Last week, there was a discussion on our RAILS Community Directors Forum about system finances. The discussion went something like this: Members are wondering why both RAILS and IHLS need to keep so much money in reserve. Systems merged to cut down on operating costs. If our budget is at the same level it was when there were nine systems, now that there are only two multi-type systems, shouldn’t our operating costs be much less? Why can’t RAILS spend some of that money on more programs and services for members rather than just continuing to build up our reserve?
These questions are so important, I wanted to share my response with all of you.
System funding was cut substantially in 2011. (This was on top of having survived over 19 years of flat funding.) At that time, there was concern that system services, especially delivery, might have to shut down completely. While the merger helped us achieve great economies of scale, the Illinois State Library, RAILS, and IHLS also wanted to ensure that our members would never again be faced with losing those services that were considered “core” for systems to provide. In addition to delivery, support for LLSAPs (shared online catalogs) and Talking Book Services have also been identified by members throughout the state as the “most important.”
In addition to cuts, RAILS is funded by a grant from the state of Illinois, and we continue to experience significant delays in the receipt of this funding which also impacts the level of service we can provide. Over the past two years, less than have of our grant payments have been received within the fiscal year they were awarded. There is no sign of this situation improving, and in July 2012, the RAILS Board adopted the goal of maintaining at least a one-year operating reserve to withstand future funding delays and, once again, to ensure that RAILS could continue to provide the core services.
Our expenditures through this past January were $.4 million under budget, which is very good news. As we continue to build our reserve, I am hopeful that over the next couple of years, RAILS can add additional services. As I travel throughout our area meeting with members, I am hearing how desperately you want and need the services systems used to provide, especially continuing education, consulting and group purchases. You also want new services related to support for digitization projects. I am sure that our Strategic Plan will elicit even more ideas and excitement for additional system services and I want this dialogue to continue.
Please feel free to reply to this post as well. What services would you like to see the system provide in 2013 and 2014?