You Can Not Do More With Less – Less for Libraries Means Less For Our Communities and They Deserve More

Blue Impact

Doing more with less is a bad joke on people who have made a living making something from nothing. Two years ago George Needham was a speaker at my library’s staff day. I’m not sure these were his exact words, but it is pretty close and you get the idea. It stuck with me.

Libraries and librarians need to stop saying we can do more with less. We can’t. We can do less with less.

Our communities are continually demanding more from us – more formats for content, more space for things like games, meetings and creating both digital and physical things. These are all great things, things libraries should be doing.

At the same time libraries are also getting less – less financial support, less public opinion support, less consideration, less support and partnership from big publishers and producers, and chosen less often to partner with other organizations and businesses.

There are many ways to address these issues but one of the most important ones is stop saying we can do more with less. Because we can’t. We can do less with less. And until we are honest with ourselves and others we are going to keep getting less. Despite our “smile and make the best of it” attitude the hard truth is that less for us means less for our communities and they deserve more.

14 thoughts on “You Can Not Do More With Less – Less for Libraries Means Less For Our Communities and They Deserve More

  1. Really interesting post. I think the thing is, it’s in our nature to want to do more with less. I think it ties into an apprehension on our parts to want (or need?) to continually justify our roles and our existence. I think this is especially true in the UK, where libraries are being forced to close their doors, or be staffed by volunteers.

    I wonder do we think that if we do less with less, this will mean that we devalue our worth in the eyes of others? I wonder are we in crisis/reaction mode?

    I wonder what the repercussions would be (if any) if we did hold our hands up and say; “actually, we can’t do all this. We can only do this limited amount exceptionally well”?


    1. Alan I would argue that doing less with less will increase our worth. If we keep accepting less and attempting to do more, it just proves that we don’t need (or deserve) what we’re getting and makes us vulnerable to further cuts.


    2. I think you’ve identified one of the reasons behind the “more with less” mantra Alan. If a community is willing to discuss staffing a library with volunteers (or closing it entirely, or outsourcing to a private company, or…) library staff may fear they’ll lose their jobs unless they somehow do even more to show their value to the community.

      (In some communities this fear may be unfounded, as they continue to support their libraries… but if people look at other communities where these things ARE happening… it may make them fall into that mindset.)

      {I’d make an argument that while we can’t do more with less, we sometimes can do different with less… if only we’re willing/able to give up on some services/processes that have become ingrained over the years. Depending on what the “different” is, and what gets dropped, there may be some people who perceive this as “more”, even though others are getting less.}


    3. I think that it’s in our nature to *get the best value* and not to do more with less. These things are often considered to be the same thing when, in fact, they’re not.


      1. Henry,
        I wrote this post after reading something that did mean do more with less, not get the best value. That said you’re right as Nina is that often we don’t really mean do more with less. But I also think that means we need to chose our words more carefully. Saying we can do more with less is inaccurate at best and may lead others to believe we can in fact do more with less which may lead to, well, less.


      2. Great point Henry. We must be careful which one we are talking about. And I think maybe more importantly, consider our words carefully when talk with others outside the profession. If we use “more with less” when we mean maximize value others may well think we can actually get buy with less and don’t need more.


  2. Great points, Bobbi. I think what hurts us re: the “more with less” mantra is that while there have been a great many ways we can achieve, and have achieved, new efficiencies in day-to-day library work, if you cut us to the bone…we can’t do anything. “More with less” became sort of a catch phrase for streamlining work, but there’s a difference between adjusting workflow models and optimizing staff time and tasks and gutting the budget to the point where we’re not able to keep the doors open and feed ourselves, too.


    1. Exactly Nina. I think there is some confusion/line blurring between being more efficient and actually doing more with less. Our first reaction when our budgets are cut shouldn’t be how can we do more with less. Of course we should look at efficiency (and hopefully it doesn’t take a budget cut for this to happen) but we need to be honest with ourselves and our communities and our supports, we can not do more will less no one can.


  3. Hi Bobbi,

    I’m having trouble with the ‘more with less’ phrase.

    I agree with the sentiment that focusing on the core services(whatever a library defines as such) will make libraries more powerful than trying every passing fad.

    But do I think a staff of 100 who are ‘just there’ will out do a staff of 5 who are passionate and involved. Absolutely not. That is doing more with less(less bodies more passion).

    So if my library could replace 2 blah staff members with 1 more passionate staff member, then that would be a net win.

    Bodies and Money can be found, it’s passion that is lacking. I feel like in my community the passionate are disjointed at best. I often feel like the only one excited about the library(or atleast the only one showing it)

    Less money and less bodies are solvable problems. Less passion is a killer.



    1. I’m gonna go with yes and no on this one. You’re right a passionate team is worth more than an dispassionate one. It’s the numbers you’re using that are a bit much for me. 5 people can’t physically staff a library all the hours it needs to be open. Sometimes we just need bodies, would I prefer that all those bodies be passionate – absolutely. Would I prefer that bodies do much more that just staff a desk – absolutely. But we all sometimes just needs more bodies to be in more places. You also need to be worried about burn out. Passion requires down time. It requires time off a public service desk, it requires days off and vacations.

      Would I take 5 passionate people over 8 dispassionate people? Most likely, but I might also make the argument that this isn’t doing more with less, it’s doing more with more – more passionate, more dedication and more commitment. 🙂


  4. Taken to an extreme, more with less becomes doing everything with nothing. Unlike a for-profit business more business for a library doesn’t translate to more revenue. A frequent reality is that sometimes there is less revenue and we have to face and temporarily accept that circumstance. It doesn’t mean our services are less valued. It can be opportunity to examine and prioritize services and associated costs. Perhaps maintaining or even increasing the quality of selected services and a contingency to add back others when able is a good plan to accept and publicize.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s