Friday, July 09, 2010

The Accidental Profession: Career Paths of Academic Library Development Officers

The Accidental Profession: Career Paths of Academic Library Development Officers

Michael Lorenzen

(This paper was presented January 7th, 2011 at the 9th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Education. It is published  in the conference proceedings. It can be cited as:
Lorenzen, M. (2011). The accidental profession: Career paths of academic library development officers. In the Proceedings of the 9th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Education (pp. 4830-4846.) Honolulu, HI: Hawaii International Conference on Education, online at

ABSTRACT. Libraries in higher education are increasingly seeking to expand their fund raising efforts to address declining financial support from their institutions of higher education. Development officers who specialize in raising money for academic libraries have proven to be an important aspect for success in library fund raising. This paper examines how individuals in academic library development positions find themselves in these positions in the first place. The results of a qualitative study are presented which demonstrates that most academic library development officers do not set out to seek their current jobs and instead they arrive in the positions by happenstance and accident. The paper also looks at implications of this finding and offer suggestions for better recruitment and training of academic library development officers.

KEYWORDS library development officers, fund raising, academic libraries, career paths, philanthropy, higher education


Higher education is an important but expensive endeavor. The costs to attend and operate colleges and universities continue to rise at the same time that governmental support for these institutions has waned (Gladieux & King, 1999). Clark and Brandon (2006) argued that the majority of the states (43 of 50) deserved F's in college affordability because they have chosen as a matter of public policy to place much of the financial burden for a college education on families through higher tuition and other expenses thus making degrees less affordable. As a result of the decline in public support and increasing costs, many institutions of higher education are seeking increased private funding. Turning to private money to supplement other sources of income is a reasonable strategy for higher education as state governments cannot be relied upon to fund at the same levels they did in the past. Evidence indicates that there is private funding to be found. According to Summers (2006), "By several measures, well over $100-trillion will exchange hands in the next decades as baby-boomer wealth passes to the next generation" (p. 22). Thus, institutions of higher education in the United States of America are seeking supplementary new sources of revenue from private donors just as one of the largest transfesr of wealth is about to occur between generations.

This need to fund raise has not gone unnoticed by librarians. Clearly, "academic libraries have become active players in the fund-raising game" (Hoffman, Smith, & DiBona, 2002, p. 540). Latour (2003) found that while 96% of academic libraries were involved in fund raising efforts, only 61.3% of them were successful. The literature suggests that raising funds for a library is closely tied to marketing a library. Donors are unlikely to give to a library if they are unaware of it or if they do not think highly of it. Past experience strongly suggests that it is not enough for potential donors to simply “like” libraries. A general knowledge and appreciation of libraries often does not make libraries a high priority for donors. How can donors be made aware that a library is a worthwhile beneficiary of a gift? Part of the problem is simple competition. Weingand (1998) noted, "The library's present and potential customers have increasing numbers of choices and competitors for their time and support. Simple 'goodness' will no longer suffice" (p. 132). In the last two decades, higher education has lost substantial public funding as both state and federal governments have had to struggle with budget deficits (Legon, 2005). This has caused library administrators to look for ways to raise funds to support the library including new approaches such as targeting alumni of distance education programs (Casey & Lorenzen, 2010).

This need for fund raising for the academic library has required that libraries employ development officers. Surprisingly, very little research has been conducted on this group. This paucity of literature relating to library development efforts makes it difficult to know much about library development officers (Wedgeworth, 2000). This study helps fill in a need in learning how academic library development officers enter this career. This should help in the better recruitment and training of academic library development officers in the future.

Library Development Officers

Although the literature calls upon library leaders to personally learn fund raising skills (Browar & Streit, 2003; Dewey 2006), because of the demands upon leaders’ time it is likely that this solution to the problem will not prove particularly successful. An alternative response to the problem of having a lack of fund raising know how is to employ development officers in the library. Development officers in higher education work to raise funds for an institution. Most major academic units in a large university will have their own development officers who work to raise funds for a particular area of campus as well as the larger institution. Several authors (Dewey 2006; Miller 2002; Ruggerio & Zimmerman 2004) have called for academic libraries to hire development officers. Many academic libraries have employed a development officer with experience in fund raising. Other libraries have chosen to train library staff in development skills (Eaton, 1971). There is a belief that it is easier to train library staff in development skills than it is to teach development staff library skills (Welch, 1985).

