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How Are Libraries Doing Around the World?

The Annual Library Budget Survey, a global study that queries 686 senior librarians about their budget spending predictions for the year, was published last week by the Publishers Communication Group (PCG), a consultancy wing of Ingenta, the self-described “largest supplier of technology and related services for the publishing industry.” The survey found uneven growth expectations for libraries worldwide.

For North American libraries, the survey was more cautious than optimistic, with librarians in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico expecting only a 1% increase in budget spending. In other developed or “mature markets,” the report says, growth expectations were negative. In Europe, for example, budgets are expected to fall by 0.1%.

In less developed markets, signs pointed to higher expectations for library growth. In the Middle East and Africa, senior librarians are anticipating growth of up to 4.2%. And in Asia experts predict 2.8% increase in budgets. Rounding out the survey was South America, another maturing market, with 2.1% expected growth.

In total, across all budgets worldwide, spending on material is expected to increase by 1.2%, and overall spending should increase by 1.4%. The total increase for academic libraries comes in slightly higher, at 1.6%.

Forgiving lackluster growth in developed markets, the PCG is upbeat about their global findings, which down only slightly from last year. According to Melissanne Scheld, the Managing Director of the PCG, the findings from the the Annual Library Budget Survey “are extremely compelling”:

Despite showing growth in most geographical areas, librarians are generally being much more conservative with their predictions this year, with several markets estimating less budget growth than they did in last year’s survey. Significantly, emerging markets are upping their investment while mature markets are remaining pretty static and showing limited expansion, and this is a trend we’re noticing across almost every continent.

It’s notable that a modest North American budget increase is driven by expectations in corporate rather than government or academic growth. Corporate library budgets are expected to increase by 3.3% in 2016; government-funded library budgets are expected to shrink by 1%. In some cities, like Omaha, this has meant looking to the business community to fill a gap in government or academic funding (which is expected to grow by only 0.4%), as in the case of the recently reported “library without books,” one that features only new interactive technologies and tools, funded by “Heritage Services, a coalition of Omaha philanthropists.”

Oppositely, the more impressive growth projected by South American libraries is rooted in government and academic spending instead of an increase in corporate budgets. In fact, corporate spending on libraries there is expected to decline by more than 12%. Government spending on library in South American should increase by 2%, and academic spending is expected to rise by nearly 6 percent.

But the biggest driver of global library growth is spending from the medical/health sector, which is projected to increase by 2.8% worldwide. In emerging markets alone, the increase in medical library spending is up more than 8%.

There is also the question of how libraries are spending their money. North American libraries have by some measure the highest expectations with regard to electronic resources, with nearly 72% of their budget expenditures going toward non-physical books and other electronic services. Total book purchases, which include but are not limited to electronic books, should increase 1.3% worldwide, with a positive 2% projection in North America. Though the ALBS notes this modest projection amounts to “the healthiest increase for some time.”

The takeaway? Medical libraries are driving modest global growth. In North America, library budgets are stagnant, and libraries are spending more of their money on digital products than on physical books.