Monday, December 25, 2017

Basic Budget Primer: Choosing the Best Budget for Your Library

Devlin, Barry. “Basic Budget Primer: Choosing the Best Budget for Your Library.” The Bottom Line Reader: A Financial Hand Book for Librarians. New York: Neal Schumann, c1990. pp. 31-35.
The literature on budget preparation is almost redundant in pointing out that librarians insist on sticking with the line-item format despite evidence it is the least effective means of developing the library’s case for support. Perhaps we don’t make the shift because we lack the understanding of the four major budgeting techniques – line item, program, performance, and zero-based – and thus can’t evaluate the usefulness to our institutions.

A group of librarians at the Montclair Public Library decided to ferret out the facts about the budgeting process for our own edification as well as for popular consumption.

We began by settling on a definition of the budget that was acceptable to all of us and then setting out a series of questions. We asked: Is the line-item budget the frequent choice because of its easy applicability? Do program or performance budgets offer better avenues for fiscal control? How? Can zero-base provide the framework for ranking programs so that resources are allocated to the top priorities? When we knew enough to conclude the answer to all of these questions was yes, the most basic question emerged: How do library managers decide what budget format is best for their organizations? We then got more specific: What are the distinguishing features of the four budget types? What are their notable differences? What are their advantages and disadvantages? What type of data is needed for each of the formats and how are they compiled?

Defining “Budget”
A budget is variously defined as an itemized summary of probable expenditures and income for a given time period, usually involving a systematic plan for meeting expenses; a planning document used by an organization, generally prepared and presented in standard accounting formats emphasizing dollar revenues, expenditures, and costs; or an assessment of revenues that can be realistically anticipated. (Richard E. Wacht, Financial Management in Nonprofit Organizations. Atlanta: College of Business Administration, Georgia State University, 1987, p. 480; Ann E. Prentice, Financial Planning for Libraries, Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow, 1984, p. 27) We agreed, though, that the most useful definitions connects planning to control, by referring to budgeting as the process by which necessary resources are determined, allocated, and funded. 
Line-item budgeting
The logic behind the traditional line-item budget generally involves three steps:
  1. Last year’s spending level is extrapolated into next year.
  2. Last year’s level is incremented for increases in costs.
  3. The spending level is further incremented for new projects and programs. The underlying assumptions in the traditional approach are that all activities making up last year’s spending level are essential to achieving the ongoing objectives, strategies, and mission of the organization: must be continued during the coming year; are now performed in the most cost-effective manner.
This budget format is accounting-oriented and directed toward answering the question “how much?” The line items, or objects of expenditure, serve as the focus for analysis, authorization, and control. Total amounts requested and expended for broad categories—such as personnel, supplies, and communications—are calculated for the entire library, as the excerpted budget in Figure 1 shows.   
Figure 1. The Line-Item Budget
Account code Object Actual Expenditure 1987 Request 1984
100300 Personnel
100301 Full Time $748,322 $800,705
100302 Part Time 110,212 117,933
100303 Overtime 8,240 8,817
200300 Benefits
200301 Social Security 51,959 55,596
200302 Pension 75,345 80,619
200303 Health Insurance 32,000 34,240

TOTAL PERSONNEL $1,026,084 $1,097,910
300300 Materials
300301 Books 26,250 28,040
300302 Periodicals 18,611 19,913
300303 Databases 21,816 23,343
300304 Documents 5,300 5,671

TOTAL MATERIALS $71,977 $77,015
400300 Supplies

400301 Office 5,250 5,618
400302 Computer 3,190 3,413
500300 Communication

500301 Postage 12,600 13,482
500302 Telephone 4,500 4,815
500303 Datalines 13,500 14,445
600300 Conferences & Dues 8,500 9,095
700300 Staff Development 4,000 4,280
TOTAL OPENING $123,517 $132,163
GRAND TOTAL $1,149,601 $1,230,073 
Incremental budgeting projects line-item numbers as derived from expenditures of the year before. In Figure 1, the 1988 funding request was calculated on a 7% across-the-board increase over 1987.

There are advantages to line-item budgeting. Line-item budgets are simpler to construct than other formats and are easy to compute. The individual lines are clearly defined; they emphasize control and tradition; they are comprehensible; little added explanation is necessary. But, on the downside, line-item budgets do not stress the library’s services to the public. Rather, emphasis is on services or commodities to be purchased by the library. Cost centers are not identified. And there is not sufficient historical data with which to discern major cost trends.

The Program budget
The program budget begins with the library’s goals, and objectives and the derivative goals and objectives of each of the library’s services.

Richard F. Wacht states, “The concept of program budgeting emphasizes the long-range perspective, or goals, in which the single year’s budget allocation represents the results of specific short-range decisions, or objectives, made within the context of the multiyear plan.” (Wacht, p. 320)

Program budgeting is a technique that formulates spending plans and then make appropriations on the basis of expected results. Expenditures are plotted to reflect quantified objectives. The program budget is derived for each area of service within a department, then brought together for the department as a whole. Figure 2, for example, is built for Adult Services. 
Figure 2: The program budget for adult services
Account Code Object Actual Expenditures, 1987 Request, 1988
100300 Personnel
100301 Full Time
100302 Part Time
100303 Overtime
200300 Benefits
200301 Social Security
200302 Pension
200303 Health Insurance

300300 Materials

300301 Books
300302 Periodicals
300303 Databases
300304 Documents
400300 Supplies

400301 Office
400302 Computer
500300 Communications
500301 Postage
500302 Telephone
500303 Datalines
600300 Conferences & Dues
700300 Staff Development
800300 Programming
900300 Van Maintenance

The department’s budget is projected for the personnel, materials, supplies, communications, and other categories of expenditure necessary to meet objectives outlined for 1988. If one of the department’s goals is to make service accessible to all community residents, it might be a good idea to initiate selection and delivery for the handicapped, aged, and shut-ins. The steps involved for that program budget might include:
  1. Defining the program objectives for 1988 in terms of the output desired. For example: To establish within Adult Services a new selection and delivery service—called HAS—that reaches 20% of the community’s handicapped, aged, and shut-in residents in the first 12 months of operations.
  2. Delineating the major activities necessary to accomplish the objective. For example: Within the first month, assign the task of coordinating the service and initiate contacts with other agencies, including the Fire Department, to locate the target audience. Complete a needs assessment of the HAS clientele by the end of the second month. By the end of the third month, provide in-house staff training for those who will provide the service.
  3. Determining the nature and level of resources needed to support the activity. For example: One new staff member, a part-time professional librarian, is projected, assigned one-half time to coordinate the service and assist in fulfilling requests, creating patron profiles, and recording materials received; staff training can be accommodated with no increase over the 1987 allocation; delivery can be accomplished by streamlining current Branch trips. The materials needed are already incorporated into the library’s yearly acquisition program.
  4. Developing the budget requirements, given the resources defined in step 3. For example: The salary request for a new half-time librarian is projected at $15,000; there is no benefit package since the job is 15 hours per week. The prorated share of van maintenance is $500.
  5. Stating the requirements for all programs within Adult Services, using the same four-step process, as illustrated with HAS, then tallying the exact figures under categories common to all library operations and submitting them in one projected budget for the department.
Note that the program budget is not a formula approach. That is, unlike the line-item budget, the same percentage increase is not added to each 1987 line.

