I had a minor awakening the other day as I was getting ready for my upcoming Thanksgiving program. I was so proud as I was able prepare a craft without any additional costs. I caught myself saying it was going to be a "free" program. Ouch. That was a mistake! Of course there was a cost. I spent time digging through the closet and tracking down "stuff" I could recycle as well as cutting turkey heads and assembling the craft so it would be manageable for a large group of people. Some of that was my time and some was personal time.
(I didn't "clock in" for cutting turkey heads in front of the tv) Even coming up with the whole turkey craft out of a paper bag took some time to figure out.
Too often when we are calculating a cost of a program it is easy to forget time for staff. Often budgets for programming are calculated on any outside costs. However when we talk about programming and budgets we should also be including internal costs when presenting "budgets" or talking money. Did extra staff have to come help with a summer reading program? That is a cost. No, you didn't write a check to an outside vendor, but costs were incurred. Salary or hourly costs are implied regardless. Figure an hourly wage (and round up!) and input this into planning for programming. Programs don't book or plan themselves. Heck, someone has to cut a check or fill out paperwork.
This concerns me as a concept particularly with youth librarians. Often I have heard storytime doesn't cost anything. Again, this is untrue and misleading to our public, managers and board members. (Remember, I don't like the word "free" anyway) Even a very experienced librarian still needs some time to plan even the most basic of storytimes. For many years, I foolishly thought that someone simply walked in and read a story. Even if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of youth literature AND you know your audience well, you cannot simply walk into a storytime and simply "read a story". (I have seen some excellent children's librarians over the years come close to that ideal and I have decided they just make it "look" easy because they are that good.)
We do the profession a disservice when we undervalue our cost or value as professionals. I think we should start with our language and how we talk about costs. When talking about costs of storytimes, summer reading, and any other programming we need to talk about in house cost vs. outside cost. It is not free. Use word like internal cost and external (paid vendors) cost to your language. Generally for any business venture staffing and employees are the largest line item. In service oriented businesses, that is obvious. Too often people get hung up on the book budgets and other "things" and forget that really what libraries are selling is service. Employees are a cost and an important value in library service. Remember to talk about value and costs in a manner that communicates this idea.