to Blackwell’s, the average price of a title in the humanities was $52, where titles in science/technology/medicine cost an average of $95.

FGCU used the Blackwell coverage and cost study to determine the average book price for each discipline, totaled up all the disciplines, and then added them to determine an aggregate average book price for the entire year. To convert these prices into usable data for the formula, FGCU determined what percentage of the aggregate average book price each area represented. The average book price in 2003-2004 for art titles, for example, was $55.41. Dividing the average art book price by the aggregate average book price of $819.41, one finds that art books represent 6.76% of the aggregate average book price.

Library usage. FGCU devised a ratio called the “bookish multiplier” to express the differences in book usage among the disciplines. The bookish multiplier is the ratio between circulation and credit hours (circulation/credit hours = bookish multiplier).

To determine the bookish multiplier for a profile, FGCU used the annual cumulative report of circulation by LC range. The number of book circulations in a discipline is divided by the number of credit hours in that discipline. For example, if the total circulation for art in 2004-2005 was 1,839 and the total credit hours for art in 2004-2005 was 1,313, then the bookish multiplier for art in 2004-2005 was 1,839/1,313, or 1.4006.

To operationalize this variable for the allocation formula, one must determine what percentage of the total of bookish multipliers a given discipline represents. Since the total of all bookish multipliers in 2004-2005 was 10.31, then the normalized bookish multiplier for Art was 1.4006/10.31, or 0.135890451.

Using the bookish multiplier reveals some interesting facts about the differences in book dependence among various disciplines. For instance, look at these statistics drawn from FGCU:

· History credit hours 2004/2005 = 1,492

· History circs 2004/2005 = 3,626

· History bookish multiplier = 3,626/1,492 = 2.4303

· Business credit hours 2004/2005 = 10,983

· Business circs 2004/2005 = 2,673

· Business bookish multiplier = 2,673/10,983 = .2434

These statistics indicate that history studies at FGCU are ten times more dependent on books than business studies. This does not mean that history everywhere is ten times more “bookish” than business, although that might be true; it means that history students were using ten times as many books as business students did at FGCU in the 2004-05 academic year. Other statistics indicate that FGCU’s business students are heavy users of serials and electronic databases, so they are library users, just not bookish ones.

What about Graduate Programs?

Many allocation schemes address the supposed higher demands of graduate programs by assigning higher weights to graduate full-time equivalent (FTE) students. While it may be true that graduate programs have higher overall library materials needs, that may not be true for the demand upon individual components of the library’s collection. An undergraduate program may have greater need for books than a large and heavily enrolled graduate program. For example, in the 2003-04 academic year, history, an FGCU undergraduate program, had 6.5 books charged per 3 credit hours. Education, on the other hand, with extensive graduate and undergraduate programs, had 1.5 books charged per 3 credit hours.

The bookish multiplier cannot be used as the sole source of information about the bookishness of disciplines. As mentioned before, some disciplines rely more on serials and databases. Also, low circulation may be the result of an inadequate collection, indicating a need for more collection development, not less. Looking at your library’s inter-library loan requests can help pinpoint weak areas of the collection.

The last step in creating a budget allocation formula is to assign appropriate weights to the variables. Assigning every variable a weight of one implies that each variable is of equal importance. This probably does not accurately reflect your institutional mission and values. A high weighting of the cost variable, for instance, is appropriate for a research library that needs to collect deeply in a number of disciplines. The formula used by the University of Maryland Libraries, for example, assigns half (50%) of the total weight to the “publishing universe” (variations in the volume of publishing, average price of publications, and the split between books and serials for various materials). Such weighting distributes more money to disciplines with expensive books, ensuring that the library will be able to collect adequately in those areas for current and future researchers.

FGCU ran through several different approaches to weighting the variables. One trial assigned each variable a weight of one. Another trial weighted credit hours as two and the other two variables as .5 each. The results looked skewed — some disciplines just got too much money relative to their number of majors. So, given the institutional emphasis on curricular support rather than research, the credit hours were weighted even higher. This is the final FGCU formula:

Credit hours 2.50

Book price 0.25

Bookish multiplier 0.25

TOTAL 3.00

Putting it All Together

So how much does biology — or art — need, anyway? The percentage of the total budget that is allocated to a discipline is obtained by adding the normalized and weighted factors and dividing that number by the total number of factors. The equation is (Sum of all variables) / (number of all variables), or in the FGCU example, (credit hours + book price + bookish multiplier) / 3.

For example, the allocation for Art is calculated as follows:

· Art credit hours (0.0235 x 2.5) = 0.0588

· Art book price (0.0676 x 0.25) = 0.0169

· Art bookish multiplier (0.135890451 x 0.25) = 0.0340

· 0.0588 + 0.0169 + 0.0340 = 0.1097

· 0.1097 / 3 = 0.0365666

· Art allocation = 3.66% of total monographic budget

· 3.66% x $400,000 = $14,640 for Art monographs for the fiscal year

What About Journals?

At this point, you may be wondering whether a similar allocation formula could be applied to other library materials purchases. Since journals and databases represent a large chunk of the library’s materials budget — in many cases, 75 percent or more of yearly expenditures — it is certainly a good idea to subject these purchases to the same level of analysis and control, if possible. Journals are quite different from monographs in that a subscription is an ongoing expense. These recurring expenditures will cost at least as much as the initial expenditure year after year; over the last several years, journal costs have risen on average from 8 to 12 percent a year. If the library materials budget does not get a similar annual boost, the library’s purchasing power erodes over time, so that a zero increase is actually a budget cut. Most libraries are forced to drop journal subscriptions every year in order to stay within their budgets.

