Real Cost of Short Term Thinking

return on investment
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Anyone who has worked with me for more than a few minutes has heard my rants on costs and ROI (Return on Investment). Everything I purchase or do for my library has me spinning into mini ROI calculations. Sample obsessive calculations:

-Program cost over number of participants (Watch my blood pressure if I have to attempt to divide by zero!)

-Item cost + Cost of processing + Cost of selection time over number of circulations.

-Number of circs I can squeeze before a board book is completely disgusting.

-Item cost vs how much work it is to order said item (I am defining work in this context to the following: bad website, poor invoicing detail, annoying sales/customer service, etc.)

I think most people will agree with this type of thinking even if they don’t embrace it to the fullest OCD level possible.

However, there is another side to this tale of ROI that we often ignore. The bean counting mentality is essential in running any entity but the danger is when this mentality over steps into the mission of the organization. One of my middle manager cohorts, not in the library business, has seen this first hand. The frightening nature of a business downturn usually drives the accounting people into a frenzy of cutting “waste”. In times of crisis, there is a “let’s pull together and work extra hard” mentality that is usually good for business. It forces us to re-evaluate, prioritize, revisit our mission. All excellent management objectives for any institution, including libraries.

Yet for all this cost cutting my manager friend has noticed a disturbing trend. As business started slowly recovering, there was still a call for “do more with less”. Projects that were not critical were tossed to the back burner, employee training and professional development was still on hold. Staff vacancies were not back filled. Simple requests for minimal resources were met with delays and calls for mountains of paperwork to justify. Staff morale was on the decline and key personnel were considering job changes for greener pastures.Yes, the short term ROI was being met, but long-term damage was on the horizon for this company.  This kind of loss won’t always appear so readily in an balance sheet or revenue statement.

Libraries can take a lesson from the idea of ROI, but like all business entities, looking only at the short run is damaging to a library’s mission and ultimate success as an institution. As in all things in life and libraries, balance is the key. Although I will preach the gospel of ROI to librarians for cost containment, analyzing trends and being objective in your decisions, you cannot forget our larger mission and the art involved in a library’s success.



Originally published at on 6/5/2012


One comment

Comments are closed.