Program budgeting is a complex process. It is difficult to assign fiscal responsibility for programs that span several departments. And if goals and objectives are vague, the strength of the resulting data is vague.

But, clearly, when set out correctly, program budgeting can be much more useful than line-item budgeting. It not only provides the necessary data for costing out services based on objectives; it also provides historic data with which to assess cost trends.

The performance budget
While program budgets look at the expected results of services, performance budgets define the work performed to provide that service. Performance budgets emphasize output measures. Calculation of unit cost is added. Services are subdivided so that they can be described in terms of work input and service output. Program elements are broken down into their functions; activities into their individual work components. As Ann E. Prentice notes, performance budgeting helps administrators to “assess the work efficiency of operating units by: a) casting the budget in functional terms and b) providing work-cost measurements to facilitate the efficient performance activities.” (Prentice, p. 96)

One way to identify unit costs, as Figure 3 shows, is to divide the output totals for each program objective into the input costs. This is a simple but sometimes misleading method. A more accurate reflection takes painstaking measurements, as Michael Vinson’s article on costing the acquisitions function, on page 70, demonstrates.

Figure 3. 1987 performance and unit costs for adult services
Input allocated Service Program objective Output Unit cost
$171,032 Reference Provide telephone and walk-in responses to queries 117,955 $1.45
$77,461 Reader's Advisory Provides assistance in selecting reading and other information sources 49,946 $1.65
$85,480 I & R Provide information on and referral to community agencies 40,705 $2.10
TOTAL $333,973 Adult Services Make services accessible to all community residents 205,604 x=$1.73
Because costing is explicit, performance budgets are useful in evaluating alternative means of carrying out the same activities. But, this technique does require a high level of accounting detail, time-consuming procedures to determine costs, and the capacity to handle more complex record keeping. Output measures must accurately reflect the key work performed in order to translate accurately into dollar requirements for support. For example, deriving unit cost for bookmobile costs inflates the cost per unit of service and disregards the more important and meaningful statistic in meeting program objectives—namely, the number of people served. In many quarters, these difficulties are combined with skepticism about the impact of performance data in the budget process; there is doubt that the level of effort results in a concomitant level of budgetary benefit.

The Zero-base budget
The Zero-Base Budget (ZBB) is popularly defined as an operating plan through budgeting that requires managers to justify their entire budget in detail from scratch – hence zero-base or cut back management – and to show why they should spend any money at all. This approach requires that all activities are identified in decision packages that are evaluated systematically and ranked in the order of importance (Peter Pyhrr, Zero-Base Budgeting: A Practical Management Tool for Evaluating Expenses, John Wiley, 1973, p. 5-7).

Wacht’s presentation of ZBB directs library managers to ask three questions: Should your area of responsibility be abolished? Can its functions be performed at a lower level of activity and remain as productive as last year? If your budget increases next year, will the incremental costs outweigh the incremental benefits?

There are four basic steps in ZBB:
  1. Identifying decision unit. Current departments, or major service components like Adult, Young Adult, Children’s, Reference, and Technical Services, are frequently designated as the decision units. 
  2. Formulating decision packages. A decision package is a document that defines the activities of each decision unit, the activities of each decision unit, so that managers can compare it to other decision units competing for limited resources. Two types of alternatives are considered when formulating decision packages—different ways to perform the same functions and different levels of effort needed to perform the function. The levels are: the minimum necessary to achieve the most important objectives, usually calculated at 50% to 75% of the current level of support; the status quo, or support at the current level; the higher level, which projects an increase.

    A series of questions is put to each of the library’s major services in creating decision packages: How many ways can the library’s objectives be accomplished? Which is the most effective way? What levels of functions and costs are possible? Following this review, the service’s activities are segmented into one of the alternative service levels—minimum, status quo, or increased. 

  3. Ranking decision packages. Ranks are assigned by evaluating the cost of the decision packages and their order of importance in reaching the library’s objectives. 
  4. Priority ranking of all decision packages. Following the initial ranking within the departments, the decision packages are forwarded to the appropriate managers, who merge them into a single list of prioritized packages. 
For example, under ZBB, the program managers within Adult Services would each prepare a decision package and submit it to the head of Adult Services, who would combine them into a budget request such as the one shown in figure 4. 
Figure 4: Zero base budget (ZBB) decision package 
Then the head of Adult Services, together with his or her program managers, would rank all the Services’ decision packages and send them to higher management in a prioritized format, such as the one shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5. Decision Package Ranking
(1) Rank (2) PACKAGE NAME
Adult Services
(3) Cumulative (4) 1988 PROPOSED
Positions Total Expended
(excl. cap)
Change Positions Total Expended
(incl. cap)
1 Reference 4 171,032 0 4 $171,032
2 Reader's Advisory 1 77,461 0 1 77,461
3 I & R 2 85,480 0 2 85,480
4 HAS 0 - 100% -

6 TOTAL 7 $333,973 7% 7

Next, the heads of all the major library programs, together with the library’s top administrators, would look over the entire group of decision packages and reevaluate them to establish a single priority for support for the entire organization. 
ZBB adds priorities to unit cost data, all of which are presented in relation to goals and objectives. This technique calls for setting priorities within the base of the budget as opposed to using an incremental approach. But while prioritizing is appealing to many library managers, its worth is offset by the amount of paperwork required and the difficulty in identifying and justifying each activity. A good deal of time is consumed in documenting programs and in reviewing the documentation. 
Which budget is for your library?
In retrospect, the four budget types represent a hierarchy of decision-making information, planning, documentation, and record-keeping. The program budget focuses the process on the service aspect of librarianship by linking goals and objectives to fiscal requests. The performance budget adds measures of efficiency or productivity to supply current cost data. ZBB includes the strong points of the first two techniques and calls for priority ranking and the assumption that not all current programs are worthy of continued funding. Each of the three can be turned into a line-item budget with little added effort. If the library must submit a line-item budget to the ultimate funding decision-makers, it can employ any internal format it deems appropriate and then make the necessary translation.
After careful study, we would conclude all four approaches to budgeting are needed to meet the many requirements of successfully representing the library’s case for support.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Budgets and Budgeting: Part II

Koenig, Michael. “Budgets and Budgeting: Part II.” Special Libraries, July/August 1977, pp. 234-240. Budgets and Budgeting Part II Michael Koenig Institute for Scientific Information, Philadelphia Pa 19106
• Two principal questions are addressed: how to construct a library budget and how to justify that budget. In addition, various techniques for navigating the political shoals surrounding budgets are discussed. 
THE first basic questions: How does one put the budget together? How does one arrive at the appropriate figures? 
Putting the budget together
Use the program budget concept. When you are next faced with the necessity to compile a budget, or better yet, sometime in advance of that necessity, try the concept of program budgeting, break down your operation into the appropriate programs or budgets, then cost out each program and do it without reference to what your present budget is. This process is called “zero base” budgeting. In other words, do not simply start with last year’s budget and modify it, start from scratch. Once these calculations are tempered with the political and financial realities of your organization, they are the basis of a sound budget presentation.

