Let me throw some numbers out there from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners website: In FY07, my library's total operating expenditures were $5,676,307, of which $629,391 (11.08%) was spent on the collection. In FY08, $643,088 (10.49%) went to materials; in FY09--in the midst of a devastating budget cut--the amount went down to $581,092 (9.57%). For the most recent complete fiscal year, FY10, the amount spent on the collection was $539,269 (9.54%). I understand that the additional recent budget cuts left us at the state minimum, although the formula is incredibly complicated and I'm very glad not to be in charge of figuring it out.
In addition to layoff and lack of funding for programs and facilities, this downward trend makes the task of collection development even more difficult. If this was an academic library, we could probably blow most of that budget on a few choice databases, but we have to stretch it to pay for books, databases, AV materials, and so forth across ten locations. The collection areas I manage--paperbacks, some areas of nonfiction, graphic novels, and young adult video games--represent a pretty small percentage of the overall total.
I expect that my line item budgets (paperbacks, graphic novels, and young adult video games) will be decreased significantly for the coming fiscal year. That means I will have less freedom to buy something that isn't a surefire hit. For example, once I've put the Nora Roberts, Christine Feehan, a few urban fiction titles, and continued the series that have new books out in my paperback cart, I may or may not have any room for first-time authors or new series by established authors. It also means less money for replacements. Basically I'll have to order what I can as carefully as possible and hope for donations to fill the gaps in the paperback collection.
In terms of nonfiction selection, it's not exactly clear what percentage of the budget my areas command. How do I justify the continuing purchase of low-circulating poetry collections when high-demand GED books continually walk out the door and require replacement? At what point do I decide that we have more than enough World War II books; how do I clearly identify and quantify the "need" for such items, especially with the ever-growing popularity of DVDs and urban fiction? At what point can we, as a staff, inform the public that we're sorry, we just couldn't buy something because we can't afford to do so?
My coworkers and I will do our best with the budget that is our new reality, but it's definitely not getting any easier to make these decisions.