Some library development officers have been successful in helping to lead academic libraries in productive fund raising endeavors. This includes key development functions such as cultivating donors and encouraging them to give (Greenfield, 1999), collaborating with both internal and external teams (Miller, 2002), working with library staff to identify potential donors (Lerud & Dunn, 2001), and highlighting the success rather than needs of a library (Lowenstein, 2001). Library development officers have also been successful in connecting library fund raising to college athletics. Neal (1997) found, "affiliation with a central academic agency like the campus library can help to restore credibility and to legitimize the heavy investments in sports programs" (p. 59).

A variety of administrative structures exists for library development officers (Martin, 2000). The development officer may report to the library director (decentralized) or to the campus development office (centralized) or may work in some hybrid of these two systems. Martin warned that the centralized approach could be dangerous to libraries. “Development officers tend to focus on the sexier academic programs unless the university administration has made the library a specific high priority - a rather unusual circumstance" (p. 5). Nevertheless, Martin believed that the relationship of a library with the development office on campus was central to its success and that a library not supported by the development office would be hampered in fund raising efforts.

Downes (1984) argued that an organizational approach between centralized and decentralized was best. He believed that a library development officer should report directly to the library director and also be a part of the library administration. However, he also felt the library development officer should have an adjunct appointment in the central campus development office to represent the needs of the library to the larger development unit.

Regardless of the reporting relationship between library development officer and library director, fund raising is still ultimately the responsibility of the library director and the library management team. Mulhare (1991) stated, "It is the library's key leaders who raise funds by working in cooperation with the development officer…Asking for money is only one stage in a far more complex process involving prospect research, cultivation, solicitation, and recognition" (p. 117). The role of the library director remains central in the fund raising process regardless of where the development officer reports in the campus hierarchy. It would seem then that the relationship that a library director has with the library development officer is equally important to the success of the process.

Not all academic libraries can afford to hire a full-time development officer. Some alternatives to this include giving development duties to a public relations officer or hiring an outside consultant to create a development plan and then having library staff implement it (Clark, 1986). Part-time development officers are also an option for libraries (Welch, 1985). Another staffing consideration involves assigning a library development officer a clerical assistant to help keep track of donors (Eaton, 1971). Regardless of how a library staffs a library development office, those libraries which have a larger development unit are more successful than those with fewer staff (Brittingham & Pezzullo, 1990). However, those libraries with larger development staffs also tend to be bigger and have more prestigious reputations which may account for some of the success.


This qualitative study used a phenomenological approach based upon interviews with library development officers from academic institutions. Participants were identified by using the list of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) members. ARL is an association of 123 of the largest research libraries in the United States and Canada. Participants were identified via an e-mail sent to all ARL library development officers in academic libraries asking them to suggest the best development programs within ARL. Out of 123 ARL libraries, 80 were selected to receive the e-mail. The remaining 43 were not included as they were not academic libraries (being special or public libraries) or because it was impossible from their websites to determine who their development officer was at all or even if they had a development office. In addition, several institutions had vacancies in the development position resulting in their exclusion from the study.

A small number of programs frequently selected by ARL library development officers had their library development officer invited to participate in this study. Selected participants were contacted by e-mail with consent forms faxed to them in advance of interview dates. Nine were selected to participate. One individual declined due to a family emergency. Eight agreed to participate and they returned the signed forms via fax. The participants were interviewed over the phone. Conversations were recorded and notes maintained during the interview. Later, the data from the interviews was transcribed into Microsoft Word files. These files were then entered into NVIVO 7, a qualitative research software, for analysis.

Participants were scheduled for one hour interviews. Creswell (1998) noted that after a period of time, participants will begin to repeat themselves. Thus, a small workable number of participants and a reasonable number of questions can still provide meaningful data for analysis.

Purposeful sampling is an overall sampling strategy that can be used in a qualitative study. In it, individuals are selected that provide the information needed to address the purpose of the study (Patton, 1990). LeCompte, Priessle, and Tesch (1993) argued that the overall sampling strategy used in qualitative research was criterion based selection because inclusion criteria to select individuals are developed by the researcher. Purposeful samples study people, organizations, communities, cultures, and events that are information-rich (Johnson & Christensen, 2004). The participants included in this study of academic library development officers were selected from a purposeful sample of information rich individuals who provided the information needed to address the research questions of this study. The researcher was able to determine what experiences these individuals have had as they provided in-depth descriptions of their perceptions of these experiences as is what is important in phenomenological research.

