Book Review

Steven Szegedi

The Frugal Librarian: Thriving in Tough Economic Times
Edited by Carol Smallwood.
Chicago: American Library Association, 2011.
277 pp., ISBN 978–0–8389–1075–7, US$42.
Available in print and online formats.

No matter the decade, no matter the city, no matter the nation, every library struggles in some regard with funding for its programs, patrons and personnel. Virtually all operational models guiding library service are not renowned for generating revenue. Regardless of whether you work for a public, academic, corporate, or special library, there will come a time when you could use some guidance in securing additional funding for your library. The Frugal Librarian provides yeoman’s service throughout its thirty–four concise, digestible chapters, divided into nine general topic families, including staffing, programming, resource sharing and grant writing.

The articles in this volume may be, by design and necessity, brief treatments of their respective facets of librarianship, but this is also where the strength of the compilation resides. There are so many ideas about how to fundraise, how to economize, and how to take advantage of your existing resources that something will certainly apply to each reader’s particular circumstance. With so many approaches and so many topics one does not ever feel as though time spent seeking advice from The Frugal Librarian is wasted.

Lisa L. Crane’s “Cost Factors in Digital Projects” provides a basic intellectual template for modeling expected costs for digitization projects, down to the cost–per–item to digitize. Tom Cooper’s “Bidding Service Contracts in Public Libraries” counsels managers on how to re–conceptualize a library’s relationship with external service providers, underscoring the value of not taking an existing relationship for granted. Edgar C. Bailey Jr.’s “Organizing in the Streets and in the Stacks” recounts the efforts of a grassroots library organization, the Library Reform Group, in protecting Providence, Rhode Island’s severely threatened public library services.

Certainly, in a brief, four–page treatment, the work of the Library Reform Group cannot be fully understood. Instead, the account is meant to inspire other librarians to mobilize goodwill and passion within their own communities. The articles speak to all levels of library workers, from managers to shelvers. Everyone is encouraged to reassess the position of the library within its community, and to take time to understand the context of financial deficits. Once one is made aware of a project, such as the sharing of both an OPAC and circulation policies in John Helling’s “Saving By Sharing”, it becomes easier to discern the similarity of local projects that may have previously escaped one’s view.

The best approach to using this compilation is to look at it as a DIY funding manual. In reading all thirty–four stories in a row one is left with an overwhelming desire to be proactive in confronting economic challenges, and to not be cowed into inaction by a sense of futility. These are personal stories with direct, and often measurable, outcomes. Each vignette offers a potential methodology, or perhaps a fresh perspective, that may illuminate a path forward on an issue that remains unsolved within your own circumstance. The ideas invite conversation with colleagues, and encourage your focus and energy.

While the examples almost uniformly are drawn from American perspectives many of the specific suggestions can be implemented anywhere. Tuck and Fraser’s advice on museum/library partnerships, through pass–sharing programs, dual exhibitions, and co–branding, could stand in for any number of inter–institutional collaborations. Each chapter in The Frugal Librarian is a tool in your workbench. The product of your labor is up to you.

About the Author

Steven Szegedi is archivist in the Crown Library at Dominican University.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Public Domain License.