Unfortunately, determining journal usage is not as easy as counting the number of times a book has been checked out. Print journal usage studies, in which users are asked not to reshelve the periodicals they use, so staff can note which journals are taken off the shelves, are not particularly reliable. Library patrons often reshelve periodicals despite signs and table tents instructing them not to. Usage statistics for online journal databases are also inconsistent; some providers count searches and others downloads. Since it is quick to search and download articles through online providers, there may be a lot of apparent use, but one cannot tell how useful the information turned out to be. Over time, high continued use of a database can be taken to indicate user satisfaction. In fact, large aggregations (such as ProQuest’s Research Library or Ebsco’s Academic Search Elite) may well satisfy most undergraduate journal needs.

But the motivated undergraduate, the graduate or professional student, and faculty need more discipline-specific databases and journals. Deciding which of these to purchase is outside this article’s scope, but there are serials analysis tools, such as Journal Citation Reports (published by ISI) that assign journals an "impact factor" based on their timeliness and influence. Faculty are also sure to have their favorites that they would like the library to support. Using the FGCU approach, the most useful factors in assigning journal allocations are credit hours (indicating student need) and cost per title.

Costs and availability of journals in the disciplines vary considerably. Every year, Library Journal publishes a periodicals price survey that reports on the average number of titles in a subject, the cost per title over the past several years, and the percent of change. From 2002-2006, there was an average of 319 language and literature titles, at an average cost in 2006 of $166 each. Contrast this with an average of 238 chemistry titles over the same time period, at an average 2006 cost of $3,012 per title. As a rule, science/technology/mathematics (STM) journals are much more costly than humanities/social sciences (HSS) titles. On the other hand, the STM disciplines are generally less monograph-dependent than the HSS disciplines, so it is appropriate for these areas to have more funds allocated towards their journal subscriptions.

So Far, So Good…

Do such formulas work? It has worked at FGCU. Creating a book allocation profile has been a first and significant step toward allotting limited resources as fairly as possible. Overspending on books in some problem areas has decreased, and disciplines that were lagging are catching up. The university faculty appreciates the allocation formula, knowing that their programs will not be shortchanged. Book vendors appreciate knowing how much money is available in an approval profile, so that they can work with selectors to focus approval profiles more precisely.

The results of working through an allocation formula like this one may yield results that are surprising to you, no matter how well you know your institution. Faculty across the institution are able to see that the library budget for information resources is rationally allocated and expended in such a way to ensure maximal support for the academic enterprise. Administrators are able to see that as well, and they can readily identify some of the resource demands of new academic programs or emphases.

—Rebecca Donlan is Head of Library Collections and Technical Services, Florida Gulf Coast University


Copeland, L. and Mundle, T.M. (2002). Library allocations: faculty and librarians discuss "fairness." portal: Libraries and the Academy, 2:2, 267-276.

Crotts, J. (1999). Subject usage and funding of library monographs. College and Research Libraries, May 1999, 261-273.

Dinkins, D. (2003). Circulation as assessment: collection development policies evaluated in terms of circulation at a small academic library. College and Research Libraries, January 2003, 46-53.

German, L. and Schmidt, K.A. (2001). Finding the right balance: campus involvement in the collections allocation process. Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services, 25, 421-433.

University of Maryland Libraries (1999). Definitions of categories and variables used in the allocation formula. http://www.lib.umd.edu/CLMD/Formula/definitions.html



The Florida Gulf Coast University Book Budget Allocation Formula: Illustration.Your factors and weighting variables should be based on your institution’s mission and clientele.


Credit Hours

(Art credit hours / all credit hours) x weight factor

1313     Art credit hours

55,831  All credit hours

.0235    Normalized Art credit hours

2.5        Weight given to credit hours

.0235 x 2.5 = .0588


Book Price

(average Art price / average price for all disciplines) x weight factor

$55.41    Average Art book price

$819.41  Average book price for all disciplines

.0676     Normalized Art book price

0.25      Weight given to book price

.0676 x .25 = .0169


Bookish Multiplier

 O (Art circulation / Art credit hours) P

         (total all bookish multipliers)

         x weight factor


Step 1:

1,839     Total Art circulation

1,313     Total Art credit hours

1.4006   Art bookish multiplier


Step 2:

1.4006   Art bookish multiplier

10.31     Total all bookish multipliers

.25        Weight given to bookish multiplier

1.4006/10.31 = .135890451 Normalized Art bookish multiplier


Calculating the Allocation

(All weighted variables / Total number of variables)

Art credit hours           (0.0235 x 2.5)             = 0.0588

Art book price              (0.0676 x 0.25)          = 0.0169

Art bookish multiplier (0.135890451 x 0.25) = 0.0340




0.0588 + 0.0169 + 0.0340 = 0.1097

0.1097 / 3 = 0.0365666

Art allocation = 3.66% of total monographic budget



Library Issues: Briefings for Faculty and Administrators (ISSN 0734-3035) is published bimonthly beginning September 1980 by Mountainside Publishing Co., Inc., 321 S. Main St., #213, Ann Arbor, MI 48104; (734) 662-3925. Library Issues, Vol. 26, no.6  © 2006 by Mountainside Publishing Co., Inc. Subscriptions: $80/one year; $140/two years. Additional subscriptions to same address $25 each/year. Address all correspondence to Library Issues, P.O. Box 8330, Ann Arbor, MI 48107. (Fax: 734-662-4450; E-mail: apdougherty@CompuServe.com) Subscribers have permission to photocopy articles free of charge for distribution on their own campus. Library Issues is available online with a password at http://www.libraryissues.com


last modified: July  2006


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