How Much Does it Cost to Build a Library?
If you love books, then odds are you have toyed with the idea of running your own library. After all, you love books and want to help others enjoy the wonderful world of literature, right? The reality is, that getting a library off the ground is an involved and expensive process. Between property costs, inventory, and labor, running a library takes a significant amount of money. (Cymbalta)
Overall, if you want to construct an entirely new library building, you are looking at closer to $7 million to $10 million. When you are leasing space, the average is around $500,000.
This cost is split between the cost of building space, inventory, and operating costs. Annual operating costs for a library are between $200,000 and $300,000 per year.
There are several things that go into starting a library. So we put together this comprehensive guide on the costs to build a library. We will cover building costs, inventory costs, and operational costs (e.g., salaries, permits, etc.).
Cost to Build a Library
Unlike many other kinds of organizations, there is not really a set amount to run a library per year. This is because libraries differ heavily in terms of their size, inventory selection, and sources of funding.
Generally speaking, most libraries in the US rely on federal, state, or local funding to cover costs. Many individuals also make private donations for library upkeep.
You can divide the overall cost of a library into three categories
These costs can vary significantly depending on the size and location of your library. We will cover each section on its own and give a total figure for library costs.
Most likely, the most expensive part of starting a library will be the cost to acquire space. You basically have two options here: either lease existing space or construct new space.
Unless you are part of a government project to build a large public library, then you will want to lease space instead of building new space.
If you want to lease a building for a library, then you need to consider the total size of the space. The average community library is around 50,000 square feet, not including exterior space on the property for parking and other amenities. For a 50,000 square foot space, you will most likely pay around $150,000 per year at a cost of around $3 per square foot. Keep in mind that for a large lease like for a library, you will probably have to provide a significant downpayment.
If you have a larger budget and want to build a space, then you can expect to pay a lot. According to RSMeans Data, the average cost per square foot for a library building in 2015 was around $160 per square foot.
Assuming that the price has increased in the past 6 years, the average cost is probably closer to $180 to $200 per square foot.
So for a 50,000 square foot library, construction costs could come out to anywhere between $7 million and $10 million. Libraries cost a lot because they are large and require a lot of planning, design, and land development.
The largest libraries in the country cost over $50 million to build over decades. If you are working on a library construction project, you almost certainly will be working with government funding.
The next major cost is your inventory. After all, what kind of library would you be if you don’t have any books to loan?
There is no minimum floor on the number of books in the library. Some small public libraries open with around 10,000 books on display, while larger universities and academic libraries can have several tens and hundreds of thousands of documents.
Keep in mind that modern libraries don’t just deal with print books anymore either—modern libraries also offer digital media, CDs, DVDs, and even video games.
The size of your inventory depends on the size of the community you want to serve. A good rule of thumb is that a functional library has anywhere between 5-10 books per person the library is expected to serve.
So for example, if you plan to serve a community of 2,000 people, then you’ll probably need anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 books to comfortably manage.
The average cost for a book is about $8 for paperback and $17 for hardcover. Assuming that you have a 50/50 split between hardcover and paperback books, you can expect to spend $120,000-$250,000 for inventory alone.
That figure is for a small library too. Larger libraries can easily spend millions on their media and print materials.
These costs are just averages, and actual book costs may vary. Certain rare volumes or books that are out of print may cost more to acquire. If you plan to offer music and other licensed media, then you may have to pay extra for a permit.
Another option to secure books is leasing. Leasing offers a rotating selection of books and can be a viable alternative to build your catalog. The average cost for library leasing programs in the US start at just over $5,000 per every 300 books.
Another option is to ask for book donations. Many libraries work with bookstores and publishers to get donated copies of new and old books.
Building a library is not a one-and-done kind of thing. It takes a lot of money to keep a library running on day-to-day operations. Operating costs include utilities for the building, wages for employees, and other costs for miscellaneous things such as insurance and media licenses.
The average annual salary for a librarian is around $65,000, though salaries range between $34,000-$90,000+, depending on the location and facility.
Most libraries employ between 5 to 15 full-time librarians. Libraries also rely heavily on volunteer work to handle various tasks. Utilities can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 per year.
Various other fees include licensing fees for media, insurance costs, and additional equipment costs, such as internet, computers, projectors, scanners, and printers.
Depending on the kind of technology your library uses, this can cost up to $100,000 as a one-time purchase. You will also have to include the cost of any licenses for software on library computers.
Factors that Affect the Cost to Build a Library
The most obvious factor affecting cost is the size of the building. The typical small library for a community under 10,000 is around 12,000 square feet.
A medium-sized library for a population between 40,000-100,000 is on average 30,000-50,000 square feet. Larger libraries in metropolitan areas can exceed 70,000 square feet and larger.
The cost of books is a large investment for libraries. Small libraries can have as little as 10,000 books while a medium library would have between 30,000-50,000 volumes.
Libraries have two options for books: they can buy them or lease them. Leasing provides access to a rotating selection of books, periodicals, and volumes for a fixed fee and may be a viable alternative to purchasing books.
Modern libraries have more than just books. They also have research equipment such as computers, printers, scanners, copiers, projectors, and more. Equipment is a large upfront cost for libraries.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to build a library?
The costs to build a library can vary heavily based on several factors. You can expect to pay an absolute minimum of $500,000 when leasing space.
However, it will cost approximately $7 to $10 million to construct a new library building. These cost include inventory and miscellaneous costs for equipment, licenses, and insurance.
Can anyone build a library?
Yes, anyone can build a library. You do not need any special qualifications, just a bit of determination and a love of books. If you want to learn more about how to get started with the process, the American Library Association has several online resources and how-to guides.
How big is the average library?
The average library for a city of between 50,000 and 100,000 people has about 30,000 to 50,000 volumes and is about 30,000 to 50,000 square feet.
Larger libraries for big populations can hold hundreds of thousands of books and measure over 70,000 square feet. Alternatively, small community libraries may carry only 10,000 titles and measure under 10,000 square feet.
How can I get funding to build a library?
Most libraries use public funding or funding from private donations. Generally speaking, states receive funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the state.
There are also several grants and funding opportunities for new library construction through organizations such as the AASL and the PLA.
How do libraries make money?
Most libraries do not make money, except for a small amount through book sales and membership fees. The vast majority of funding for libraries comes from public sources and private charitable donations.
Building a library is a huge investment and they usually do not make money, which are two major reasons library funding is most often left to public institutions with tax funding. The high costs make it difficult for an individual venture unless you have a large source of private funding.
Many libraries solicit donations from private investors, so if you are looking for funds, you can start at philanthropic organizations and others that offer grants and donations for libraries and books.