The most common approach is to use standards to determine the size of the library budget. Typically, these are standards of library services stated as some function of the community served. The standards need not be official to be useful. For example, what do other libraries supporting similar organizations spend? If published figures are not available, make some phone calls and compile them. Even in an industry like pharmaceuticals where confidentiality of information is a byword, such figures can be easily obtained; in fact, they are maintained by the professional trade association. In the pharmaceutical industry a figure of 3% of the research and development budget is a typical figure for library support. Other industries or other fields will have different norms, probably quite different. Standards will not be pertinent, unless they are derived from institutions similar to your own.

Standards, however, even if derived from libraries serving similar institutions, will be approximations only. Different organizations have different internal structures, different philosophies, and different ways of operating. In one company, for example, lab technicians may be expected to do the bulk of the literature searching. Another company may not be so generous with technician support. Thus the library may have to do substantially more literature searching. The function and the service supplied within the institution is similar, but the organizational structure and the budgets of the libraries will be radically different. Standards must be tempered to reflect the role of the library within the higher organization.

There are a variety of other standards that one can use. One norm, for example, is one library staff member for each 60-80 active borrowers. Another is that the ratio of clerical to professional staff should range between 1 to 1 and 3 to 1. The best exposition of general standards applicable to special libraries is probably that by Gordon E. Randall entitled “Budgeting for Libraries” (Randall, Gordon E. / Budgeting for Libraries. Special Libraries 67 (1):8-12 (Jan 1976). Such general standards, while typical, may not be applicable to a specific situation. It is useful, however, to know if a library is typical of its type, and if not, why it differs.

Most important, however, while standards may be quite useful for estimating your budget preparation, do not count on them to serve as justification. Administrators will probably not find them convincing. In general, your management will probably not be at all interested in standards (except accreditation standards for academic institutions). It is more likely that they will be interested in how well the members of their community think the library is providing service.

Build and maintain what might be called an “ammunition file.” When an article appears in a library journal calculating the percentage increase in the costs of serials or monographs, keep that information. When an article (Williams, Gordon et al. / Library Cost Models: Owning versus Borrowing Serial Publications. Office of Science Information Service, National Service Foundation, November 1967. 161 p. (NTIS PB 182304) appears reporting that the Center for Research Libraries has calculated the cost of interlibrary loans versus subscription to a journal, keep that information and cite it when appropriate.

The Incremental method
One method of constructing and also justifying a budget is what is called the incremental method. First define a basic minimum core level of service which the institution cannot afford to be without. That may be, for example, simply acquiring and processing a certain number of journals and books, making them available for the users, and maintaining some sort of circulation system to monitor their whereabouts. Determine the costs for that minimum core of service. Then define additional tiers of service above that core. For each tier define the new services, the benefits that will be achieved, and the incremental cost of these benefits. Recommend one particular tier as the most cost-effective for the organization and give some justification for your opinion. While the more elaborate the justification the better, involved arguments are not necessary. For example, simply state that up to a specific tier each new tier achieves a major improvement in service with relatively small incremental costs. Show that additional tiers above that point require substantial increases in services. It is wise, however, that your presentation is constructed so that you are not recommending the top tier. Show your administration that you are rejecting some higher priced alternatives.

Justifying the budget
Now for the second big question, “I’ve got a budget, how do I justify it?” Obviously the points mentioned above for determining the budget are the bulwark of the justification for the budget. There are, however, additional points that you can make.

Keep another sort of ammunition file. In it include such things as testimonials from users and examples of specific projects undertaken for your clientele. Ideally, of course, try to document cost savings, i.e., that such and such a search has saved X department tens of thousands of dollars. This is not always possible. At the very least be well armed with examples of what has been done for use when presenting budgetary requests. Do not try to dredge these things up at the last minute. The trick is to treat projects as future examples and to evaluate them when they are completed, or soon enough afterward that the results are still fresh. Quotes that such and such a project saved X many weeks of work, or made the completion of the project within the funding agency’s deadline possible are convincing. This statement may be self-evident. Yet it is often ignored because it seems slightly immodest to ask for accolades. Do not be reluctant, the questions can be asked in relatively objective terms, such as “How effective was the search?” If presented as part of a standard program of feedback and evaluation, users will perceive and accept such questions as the norm.

Performance figures
As described in performance budgeting, keep performance figures. Know how much it costs you to perform certain functions. Do not expose all those performance costs to the unenlightened whose reactions may be negative. Keep them to be used when it is in your best interests. For example, you can say, “Do you know how much it costs to compile a bibliography for Dr. X,” when questioned about the cost of bibliography compilation or of reference services. (Dr. X is, of course, a rising and productive star in the organization.)

Quantify what you do as much as possible. Obviously it is useful to be able to document an increasing level of circulation or of reference questions answered. Set this information out graphically. A few minutes spent doing histograms or graphs can be time well spent. Keep such diagrams relatively simple however. The point of a histogram or graph is its clarity. A graph made for analysis may look like a road map, but a graph made for presentation should be simple and clear.

Fixed versus variable costs
A basic concept in accounting is a distinction between fixed costs and variable costs. Variable costs are costs that change with small changes in the volume of production or of operation (services rendered). Fixed costs are those costs that do not change with small changes in the volume of production or of operations. It does not mean an immutable cost. What is a fixed cost in one context is not necessarily a fixed cost in another context in which major changes in operations are contemplated. This distinction is important because it is frequently useful to analyze budgets or proposed operations in terms of fixed costs and variable costs.

It is typical of libraries that a high percentage of costs are fixed—principally payroll. This fact can frequently be used to good advantage. It can show, for example, that a 10% reduction in a library budget would have a major effect upon variable costs including such things as the number of journals subscribed to. On the other hand, it can show that a relatively small increase in the library budget could have an equally major effect upon the subscription or other services that the library can purchase. This observation, and a proper display of it, can be useful to argue against a relatively modest budget cut. Although minor somewhere else, it could be debilitating to the library and that, therefore, the organization ought to seek its economies somewhere else. Conversely, it can be used to make significant improvements in the library’s ability to produce a service. Obviously this argument can only be pushed so far—for example, to the point where one has to add or reduce staff. However, in the right context it can be useful.

