Public libraries continue to attract millions of users as demonstrated by their heavily trafficked websites and ability to remain among the most trusted public institutions not only in the United States but also globally (Clark & Davis, 2009; Goodman, 2008). Allen (2003) employs the public choice theoretical framework to demonstrate that higher levels of public library services and constructive opinions of the quality of these services should be positively correlated with elevated levels of funding for the libraries. Yet, in the face of sustained budget cuts caused by local government restructurings and the ineligibility of libraries to compete for federal funding, it is increasingly dawning on stakeholders that public libraries are among the most underfunded public institutions globally (De Almeida, 1997; Goodman, 2008). Consequently, in response to these deficiencies, public libraries are under pressure to examine and implement alternative sources of funding (Potts & Roper, 1995). But while there has been significant research into the funding deficiencies facing libraries and the role of government funding in addressing these deficits (e.g., Allen, 2003; Holt, 2005; Sullivan, 2007), little attention has been given to examining how these institutions can rely more on alternative funding sources. Diversifying funding sources for public libraries can lead to financial sustainability and efficient delivery of services to users.
Background of the Study
In the past few decades, scholars within the library domain have devoted much of their attention to understanding why public libraries continue to be underfunded despite their increasing importance (Goodman, 2008). From cumulative research findings, it is clear that the earlier model of funding public libraries using tax revenues and other forms of government funding is no longer feasible, hence these institutions are facing immense challenges in the provision of services at no additional cost to users (Allen, 2003; Clark & Davis, 2009; Senkevitch, 1999). Most public libraries have adopted various strategies to build up their tax bases, including reduced services and staffing, networking, automation, and fee-charging; however, these techniques have their drawbacks and do not always result in financial sustainability (Potts & Roper, 1995). It, therefore, becomes important to examine alternative sources of funding in an attempt to achieve financial sustainability through diversification of the sources.
The problem is that the Clayton County Public Library System is increasingly facing budget deficits that require to be addressed to enable the library to continue providing the most needed services to users. From the library’s website, it is clear that the system depends on funding from the local government, grants, and Friends of the Library (FOL) fundraisers (Clayton County Public Library System, 2013). Drawing on the available literature, it is evident that these sources of funding can never be enough to run the operations of the library, not to mention that they may be constricted further as money for libraries become increasingly difficult to obtain and the competition for these resources becomes fierce each year (Agosto, 2008; De Almeida, 1997; Sullivan, 2007). At present, however, there is an inadequate industry-wide snapshot of how public libraries can diversify their funding sources to become more financially stable, and if adopting alternative sources of funding for these institutions is beneficial in the long term. Consequently, there is a need to undertake a quantitative research study with a descriptive design to provide solutions to the highlighted gaps in knowledge.
Purpose of the Study
The main purpose of the proposed study is to critically examine how the Clayton County Public Library System can diversify its funding sources to become more financially sustainable. A peripheral objective of the study is to assess whether alternative sources of funding provide more long-term benefits for the institution than traditional sources of funding. Alternative sources of funding include foundations, businesses and corporations, professional associations, partnerships, and book funds (Goodman, 2008; Sullivan, 2007), while traditional sources include grants, the federal government, local government, and library associations (Long, 2005). Examining these sources is of immense importance for Clayton County public system, particularly in the context of identifying the most viable ones to be included in a master plan aimed at enhancing funding to the library to enable it to become more financially stable, hence better able to meet its expanding obligations to users.
Research Questions, Hypothesis, and Variables
The proposed study is guided by the following questions:
- RQ1: Does the financial stability of the public library increase in the long term when partnerships, joint ventures, and organizational sponsorships are included in the alternative funding package?
- RQ2: Do alternative sources of funding provide long-term financial stability to the public library than traditional sources?
- RQ3: Compared to private libraries, are public libraries structured practically and philosophically to adopt alternative sources of funding?
The proposed study aims to prove or reject the following hypotheses:
- H1: Partnerships, joint ventures, and organizational sponsorships increase the long-term financial stability of the public library;
- H2: Alternative sources of funding have more long-term benefits for the public library than traditional sources, and;
- H3: Private libraries are more structured to adopt alternative sources of funding than public libraries.
Available literature demonstrates that while the independent variable denotes the factor which is measured, manipulated, or chosen by the investigator to determine its relationship to an observed phenomenon of interest, the dependent variable denotes the factor which is observed and assessed to determine the strength or effect of the independent variable (Creswell, 2009). Consequently, in the proposed study, the independent variable is financial stability, while the dependent variables include the mentioned alternative sources of income (partnerships, joint ventures, and organizational sponsorships).
In the proposed study, the researcher aims to provide answers to the key research questions by examining the interrelated concepts as demonstrated in the variable description. Financial stability, which is the independent variable in this study, can be described as the capacity of the institution to provide comprehensive services to users without experiencing shocks, impairments, or likelihood of disruptions arising from financial constraints (Agosto, 2008; Clark and Davis, 2009).
Since the project utilizes a quantitative research methodology with a descriptive design (Creswell, 2009), the researcher will attempt to measure or look for statistical relationships between financial stability and the use of alternative funding sources. It is documented in the literature that alternative sources of funding include foundations, businesses and corporations, professional associations, partnerships, and book funds (Goodman, 2008; Sullivan, 2007), while traditional sources include grants, the federal government, local government, and library associations (Long, 2005). However, the proposed study focuses on partnerships, joint ventures, and organizational sponsorships as the main alternative sources of funding in the process of assessing and testing the independent variable. The public-private library relationships and traditional-alternative sources of funding are important concepts that will be used as moderating factors in measuring the statistical relationships between the independent and dependent variables.
As already mentioned, the study utilizes a quantitative research methodology with a descriptive (survey research) design to examine the statistical relationships, and hence provide answers as to how the Clayton Country library can diversify its funding sources to become more financially sustainable. While it is clear that quantitative methods can utilize several research designs (e.g., descriptive, correlational, and causal-comparative) to collect and analyze data acquired using formal instruments such as questionnaires, this study sets out to use a descriptive design due to its capacity to not only identify the unique characteristics of an observed phenomenon but also examine the situation as it is without shifting or modifying it (Creswell, 2009, Sekaran, 2006).
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