An individual, over the phone, in-depth interview was the main mode of data collection for this study. Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggested that the researcher is the best instrument "because it would be virtually impossible to devise a priori a nonhuman instrument with sufficient adaptability to encompass and adjust to the variety of realities that will be encountered" (p. 39).

Data Collection Procedures

Each participant was called at a mutually agreed upon time. The participants were reminded that participation was voluntary, that there were no adverse consequences for refusing to participate, and that his/her identity would remain confidential. The researcher requested permission to tape record the interview to ensure the participants' responses were accurately recorded for later analysis. A speaker phone was used to better facilitate the recording of the interviews.

A semi-structured interview protocol guided the conversation. It is important to recognize in the interview process not to constrain the participant's responses to a predetermined framework (Lancy, 1993). As such, participants in the study were allowed to stray from guiding questions although they were also asked all questions on the list. Patton (1992) wrote that truly open ended questions allow participants to respond on their own terms as the questions do "not presuppose which dimensions of feeling or thought will be salient for the interviewee" (p. 354). The questions for the interviews were all open ended and allowed the participants to answer in whatever manner they wished.

The study participants were asked a total of eleven questions relating to their perceptions of fund raising for academic libraries. Most of these did not deal with their prior training or their career paths. The responses to those questions are not considered in this paper but can be found in Lorenzen (2009). One relevant question was, “Describe for me your career path on your way to your current position.” Several probes relating to this were, “Have you always worked in higher education?,” “Did you specifically aspire to this position?,” and “What positions did you have that prepared you for this current position?” Participants were also asked what training they had had in the context of defining their roles as library development officers.

In addition to tape recording the interviews, the researcher kept field notes during the interview process. By necessity, this was selective as not everything could be written down. Schwandt (1997) wrote about inscription as "a particular kind of practice whereby data are generated, undertaken in the midst of other activity" (pp. 71-72). The written notes were used to record key points made by the participants in the study and used later to help in the transcription process.

Data Analysis

Data analysis is a process that transforms interview and document data into the interpretation of the findings. The analysis of the data collected began as the researcher recorded insights during the interviews. In addition, key points were marked and summarized immediately after each interview was concluded. An assistant was hired to transcribe the interviews and place the data in Microsoft Word documents. After each transcript was finished, the researcher checked for accuracy by listening to the tapes while reading the transcript (Patton, 2002). Transcripts were sent back to each participant for a member check to make sure that the transcripts were accurate as well.

After the transcription process was completed, the transcripts were uploaded into the NVIVO7 qualitative data program for coding and analysis which also allowed for easy organization and access to the data. On computer-assisted data analysis, Scwandt (1997) wrote:

Software tools are used for recording, storing, indexing, cross-indexing, coding, sorting and so on. They facilitate the management of large volumes of data and enable the analyst to locate, label (categorize or code), cross-reference, and compile various combinations of segments of textual data. (pp. 17-18)

Reading the transcripts, the researcher looked for recurring statements and coded them in the smallest interpretable units that relate to the research questions being studied (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Merriam, 1998; Patton, 2002). As a result, the data were coded in sentences or paragraphs, with some sections being coded multiple times. As the initial themes emerged, they were compared and contrasted in the same interview and across different interviews (Merriam, 1998). This allowed for the process of horizontalization where the data were laid out, clustered in themes, and had irrelevant data removed leaving only the "horizons…of the phenomenon" (Moustakas, 1994, p. 97). A phenomenological reduction of the data was allowed for using the horizontalization method as the researcher was involved in reflecting on the data to understand "how the experience of the phenomenon came to be what it was" (Moustakas, p. 98).

The researcher looked for internal homogeneity to confirm that “the data that belong in a certain category hold together . . . in a meaningful way” (Patton, 2002, p. 465). In addition, the researcher was also was concerned about external heterogeneity to make sure that the “differences among categories . . . were clear” (Patton, 2002, p. 465). The data was also worked with "to affirm the meaningfulness and accuracy of the themes until the interview data were analyzed exhaustedly" (Chen, 2006, p. 62).