Unchanged performance budget versus proposed budget
A useful technique in this era of substantial inflation is to compare the proposed budget with the budget required to continue the present level of service. Be sure to incorporate the necessary expenditure increases to cope with inflation. If you are proposing new services, such a comparison can make the point that a significant portion of the dollar increases results from inflation and that the new services you propose are not nearly so grandiose as the increase in dollars would have it appear. If, on the other hand, you are not so lucky as to be able to propose new services, such a comparison can document that a no growth budget (no growth in the eyes of the administration) is in reality a decrease in library services. Your administration may not be as aware as you are that the prices of journals and monographs is increasing faster than the general rate of inflation. Such a budget comparison can help you make that point more vividly.

Related items
There are a variety of items that, while not relating directly to the two principal questions discussed, are quite pertinent to budgeting and should be considered.

Financial Politics. Be aware of and use the politics in your organization. Politics is defined here in a broad way, including what might be called financial politics. Obviously if you are preparing budgets you know what the fiscal year of your institution is. Make use of that information. Check the political wind, particularly before the end of the fiscal year. In both profit and not-for-profit organizations there may well be situations at the end of the fiscal year in which the treasurer may not be at all adverse to spending money. In profit organizations, for example, present circumstances may be for reasonably good, and the projections for next year not quite so favorable. Therefore, anything that can be spent this year rather than next year will help maintain that appearance of a uniform and consistent rate of growth which companies like to be able to present to the financial public. In not-for-profit organizations it may be that money not expended this year will not be available next year. In addition, insufficient expenditure may be used as an argument for appropriating less money next year. Therefore the surplus ‘needs’ to be spent. In any case, ask questions and be aware of such situations. A purchase that may fill the treasurer with horror this fiscal year may be quite acceptable the next, or vice versa.

Similarly of course, the company may be tight on money at the end of the year or may want to cut back on purchases halfway through the year. If you have discretion on when you can make purchases or undertake programs, do it early while you have the money in your budget and before the organization decides to tighten its belt. This applies to such things as the purchase of major indexes and back-year cumulations, and to such things as travel or management development courses which are favorite areas for retrenchment.

Take an accountant to lunch. The advice may seem superficial, but it is not. If you are not part of the financial communication channel, you will not be privy to the information that will allow you to operate most effectively. In addition, having a channel to the financial office will make it easier to acquire the figures that you need and assistance in interpreting them. Budget information, with its accruals, transfer changes, distributed labor accounts, burden rates, etc., can be difficult to interpret without a friend at court, and your friendly (only if you make him or her so) local neighbourhood cost accountant can be a godsend.

Money versus People. Objectives of course can be accomplished in different ways. One way may be to add new staff, another way may be to put dollars in your budget that can be used to purchase outside services. There are obvious political tradeoffs here, one facet of which is that once you have a person on your staff, the person is there, the slot is there, and it acquires inertia. It is a major decision to cut back or eliminate the slot. For just that reason managers frequently tend to ask for increases to staff when other ways of achieving the same objective are available, for we feel we have achieved a long-term increase in our resources. For precisely that same reason, however, organizations tend to be resistant to hiring new staff. People are long-range commitments, commitments that can be cut back only with difficulty, and frequently with unpleasantness. Conversely, particularly in the case of for-profit organizations, your request for dollars is not likely to meet with such resistance, for the very reason that should the situation change, the faucet can be turned off easily. My personal opinion is that given the choice between asking for people or asking for dollars, one is better off asking for dollars. Granted the dollars are less irrevocable, yet one is far more likely to get what one wants. In fact, one can probably get more resources than if one asks for people. Furthermore, dollars are more flexible. A person only provides so many person-hours per week, but dollars spent on bibliographic on-line searching or dollars spent on information service bureaus can be spent precisely when needed.

One reason, but not a valid one, for the preference of librarians to add staff rather than dollars, is perhaps that our profession tends to measure the size of an organization by the size of its staff, not by its dollar budget. The budget of the information center of a major pharmaceutical company, for example, is not unlike the budget of a major university library. The tendency to measure size solely by the number of people directly employed, rather than by dollars, contributes to this myopia and unconsciously prejudices decisions.

Make or buy. In general, one should question seriously whether to perform a service that can be bought. If someone is selling a service, it is probably because that person or that organization thinks they can do it more efficiently and effectively by spreading costs over a larger economic base. Frequently they can. In economic terms this is described as the “make or buy” decision. When evaluating the make or buy decision, make sure that one is including all the costs involved in making it oneself.

Extra-Organizational Support. Don’t be hesitant about crossing organizational lines to seek extra support. Review what your library does and for whom. Is it providing services for people other than the organizational unit that picks up the tab? If it is, who are those people and what can be done to get some measure of support from them? Frequently in such a situation, if you can demonstrate that you are doing such work, you can get those organizations outside your own to support your operation, at least partially. Frequently that support will not be enough to completely cover the costs. Any degree of extra support, however, makes your budgetary life that much easier, not only because you have eased the load on your own organization but because you have demonstrated that you are cognizant of where your services are going and that you have the initiative and the fiscal intelligence and responsibility to seek appropriate additional support.

Library Committee/Customer Support. If you have a library committee or any sort of advisory committee, use it. If you do not have one, consider one. Consider carefully the people who will be on that committee. Do not necessarily go for the biggest and the most prestigious names. They may not have the time or the inclination. Do, however, deliberately try to pick the rising stars and the opinion leaders within your users. Not only are such people useful now, but they may be of major importance in a few years.

What are you being charged for? Be aware of what you are being charged for. For example, an overhead allocation may be based simply on the number of square feet that one’s department occupies. You may be able to point out that while that probably adequately represents the heating expenses for the library, it may substantially overcharge the library for telephone services or other support services such as janitorial services. Even though it may be suboptimal for the Accounting Department to change its method of allocation, you will at least be in the position of being able to explain why the allocation is so high and that, in fact, it overestimates the true cost of the library’s support services.

Controllable versus Non-Controllable. Along the same lines, make a distinction in your budget between controllable items and uncontrollable. For example, ‘books and subscriptions’ is a budget item that you control. The amount that you get charged by Data Processing, or for overhead, or distributed labor from other departments is probably an uncontrollable expense. Be aware of any of these uncontrollable items exceeding the budget estimate, and be prepared to point out that these are not items under your control. Divide your budget into two parts: a controllable part and an uncontrollable part. Then you will be in a position to demonstrate that the controllable part of your budget is in fact under control. If the data processing manager underestimated the effect of the new on-line systems upon his system throughput and has had to order four new disc drives whose costs have to be passed along to the customer, do not allow that happenstance to make it look as though you are going over budget. That is the DP Department’s problem, not yours. As an aside, when preparing a budget do not just extrapolate from last year’s charges for uncontrollable items. Get estimates from the DP manager, from the accountant, or whomever, as to what these items will be so that if something as described above happens, you cannot be accused of underestimating and underbudgeting.

