Four ways to make a public library budget go farther


Communities lose a lot when library budgets are cut. Case in point: New York. Last month, the presidents of the city’s three library systems testified to the New York City Council about the harmful impacts that US$58.3 million in budget cuts proposed for fiscal year 2025 would have on public libraries.

For the past several years, public libraries in New York have been hit with mid-year budget cuts, which — according to Brooklyn Public Library President and CEO Linda E. Johnson, New York Public Library President and CEO Anthony W. Marx and Queens Public Library President and CEO Dennis M. Walcott — has led to staffing shortages, unplanned closures, deferred maintenance and canceled storytimes, among other harmful impacts. *

* UPDATE: Since posting this article, we have learned that funding for New York City libraries will be fully restored in the 2025 fiscal year budget, meaning branches will be able to return to being open seven days a week.

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An outpouring of support

In a May 21 press release, Walcott said:

This is the greatest city in the world, and New Yorkers should have the greatest public libraries, with weekend service, diverse programs, and robust access to books and other resources. Through the City Council’s tremendous advocacy, our ongoing partnership with the Administration, and the outpouring of support from the public, we remain hopeful we can find a way to fully fund libraries and prevent the dire consequences of the cuts from becoming a reality.

It's clear that New York's library systems do have much support at the local government level. For example, Council Member Carlina Rivera, Chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, speaks passionately about the importance of restoring funding for library services:

Libraries are important institutions that provide language classes, theater and music performances, access to technology, career and financial services, and countless other opportunities, all for free. The doors of the library are open to everyone, but with further cuts being proposed by the administration, those doors could be open only 5 days a week. Data demonstrates library usage has been rising and the City Council is firmly committed to restoring the funding to ensure these vital spaces have the resources they need to serve communities across the city.

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Stretching your library budget

Of course, it's not just New York's public libraries that face challenges. Libraries in communities of all sizes all over the world often find themselves operating with restrictive budgets that force them to reduce their hours or cut their spending on the services their patrons have come to rely on.

By thinking outside the proverbial box, though — and embracing the right digital tools — even the most cash-strapped library can still find ways to thrive and innovate.

Here are four ways to make your library budget stretch just a little bit farther.

Apply for a grant


A federal, state or local government grant can provide substantial funding. Private foundations and philanthropic organizations also often offer grants specifically for libraries, and many corporations have charitable arms that provide financial assistance to community initiatives, including libraries.

In the United States, libraries can apply for various types of funding through the American Library Association (ALA).

This past spring, for instance, the ALA announced the second round of recipients of its Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC): Accessible Small and Rural Communities grant, "an initiative to help small and rural libraries increase the accessibility of facilities, services and programs to better serve people with disabilities". Through this grant, the ALA had awarded US$3.6 million in library accessibility funding to 310 small and rural libraries across 45 states.

The ALA website includes a list of grants, along with their deadlines, in addition to a number of resources on how to successfully apply for them.

In Canada, meanwhile, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will cover the costs of two OCLC subscriptions (specifically, simplified cataloguing interface in WorldShare Record Manager and WorldShare Interlibrary Loan) for eligible small public and academic Canadian libraries. LAC accepts funding applications once a year in the fall.

Explore alternative funding sources


Besides traditional government funding and the types of grants discussed above, there are several alternative funding sources that public libraries can explore:

Fundraising events

  • Book sales: Selling donated or withdrawn books can generate significant revenue.

  • Library galas and auctions: Hosting events such as galas, silent auctions, or benefit concerts can raise funds and increase community engagement.

  • Read-a-thons and walk-a-thons: Sponsored events where participants seek pledges can be effective fundraisers.

Donations and sponsorships

  • Individual donors: Encouraging library patrons and community members to donate through annual appeals or a membership program.

  • Corporate sponsorships: Partnering with local businesses to sponsor events or specific areas within the library.

  • Naming rights: Offering naming opportunities for rooms or collections in exchange for a substantial donation.

Friends of the Library groups

  • These volunteer organizations support libraries through fundraising, advocacy, and volunteer work. They often organize book sales, special events and other fundraising activities.

Library endowments

  • Establishing an endowment fund where the principal is invested and only the interest is used for library operations. This provides a steady and reliable income stream.

Fee-based services

  • Charging nominal fees for special services such as room rentals, printing, photocopying or special classes and workshops.


  • Selling library-branded merchandise such as tote bags, mugs or T-shirts can both raise funds and promote the library.

Partnerships and collaborations

  • Collaborating with other community organizations, schools, and businesses to share resources and costs. Joint initiatives can attract funding from a wider range of sources.


  • Utilizing online crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter to raise funds for specific projects or needs. Engaging storytelling and clear goals are key to successful campaigns.

In-kind donation

  • Accepting donations of goods and services that can offset expenses, such as volunteer time, donated books and materials or free advertising.

Embrace change

In 2019, PressReader interviewed Leslie Burger, founding partner of New York City-based consulting firm Library Development Solutions and the former executive director of the Princeton Public Library. (Burger has been the interim executive director of the American Library Association since November 2023.)

She told us that for libraries facing budget woes, doing "business as usual" is not an option. This can mean making tough decisions about the things you've always done versus the right thing to do going forward.

So, for me, a lot of it is about change management and transformation.  Some of the things libraries are doing, they should have stopped doing a long time ago. Most of them are getting pretty smart about it.  But maintaining hugely extensive reference collections, for example, that no one is looking at anymore: Stop. And suddenly you're going to have $75,000 back in your budget.  Complex practices around borrowing materials, interlibrary loans, and overdue notices — stuff that takes a whole lot of staff time — these should stop. Many libraries have eliminated overdue fines because they’re not worth the costs and they're a barrier to access.

I think the point we're at right now is that we're examining basic practices and asking what are the things that make sense to move forward with, and what are the legacy services that we can let go of because they've run their course. They're just not things that people want anymore.

Go digital


Shift towards digital resources whenever possible. For example, promote the use of open educational resources (OER) that are freely available online. In some cases, these resources can replace traditional textbooks and reduce the need for expensive subscriptions. Online journals and digital archives can often be more cost-effective than their physical counterparts.

One resource for public libraries to consider is PressReader, which can enrich curious minds by giving them access to more than 7,000 high-quality publications from around the world, covering topics that range from business, science and technology to art and design and from breaking news to sports and entertainment. Because PressReader offers titles from more than 120 countries in dozens of different languages, it brings a universe of content within reach, allowing patrons from all over the globe to stay connected to what’s happening locally and back home.  

[ALT: A library that offers PressReader is able to meet the needs of a diverse community of patrons by providing access to more than 7,000 high-quality periodicals from all over the globe, covering topics that range from business, science and technology to art and design, and from breaking news to sports and entertainment.

It also eliminates the need to factor dozens or even hundreds of individual print subscriptions into the library budget.

Data-driven decision-making

Use data analytics to understand usage patterns and preferences. This can help libraries with limited collections budgets to make informed decisions about which resources to retain, renew or cancel based on their actual value to users.

PressReader Analytics, for example, is a tool that can deliver powerful insights into how users are utilizing the platform. Because PressReader can provide stats on app usage, including which newspapers and magazines visitors are reading from what categories, you will be able to gauge which topics ignite patrons' passions the most. 

PressReader provides searchable, up-to-date editorial content from around the  globe.Click here to learn how we can help serve the needs of your local  communities.

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