The coding and grouping were created by inductive inferences (Schwandt, 1997). Inductive coding is used when codes are developed from the text of interviews rather than in advance. Inductive inference is a process of exploring and identifying themes based on the raw data. Deductive inference involves testing and confirming the appropriateness and inclusiveness of the coding system (Patton, 2002). Deductive inferences were used after the coding was developed from an inductive process. The themes that developed to represent the data allowed for broader conceptual dimensions which then allowed for them to be incorporated into multiple themes. In the end, this allowed the researcher to make some meaningful conclusions.

The researcher sought to enter the contextual world of the participants in the study to better understand the phenomenon of academic library development officers’ perceptions of fund raising. To not allow personal biases to interfere, the coding schema was not developed until after all the interviews had been completed. The researcher read the transcripts and developed a coding schema based on the responses of the study participants.


It became quickly apparent that for the majority of participants in this study that becoming a library development officer was an accidental career decision. While many had training in development, only one participant had any training in library work. For a number of differing reasons, and from a variety of backgrounds, the study participants found themselves raising money for an academic library.

This lack of training was noted even when the preliminary e-mail survey results were examined. Many of the survey takers reported that they were new to library fund raising and were not sure how to successfully fund raise yet. A total of seven of the 25 respondents to the e-mail survey made notes in their responses that they were new to the field. It is probable that many of the ARL library development officers who did not participate in the e-mail survey may have felt the same way prompting them to decline the opportunity to respond.

Of the eight participants who were interviewed, only one had training as a librarian and had worked in libraries before taking up library fund raising. The other study participants had worked as a teacher, a community educator, a buyer for a retail chain, a small business owner, and in development work. Further, participant responses indicated that most of them had not planned to work in fund raising for academic libraries.

As one participant noted:

So no library experience and all fundraising experience. I also got an MBA, so I did an executive MBA while I was at one of my jobs. But I was not at all aspiring honestly. To do it in libraries, it just happened to be that way.

Another participant described in detail how she got into development work in a library:

There are several executive search firms here that focus on non-for-profits, and I was recruited by them to come talk to the library. And to be real honest with you, I didn’t know why these people were calling me. They called several times over several months and I said I wouldn’t know how to raise money for a library. I don’t know anything about a library. I know about the university because I grew up on the south side of the city but I wasn’t really excited. Then I finally said okay I’ll go meet with the university librarian. Then the information he gave me about the library, I got so jazzed within twenty minutes I thought this is something I should probably pursue.

Although many of the study participants had experience in development work, many of them had not. For four of the eight study participants, their job in the library was their first job in fund raising. One participant, when asked if she had planned on working in higher education, retorted “never.” Other participants claimed they had been clueless about fund raising before getting their current position.

As one study participant related:

I said that I was new in town, that I was available part time or temporary and they hired me to be a reference librarian. It was just around the time that the dean of the library, wanted to raise money for the library. So he asked me if I was interested in the position. I didn’t know anything about fund raising, but he really wanted a librarian to do the fund raising for the library. He hired me and I started doing library development there.

Another participant noted:

I had no training in working in a library or raising money. I really learned on the job. I found my colleagues to be invaluable in learning what I needed to do. I also have learned a lot by going to conferences. I just figured this job out as I went.

In addition, not a single participant in this survey had aspired to work in library development. Several participants had goals to work in development and one had been a librarian prior to moving into library development work. Yet, not a single participant had anticipated or sought a job in library development. Working in library development was not a calculated career move but instead an accident of opportunity. One of the study participants even questioned the wisdom of the library when she interviewed for the library development position as she assumed she had no transferable skills.

Finally, even after getting a job in library development, formal training in development work was not always forthcoming. Five of the eight participants who were interviewed had little to no formal training in development work. Several of the participants said their only training was done “on the job.” Even the participant who had worked fifteen years in library development stated he had no formal training and that he learned the job by doing it.

As noted by several authors (Martin, 1998; Winston & Dunkley, 2002), fund raising skills are not taught in library schools. Hence, it is not a surprise that librarians lacked the education and skills needed to successfully perform development work. However, it does seem surprising that many of the study participants lacked experience and education in both development and libraries. If libraries were seeking outsiders to manage the development process for them, why were they hiring individuals for these positions who have no better development background than members of the library staff? At least if a library insider was hired for the job, he would understand libraries. This seems puzzling. However, because the role is constructed with the emphasis on development, rather than libraries, it is probably more critical to have the people skills for relationships and fund raising. These skills likely develop better in a business school than a library.