Adhering to Budget. Know what the procedures in your organization are for adhering to budgets. In most for-profit organizations rigid adherence to the line items in your budget is not terribly important. What is important is whether you are staying within the overall envelope. Do, however, document why you are deviating. If your company has a budget updating cycle, request changes. Make sure that you and your boss have an understanding—whether that is a private understanding or whether it is a company policy—as to how the budget should be adhered to. Does he or she want to know of every minor deviation or is it acceptable to remain within the envelope? In governmental organizations, adherence to the line items of a budget is typically more rigid; modifications and exceptions typically have to be justified and approved. Do not hesitate, however, to go through the processes. Budgets should never be gospel. A budget is a planning tool and only a fool expects the world to stand still for a year. Do not be afraid to request budget changes. It is not an admission of poor planning or poor budgeting. Requests for budget changes, if done in a timely and well thought out fashion, can instead be an indication that you are staying on top of the situation and that you are maintaining your plans and your operations in as up-to-date a fashion as possible.

Confidence level
A major problem that we librarians face is the image that we have in the eyes of our managers or directors. Frequently we are perceived as professionals who know our field but who possess neither a realistic business sense nor financial acumen. This perception is frequently a serious constraint upon the librarian’s ability to adequately and efficiently perform the job. The budget is the ideal vehicle to dispel this conception and to build your superior’s confidence in your financial common sense. Demonstrate that you have in fact evaluated all alternatives. Demonstrate that you know that things cannot be justified on the basis of what has already been spent. Demonstrate that you know the conception of sunk cost and opportunity cost. As librarians, you are familiar with the concept of the invisible college. The easiest way to deal with programmers, for example, is to be a programmer, to be a member of that invisible college oneself. The next best, however, is to be able to speak the language. If one can demonstrate a familiarity with the field, then one will be accepted as at least an associate member. The same thing is true in dealing with those who will review and pass upon the library budgets. The community is not so clearly defined but there is obviously the same sort of sociological phenomenon working with managers, treasurers, directors, and administrators. If you can speak the language, and if you can demonstrate through your budget preparation that you are cognizant of the basic concepts of cost analysis and budgetary thinking, then you will have gone a long way toward establishing that confidence level. The budget will have been far more than just a delineation of what will be spent. 

Tudor Dean / The Special Library Budget. Special Libraries 63 (11):517-522 (Nov. 1972).

Kramer, Joseph / How to Survive in Industry—Cost Justifying Library Services. Special Libraries 62 (11):487-489 (Nov. 1971)

Lyden, Fremont J. and Ernest G. Miller / Planning, Programming, Budgeting—A Systems Approach to Management. Chicago, Markham, 1967.

Keller, John E. / Program Budgeting and Cost Benefit Analysis in Libraries. College and Research Libraries 156-160 (Mar 30, 1969).

Fazar, W. / Program Planning and Budgeting Theory. Special Libraries 60 (7):423-433 (Sep 1969).

Michael Koenig is director of library operations, Institute for Scientific Information, Philadelphia, Pa.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Library as a profit center

Tweed, Stephen C.“The Library as a Profit Center” Special Libraries, October 1984, pp. 270-274. 

The Library as a Profit Center 
Stephen C. Tweed 
Tweed Corporation, Oil City, Pa. 
The article is an excerpt from a presentation of the same title given by the author at the Fall Conference of the Texas State Chapter, Special Libraries Association, held in Dallas, September 16, 1983. 
• Special libraries and information centers can increase their effectiveness by changing the way they are seen by the organizations they serve. Two ways that perceptions can be changed are: to change the methods used to account for the library financially; to change the way services are provided to better meet the users’ needs. Seven steps for increasing the real and perceived value of the library to the organization are proposed. 
Any individual or organization that provides some product or service in exchange for something of equal value – usually money – constitutes a business. Special librarians are in the business of providing information services in exchange for the money in their department’s operating budget. Compensation is received for the services the librarian / information manager personally provides: salary, benefits, working, conditions, and job security. 
In order to increase the budget or raise the library manager’s compensation, both the real and the perceived value of the services provided must be improved. 
Tracking financial performance
There are five basic methods of tracking the financial performance of the library. One is to show how it contributes to costs; the other four are methods that demonstrate how the library contributes to the profits of the organization.
Most special libraries operate as cost centers; that is, every year a budget is prepared to include direct labor and material costs, and perhaps also fixed costs for the operation of the library. The budget is approved, and these funds are charged to the administrative expenses of the organization—in accounting, terms, “burden” or “overhead.” 
When top executives review financial performance, one of the things they look at is expenses. If the library chronically has trouble getting the funding it needs and deserves to provide good service, it is probably because management views it as a “burden.” Yet, by changing how the library is perceived by the organization, it can change its value. 
True profit center
The special library that operates as a true profit center is identified as a profit making segment of a business. It sells its services outside the company and is held accountable for its financial performance just as any other division would be. Revenues are generated by selling products and services. In most cases, the true profit center no longer serves as the internal service for the company.

An example of a true profit center would be a special library that establishes a computer database. Once the database comes into such demand that the company sees an opportunity by selling data services, the database is set up as a separate business unit.

Going one step beyond the true profit center, many library managers are deciding that they have had enough of corporate life and are leaving their organizations to start their own consulting and information service operation. These businesses range from one-person shops operating out of a spare bedroom, to large firms with many employees providing a multitude of services. Although risks are involved, many former librarians have found satisfaction in putting their skills to work for personal success and profit.

Protected profit center
The protected profit center is a special library that exists primarily to serve the needs of its own organization. However, this library offers some services which are in demand outside the company. Thus, the protected profit center begins to sell services on a limited basis. The profits from outside sales are put back into the operating budget of the library. While the library is not expected to show a profit at the end of the year, a sizable number of dollars is earned to offset operating expenses.

For example: the engineering records library of a major equipment manufacturer began receiving requests for information from the company’s customers. At first, it offered the information at no charge as an added customer service. As demand grew, more staff and equipment were required. The library director started to charge a fee for the service and found that clients did not mind paying for this valuable service. The director began to promote the services of the library to clients through the company’s sales force. Soon, he was recovering 45% of his operating budget through sales to customers. His boss was thrilled, and he got more money for staff, equipment and materials.

The advantages of the protected profit center are that additional funds can be generated that are not charged to administrative costs. Also, the library can provide a valuable service to the organization’s clients, for which they are willing to pay.

The disadvantage is that it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of earning money; one may lose sight of the real client – the organization’s own users.

Self-sufficient cost center
The self-sufficient cost center operates on a charge-back system. All services are charged back to the using department or division as they are used. The library has an objective to recover all or part of its operating budget.

An example of a self-sufficient cost center might be a library serving a company that is heavily oriented toward research and development. Each research project manager allocates money in his or her budget for information services. As the services are provided, the library charges the project account. At the end of the year, the library expense budget shows only a small portion of the actual cost of information services. In some instances, the net library account might equal zero, meaning that every dollar spent by the library was charged back to users. 
At one chemical company, the manager of information services reported he was able to charge back $1,1179,485 of his $1,189,000 budget. By setting up this charge-back system, he learned that 85% of his business was from research and development, and 15% from the rest of the company.

The advantage of the self-sufficient cost center is that operating expenses show up as part of the cost of doing R&D, and not as an item of “burden” under administrative expenses. The disadvantage is that spending may be tied to how much the library takes in. If there is not an active clientele willing to pay for information services, the library may be limited in its ability to expand. There is also the danger that potential users will go elsewhere if they can purchase the same services for less.

Cost-justified center
The cost-justified center operates on its own budget, provided by top management from administrative expenses. Requests for services are recorded, and a dollar value is placed on them. Each year, the library has an objective to achieve a set level of savings or value recognized. Usually this value is some multiple of actual costs.

Example: A company has a very active cost-saving program. Project teams explore ways to take cost out of the manufacturing process without sacrificing quality. Frequently, members of project teams come to the corporate library for assistance. By assigning a portion of the savings from a cost-improvement project to the efforts of the librarian, they demonstrated the value of library services. In this example, the librarian was able to get credit for several hundred thousand dollars in cost savings—an amount equivalent to three times the library’s operating budget (and this does not even include all of the services that were provided but could not be documented and cost justified).

Since cost savings go directly into corporate profits, it is relatively easy to demonstrate the value of the corporate library without getting involved in a lot of money transfers. The disadvantage of the cost-justified center is that the justification is based on an assumption about the portion of savings or recognized value that results from the services of the library. If that assumption cannot be easily validated or reasonably supported, it may be challenged later by some bright executive with a sharp pencil.

There are many ways to generate revenue or justify expenses. It is clear that top executives respond to managers who demonstrate the ability to run a sound business operation that contributes to bottom line results in a measurable way. It is not important which model profit center one selects; what is important is that the library’s money-making potential is clearly understood by the top executives who making the decisions that affect its future. For those things top executives best understand things they can count—in dollars and cents.

The concept of the enthusiastic customer
Successful business people recognize that there are three types of customers: satisfied, dissatisfied and enthusiastic.

A satisfied customer is one who got exactly what was expected from a product or service; a dissatisfied customer believes that he or she received less than what was expected; and an enthusiastic customer is one who got more than was expected.

Without question, the best way to promote a business is through word-of-mouth advertising—having enthusiastic customers tell other people what a great job the library did for them. One firm in the hospitality industry discovered an interesting piece of information about its customers: the dissatisfied ones each told an average of ten people about their bad experiences, yet the enthusiastic customers were likely to tell only three other people. Based on this example, one would need 3.3 enthusiastic customers for every dissatisfied one just to break even.

Dissatisfied customers have two possible choices of action. One is to come and complain. Complaining customers are easy to deal with—the author discusses this in a seminar called “Techniques for Communicating with the Upset Public.” The second choice is to stop using the service or to purchase it elsewhere. Customers who follow this option are the difficult ones to deal with. You often don’t know that they are unhappy; they just don’t come back.

Business strategy
Developing a business strategy is a process that involves taking an in-depth look at where you are now, and where you want to be at some clearly defined point in the future. Consider, also, what must be done to get there, and the forces that will help or hinder the effort.

Begin by asking four strategic questions:
  1. What is your business?
  2. Who are your clients? 
  3. What do they expect and
  4. How can you give them more than they expect. 
Consider what would happen if the library’s services were no longer available. Many businesses take their existence for granted. They assume they are so important that their customers cannot do without them. Yet, many established firms have, in fact, gone under, and others have quickly stepped in to fill the breach.

A special library has three types of customers: consumers, clients and sponsors. The consumer is the one who actually uses the information you provide; the client recognizes the need for information and makes arrangements to get it; while the sponsor is the one who ultimately approves payment. Sometimes, the consumer, client and sponsor are three separate individuals; at other times, they are one. The key is to identify all three.

For example, the president of the company requests the corporate librarian to gather information on a company that has just introduced a competing product. In this instance, the president is consumer, client and sponsor. In another situation, the president has directed a cost-improvement project to make certain recommendations. The team needs some information and the coordinator comes to the library with the request. The library’s budget is approved by the vice president for administration. Here, consumer, client and sponsor are three separate people.

What do customers expect? To find out, observe their reactions to the service the library does for them. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the service. In Search of Excellence, by Peters and Waterman, devotes a whole chapter to being “Close to the Customer.”

In order to give customers as much and more than they expect, one must meet their basic needs, get the information to the right person at the right time, and then, go a little further—give a little extra information, a little better service, a little better price, and give it sooner than promised.

It does not take any more time or energy to be cheerful and friendly than it does to be dull and uninteresting. The most powerful “extras” are those things that help to develop rapport with customers. A relationship based on comfort, trust and confidence is the best way to gain an enthusiastic customer.

Generally, there are two contrasting library strategies. One is called “dusting the books.” This is used by the corporate librarian whose image is projected as being isolated from users needs and more concerned with maintaining the collection. When users come to the library for information, they get the impression they are interfering with the librarian’s work. Most librarians hate this image, but they allow it to exist.

Then there is the “Disneyland” strategy. Following the wisdom of the late Walt Disney, this librarian defines the unique factor that makes the library different and attracts users. The librarian demonstrates and flaunts this service, making certain that it receives good word-of-mouth publicity from enthusiastic users—hopefully, all the way to the board of directors. This unique factor is never taken for granted. And the librarian is always bright, cheerful and optimistic, treating users like Guests, with a capital G. To increase both the library’s real and perceived value to the organization, follow these seven steps:
  1. Define your business
  2. Identify your customers (consumers, clients, sponsors)
  3. Determine what they expect from you
  4. Find out how they will pay for it
  5. Select the right “profit center” for you 
  6. Develop a business strategy 
  7. Give customers more than they expect—with a smile! 

The result will be a greater number of enthusiastic customers and greater recognition from management for the library’s contributions to the organization.
Received for review Feb. 13, 1984. Manuscript accepted for publication June 19, 1984. 

Stephen C. Tweed is president of Tweed Corporation, in Oil City, Pennsylvania, a management consulting firm specializing in business strategy and customer service. 

Considine, Ray, and Raphael, Murray / The Great Brain Robbery, Los Angeles, Calif., Rosebud Books, 1980. 

Gibson, Larry / “After the Budget Freeze,” Training and Development Journal: 104-106. (Sept. 1980) 

Girard, Joe / How to Sell Anything to Anybody. New York, Warner Brothers, 1979. 

Nadler, Len / “What is Your Financial I.Q.?” Training and Development Journal: 64-68 (Oct. 1980). 

Owens, Frederick H. / “From Library to Information Service.” CHEMTECH: 464-468 (Aug. 1983). 

Peters, Thomas J., and Waterman, Robert H. / In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-run Companies. New York, Harper & Row, 1982. 