Despite often not having a library background, the library development officers in the study did see mentoring library staff as part of their role. This was particularly true of the library director. Many of the study participants felt they needed to train library staff in development work if they themselves were going to be successful. The library staff did not appear to have sufficient skills in development of their own.

Two authors (Eaton, 1971; Welch, 1985) wrote articles arguing for the training of library staff in development practices and many of the study participants were actively engaged in it. Several of the study participants noted their role as a team captain for the library staff in fund raising and that library staff were often very good at it. However, it was also noted by participants that some library staff were suspicious of fund raising efforts.

Closely related to a lack of library staff development training was a concern about turnovers among the library staff that library development had to deal with. Many librarians were retiring and some of the participants felt this was starting to hinder their fund raising ability. One participant said, “You know a lot of our key librarians have been in place for 30 years, boards and our big donors have really developed a strong relationship. They really have not groomed any really strong people to follow them It’ll be a stranger coming in and that scares me.” Efforts are going to need to be made to train and educate library staff on fund raising to replace the knowledge being lost by retirements in the library.

The library development officers who participated in this study appeared to be successful in exercising leadership skills and in maintaining good donor relationships. However, the lack of training of themselves and library staff is still evident from their background stories and from their descriptions of many of the realities of their positions. Better training for both library development officers and for library staff could well make both more effective and allow for academic libraries to raise even larger sums of money. However, it may be difficult to identify who is best suited to doing this training.

Implications for Practice

There are several areas where the evidence from this study suggests implications for practice for academic library development officers. One of the stated purposes of this study was to help those working in the library development field find ways to be more successful in fund raising. All of the recommendations in this section are intended to accomplish this goal.

Library development officers would benefit greatly from increased professional development. The participants in this study as a whole had little experience in development work before starting in their current positions. They had even less experience in libraries. Professional development or training in both areas would help. It is a question to who should provide this training. While learning on the job is inevitable, this learning would probably be smoother if new library development officers were given frequent and early exposure to professional development training in development practices. Further, as knowledge of many principles of library science (especially collection development) are important for success, library development officers should be given more exposure to the relevant aspects of running a library as soon as they start in their positions. In addition, professional development training in both areas should continue throughout the career of the library development officer to keep individuals in these positions up-to-date on new trends in both fields.

Further, potential library directors looking to go into these positions in higher education should be carefully vetted for a knowledge of and interest in fund raising. If this is important to an institution, it should be a major criterion for evaluating candidates for library director positions. Library development officers need an interested and knowledgeable fund raiser in the library director’s position to be successful long term. Library director candidates lacking substantial knowledge in this area, but who are otherwise qualified, should only be hired if they are willing to commit to professional development training in development work early in their tenure at an institution.

Also, library staff need better training in development practices as well. These individuals are the front line when donors visit a library and their knowledge is often key in getting donors committed to a project. Yet, they often lack even basic knowledge of good development practices. Not all library staff should be targeted for this. It makes no sense to train most catalogers or circulation clerks for example. However, librarians engaged in management or collection development should be trained in the basics on how to deal with and cultivate a potential donor who comes unexpectedly through the door. They should also be comfortable long-term in helping the library development officer to close deals if it impacts areas they work with directly.

One possible training solution would be to provide future librarians a course on fund raising in library school. If this became a mandated part of the curriculum for graduate schools of library and information science, eventually all library directors and a large number of library staff members would have exposure and basic training in fund raising skills. The American Library Association (ALA) is the accrediting body for library and information science programs in the United State and Canada. If ALA became convinced that this form of education was necessary, this could become a valuable part of the education of new librarians.


Libraries in higher education are increasingly seeking to expand their fund raising efforts to address declining financial support from their institutions of higher education. This will not be changing any time in the foreseeable future. The need for development officers who specialize in raising money for academic libraries will continue. The results of a qualitative study demonstrate that most academic library development officers do not set out to seek their current jobs and instead they arrive in the positions by happenstance and accident. This should be a cause for concern for those in library administration. Why are we not better preparing those in the fields of librarianship or fund raising to work in development work for academic libraries? In addition, since it is clear that most library staff (in addition to academic library development officers) are also lacking needed fund raising skills, remedial instruction in these areas should be implemented when it is possible in order to allow for increased fund raising success.


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