Shook, Robert L. / Ten Greatest Salespersons. New York, Harper & Row, 1978.

Thomas, Bob / Walt Disney, An American Original. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1980. 

Tregoe, Benjamin B., and Zimmerman, John W. Top Management Strategy. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1980. 

Tweed, Stephen C. Techniques for Communicating with the Upset Public. Oil City, Pa., Park Avenue Press, 1982. 

Tweed, Stephen C. / “How to Turn Your Training Department Into a Profit Center,” (cassette tape). Washington D.C., American Society for Training and Development, 1983 National Conference.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Write Procedures That Work

WE WRITE PROCEDURES because we want people to follow them. Unfortunately, many procedures are so poorly written that no one can follow them. A classic case of a poorly worded, overly condensed instruction is this puzzling sign, placed next to the elevators in a high-rise building: 
Some thought this is a magic formula, others thought that the elevator did not stop at every floor. In reality, this “simple” instruction meant to suggest that if those did not have far to go should take the stairs rather than tie up the elevator. (Chapanis, Alphonse, “Words, Words, Words,” Human Factors, No. 7, 1965, p. 1-17) 
Written procedures are a necessary part of library work. Complex operations must be performed by a variety of workers, many of whom are part time. Rapid turnover of part-time workers means that the training of new employees can take up a great deal of time. 
Library literature does not give guidance for the constantly recurring task of writing procedures manuals. However, there are professionals who make a career of this kind of writing and we can borrow some of their principles to make library procedures more useful. 
Words are primary
The tools of written communication are words, illustrations, typography and format. Librarians may be particularly prone to rely on words alone and need to be aware of the importance of illustrations and typography/format. 
Nevertheless, words do come first. The terminology and vocabulary used in procedure writing should be consistent. This is not the place for creativity or the use of synonyms. Terms should be consistent not only within a set of instructions but with regard to labels on equipment and supplies referred to within the text. 
State instructions in the shortest, simplest words possible so that they can be understood by all users. One writer confused his audience with “WARNING: The batteries in the AN/MSQ-55 could be a lethal source of electrical power under certain conditions.” The men using the equipment had written the words “LOOK OUT! THIS CAN KILL YOU!” on a piece of paper and placed it right next to the equipment. (Chapanis) The simplest words are best. For example:
show demonstrate
try endeavour
use utilize
now at this point of time
can will be able to 
Although you should use the terminology appropriate to your discipline, avoid unnecessary jargon. Define the terms you use if they are not commonly known.

Use positive language. Negative statements frequently require interpretation and mental rephrasing. “Do not leave lights on at night” is less clear than “Turn off lights when you leave.” Save your negatives for warnings.

Indirect orders are also difficult to interpret. Figure 1 shows the contrast between a procedure written in indirect order and then in direct order.

Use simple, direct sentence structure. Procedures are written in second person imperative voice. This means that they are commands, not suggestions. Often procedures include the word “should”. This unnecessary word involves the use of a phrase that lengthens and clutters the procedure. Compare the two phrases in Figure 2.
Often unnecessary words have also been eliminated in the second phrase. The “you” is implied, not stated. A symbol for “Return” is used consistently throughout and explained at the beginning of the procedure.

A picture is worth…
Illustrations and examples can replace or amplify words, but are seldom seen in library procedures. As people have become more visually oriented, they may be able to understand a procedure better from a line drawing, a photograph, a flow chart, or a screen simulation
(Southard, Sherry G. “Usable Instructions Based on Research and Theory: Part 1,” Technical Communications, No. 35, 1988, p. 173-178.). It is much easier to provide a printout of an OCLC serials record, with the pertinent fields labeled, than it is to try to explain what one looks like. Good examples of this type of illustration can be seen in reference books, where a sample citation is provided.

All figures, tables, graphs, and illustrations used should be labeled and referenced in the text. Any of these used for more than one operation can be produced once and referenced. However, it is always better to have illustrations as close to the relevant text as possible and to repeat them wherever needed
(Walton, Thomas F. Technical Writing and Administration. McGraw, 1968).

Creating a visual effect
An element of procedures fully as important as words and sentence structure is format and typography. Formatting and typography create a visual effect and make employees willing, even eager, to use procedures.
(Southard, Sherry G. “Practical Considerations in Formatting Manuals,” Technical Communications, No. 35, 1988, p. 173-178)

When referring to format, the term “white space” is frequently used. Both vertical (indentation) and horizontal (space between steps) white space is of the greatest importance. Frequently, procedures written in libraries with tight budgets attempt to save paper by eliminating the use of white space. If procedures are produced that are not used, not only is the paper and ribbon used to produce them wasted, the time of the writer is wasted as well. Moreover, the nonuse of procedures may result in errors by the employee, an even graver waste of funds.

White space indicates where ideas begin and end. It gives an opportunity to rest the eyes and brain. It provides space to write, take notes, and draw sketches. Vertical white space indicates organization and subordination. Research indicates that all these elements make a procedure easier to understand and use.
(Southard, Sherry G. “Practical Considerations in Formatting Manuals,” Technical Communications, No. 35, 1988, p. 173-178).

Most procedures writers use numbering, but subordinate numbering can be used to greater effect, providing spatial location cues. This can affect the ability to return to information.
(Frase, Lawrence T. & Barry J. Schwartz, “Typographical Cues That Facilitate Comprehension,” Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 71, No. 2, 1979, p. 197-206.) At the lowest level of subordination, bullets can be used with good effect.

Another spatial location cue is headings. These should be brief but descriptive. Good use of headings enables the user to skip the material not needed. It should be possible to scan the headings and see what is being accomplished by the procedure.

As with vocabulary, consistency is important in format. Headings, indentations, and other visual cues should mean the same thing whenever they are used. Segmentation of text into meaningful components affect both initial understanding and recall, but inefficient formats embody few cues to the meaningful components of a text.
(Frase & Schwartz.)

Compare the examples in Figure 3 and Figure 4. Both give the same information, the first in a format typically used in library procedures. In the second, white space, subordinate numbering, and headings are used to give visual cues. A list of materials needed is supplied at the beginning and an illustration is included.
Figure 3
Receiving Books from a Major Vendor

  1. Open the box and remove the invoice. The books will be listed on the invoice in alphabetical order by title. Remove each book and check it against the order slip. The following items should match exactly: author, title, publisher, edition, year. If these items do not match, set the books aside for your supervisor. Highlight on the order slip the nonmatching items.

  2. If everything matches, stamp on the back of the order slip the date received and place the order slip in back of the title page so that the end with the purchase order number on it is visible.

  3. Find the title on the invoice. Check that the purchase order number is the same and the price is the same or less than the amount on the purchase order.

  4. If there is a typographical error in the purchase order number on the invoice, cross it out and write in the correct number. If the number is completely different, set the book aside for your supervisor.

  5. If the price on the invoice is higher than the price on the purchase order, look to see if there is a price authorization card in the book. Attach it to the invoice.

  6. If there is no price authorization card, refer to the chart of acceptable price increases taped to the receiving table. If the price increase falls within the acceptable range, proceed to the next step. If it does not, set the book aside for your supervisor.
Figure 4
Receiving Books from a Major Vendor

Materials needed
Empty book truck
Box opener
Date stamp on today's date
Stamp pad
Post-it note pad


1. Open box, remove invoice, and set aside. An order slip will be inside each book at the title page.

2. Remove each book and check it against the order slip and the invoice.

a. Compare the book to the information on the order slip of the book. The following items should match exactly (see Figure 1).
* Author
* Title
* Publisher
* Edition
* Year

** If these items do not match, set the book aside for your supervisor. Highlight on the order slip the nonmatching items.

b. Turn the order slip over as if it were a check, and stamp the date at the top where you would endorse the check.

c. Place the order slip in the back of the title page so that the end with the purchase order on it is visible.

d. Titles are listed on the invoice alphabetically. Find the title on the invoice. Check that
* the Purchase Order Number is the same
* the price is the same or less than the amount on the purchase order

* If there is a typographical error in the purchase order number on the invoice, cross it out and write in the correct number. If the number is completely different, set the book aside for your supervisor. Attach a Post-it™ note explaining the problem.

* If the price on the invoice is higher than the price on the purchase order, look to see if there is a price increase authorization card in the book. Attach it to the invoice.

* If there is no price authorization card, refer to the chart of acceptable price increases taped to the receiving table. If the price increase falls within the acceptable range, proceed to the next step. If it does not, set the book aside for your supervisor.
Typographical reinforcement
Procedures can be made even more usable by the effective use of typographical aids such as capital letters, underlining, boldface, and italics. These techniques direct attention to especially important information, such as warnings, or new terms used for the first time. It is important to remember that the overuse of such techniques “produces instructions in which nothing seems important or distinct, and using too many different techniques produces documents that look cluttered. Inconsistent use of highlighting confuses readers.” (Southard, “Practical Considerations…”) Capitalization is effective when limited to two or three words. Longer text in all caps is difficult to read because the uniform shape of the words give no typographical cues. Similarly, long passages that are underlined or in italics are difficult to read.

A final visual aid that can be used to good effect is a box. A box is most effective when used for a caution or warning. In library work, we do not often have procedures to follow that are physically dangerous, but staff these days often are in a position to damage or line files. If boxes are used exclusively for warnings and cautions, they are more likely to be noticed and heeded.

Legibility in procedures is of the greatest importance. Once you have used appropriate vocabulary and syntax, paid attention to formatting and typographical aids, and added visuals aids, complete the job by using a good printer and new ribbon.

Remember your audience
If a procedure is to be used in training new employees, it is most useful to write the procedure for problem-free application. If 95 percent of the patrons at the circulation desk will have current IDs that entitle them to check out books, and 95 percent of the books will have circulation cards in them, write the procedure for those times when things will go as they should. Write an addendum that lists common problems that will arise and how to deal with them.

For problems that occur infrequently, or that require decision-making at the policy level, simply instruct the employee to consult a supervisor. Too many procedures try to outline the steps to be followed in every remote eventuality. They become so long and convoluted that it seems impossible to find the steps to follow in a routine situation.

For example, staff doing copy cataloging should not have to wade through masses of material intended for staff and librarians responsible for complex editing of substandard records and original cataloguing. Such procedures are really several procedures combined into one.

A procedure that frequently includes the word “if” may be a combination of more than one procedure, or an attempt to write a procedure for a level of professional decision-making that is too complex for a procedure. You may find that your task is made easier if you write your task for the trouble-free, most usual way of doing the task, and then write a separate series of guidelines for higher level staff to use when making decisions in problem situations.

Watch your step
A person should be able to follow a written procedure step by step without backing up or paging back and forth. In almost all cases, this means that chronological order will be followed, although occasionally it will make more sense to go from the general to the specific. It is extremely frustrating to get to Step 7 in a procedure and discover that there was something you should have done in Step 4 that wasn’t mention there.

Also to be avoided are “rightist” connotations—or procedures written for the right-handed. It is a good idea to have the procedure reviewed by a lefty if the writer is a righty, and vice versa, for there may be steps in the procedure that are not immediately apparent as creating difficulty.

Writing the procedure
As one expert on technical writing has outlined the writing of procedures:
Rather than starting with words, we need to start by asking what specific human actions we want to result from a set of instructions, and in what order we want these actions to occur. Then we need to compose the instructions piece by piece so that they will produce those actions in the correct order. (Chapanis)

  • Gather information: In order to write a procedure, you need to be thoroughly familiar with it yourself. Don’t sit at your desk and attempt to remember how the operation is done. Do it and write down each step as you do it. If it is a procedure that you aren’t thoroughly familiar with, shadow a person doing it, write down what they do, and ask questions as they proceed. Especially be sure to ask what to do at each step if it fails. 
  • List tools: At the top of the procedure, list the tools, equipment, and material needed. This follows the model of a sewing pattern; one of the best examples of well-written procedures. 
  • Write: First write the procedure in direct order for a problem-free session. 
  • Add instructions: Then add instructions for exceptions and problems, using indentation and typographical cues. Be sure at this point that you do not begin combining procedures. 
  • Test and evaluate: Have someone follow the procedure while you shadow. Have the user vocalize each step as it is done so that you can follow thought processes and misinterpretations. Two questions to answer during evaluation are:  
    • Can the instructions be followed?
    • Can the user find a particular piece of information when needed? (Gillihan, Dana & Jennifer Herrin, “Evaluating Product Manuals for Increased Usability,” Technical Communications. No. 35, 1988, p. 168-172)
  • Revise: Now revise, using the information you gained while testing and evaluating. Question the presence of every word. If it doesn't contribute to the message, delete it.
  • Check spelling: “Misspelling and typos reduce your credibility with the user. There’s no need to amplify this thought.”? (Goldfarb, Stephen M. “Writing Policies and Procedures Manuals,” Journal of Systems Management, No. 32, 1981, p. 10-12)
  • Stop: Evaluating, rewriting, proofreading all are essential, but a time comes when the procedure must be declared finished and ready to use. It is wise, however, once it has been in use for a while to see what users have written or drawn in the white space you have provided. These glosses may provide useful clues to what is needed in a later edition.
Word processing
Word processing provides the opportunity to use typographical aids and makes it easy to format and revise. While basic word processing can be a wonderful replacement for typing, learning to use some of the more sophisticated features of your system can be extremely beneficial. Procedures saved to disk can be updated and revised periodically, and procedures or portions of procedures can be printed whenever necessary.

It takes time and thought to write clear procedures, but the effort on your part will save a great deal of staff time. Your staff wants to be able to perform well and will welcome procedures that help them to do so.
Carol W. Cubberly is a Director of Technical Services, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg.