The intent of this study was to investigate how CCLS could adopt a financial diversification strategy to enhance its financial stability. To achieve this goal, the researcher strived to provide a thorough understanding of the unique structural, legal, and operational dynamics associated with adopting a financial diversification strategy in CCLS and explore what would support or, conversely, hinder this strategy. Based on this line of reasoning, this study strived to paint a clear picture of the unique administrative, legal, and operational dynamics associated with public libraries by investigating the financial problems of CCLS. The researcher used a case study research design to gather the views of current and former library directors of the library. This research also includes the views of library branch managers and grant writers who understood the financial practices of the public library. In total, I interviewed 18 respondents.
The paper had four research questions. They included an investigation of the financial challenges of CCLS (RQ1), an exploration of how the library’s financial challenges affected the library (RQ2), an interrogation of the possible strategies that CCLS could use to diversify its sources (RQ3), and, lastly, an investigation of the legal considerations that the library would consider when doing so (RQ4). The researcher used a qualitative research approach to address the research questions. This approach allowed for the exploration of the research phenomenon in-depth and enhanced the researcher’s role in highlighting the nuances of the research questions – structural, legal, and operational issues relating to the adoption of a financial diversification strategy. Furthermore, it accommodated the case study design, which gave room to explore the financial practices of CCLS through dual data collection techniques – interviews and document reviews.
This study includes the modern portfolio theory as the theoretical framework for the study. To analyze the data, the researcher used the content analysis method for the document review process and the coding technique for analyzing the qualitative data. This latter method allowed for the categorization of data into relevant themes for answering the research questions. Likewise, the content analysis method helped in categorizing and summarizing the results for the document review. In essence, themes from the interviews were useful in organizing materials gleaned in the document reviews. This method was applicable at two levels: The first level provided a descriptive account of the information obtained; the second level, or the latent level of analysis, helped in interpreting the findings gained from implied meanings in the responses, and from the inferences made.
Chapter 4 contained findings from the interviews and document review analyses. The interviews revealed that tax issues were the most common financial challenge of Clayton County Library System. They also showed that they affected CCLS by limiting the institution’s ability to finance ongoing library programs and pay its workers well. Consequently, CCLS suffers from operational/managerial problems, such as a high employee turnover rate, from this problem. Chapter 4 also showed that some of the financial problems affecting CCLS stemmed from the legal restrictions imposed on the library’s operational guidelines. These problems prevented the library from seeking alternative sources of income. The chapter also showed that seeking profitable partnerships with partners could be a first step to diversifying the institution’s financial pool. Lastly, the document review process showed that CCLS has attempted to diversify its sources beyond its traditional income channels by seeking grants and donations from FOL and other partners. In this fifth chapter, we synthesize, integrate and evaluate these findings
Interpretation of the findings
Financial Challenges of CCLS (RQ1)
The first research question was exploratory in nature, in the sense that it sought to find out the financial challenges of CCLS. Tax issues emerged as a key finding in this analysis. Relative to this finding, the paper found that the loss of tax base, because of high residential vacancy rates, loss of industry, and the difficulty of attracting new industries to the county was the primary cause of financial problems at CCLS. The difficulty in attracting and retaining quality personnel, and the relatively poor performance of the library sector, viz-a-viz other county departments, were other reasons that contributed to the financial challenges of CCLS. Comprehensively, the diminishing tax base in Clayton County emerged as the main financial challenge plaguing the library (Clayton County Public Library System, 2014). The literature review section of this paper highlighted the above-mentioned financial challenges of CCLS, albeit differently, and in a larger national context. Chapter 2 also emphasized the role of the resource dependence theory in understanding the importance of financial diversification in public libraries. The fundamental concept of this theory lies in the ability of organizations to acquire and maintain resources for financial posterity (Francis & Kim, 2013).
The scarcity and uncertainty associated with national resources make it difficult for public libraries, such as Clayton County Library, to achieve their objectives, according the resource-based view. Therefore, resources are inadequate and unstable. This concept requires public libraries to interact with resource owners (Francis & Kim, 2013). They may include corporations, charitable organizations, and even individuals. In this regard, public libraries are not completely autonomous entities. Stated differently, they do not pursue desired ends at their discretion. Instead, environmental limitations constrain their operations because of their resource needs (Francis & Kim, 2013). Adopting new concepts of the modern portfolio theory would help in complementing the activities of these public libraries because their autonomy depends on resource availability (Cuillier & Stoffle, 2012).
Stated differently, public libraries that do not have adequate access to organizational resources are often highly dependent on the resource owners, thereby making them vulnerable to third-party interests (Francis & Kim, 2013). So far, Clayton County Library has mostly depended on state resources for its survival. This dependence has made it vulnerable to the government. Thus, resource management has become a critical aspect of the library’s organizational practices. Referring to this fact, Winston (2013) says, “Complying with the demands of important resource providers, avoiding controlling demands via co-optation or acquisition of countervailing power, and avoiding dependence by maintaining alternative sources of key inputs are the major approaches to dependence management” (p. 16). Comprehensively, the findings of this paper support the assertion of other researchers who we analyzed their works in the literature review section. They also affirm the principles of the modern portfolio theory, which is the conceptual framework of this study because they set the stage for the pursuit of alternative sources of funding.
How CCLS’s Financial Challenges Affect the Library (RQ2)
The second research question sought to investigate how CCLS’s financial challenges affected its operations. This study revealed that inadequate funding undermined community involvement in library activities — library operations mostly depend on the success of community involvement. Other consequences were the inability to pay workers, materials and supplies, and repair buildings. The findings also revealed the difficulty of sustaining library operations in the face of CCLS’s financial challenges. Comprehensively, these issues show that the library’s financial challenges affected its decision-making processes. These findings are similar to the evidence gathered in the literature review section of this paper because, in chapter two, we found that public libraries are unable to finance their daily operations because of financial challenges. Indeed, the literature review section of this paper showed that many public libraries in America, today, experience such financial challenges because governments are often under increased pressure to finance the operations of other institutions as well (Albertini, 2013; Bakar & Putri, 2013).
This trend stems from the increased scope of public funding (for state and federal governments) that has expanded since the 1960s (American Library Association, 2014). The financial problems affecting CCLS also exemplified the views of some of the authors we highlighted in the literature review section because the latter highlighted different cases of library closures that stemmed from inadequate funding (Blume-Kohout, Kumar, & Sood, 2014). The modern portfolio theory has largely controlled the language of the discussions in this analysis. Moreover, it has set the stage for the obvious conclusion that seeking alternative sources of funding (besides public funds) is the best strategy for improving the financial stability of public libraries. The modern portfolio theory supports this idea by proposing that investing in alternative sources of income is inherently superior to relying on traditional sources of funds to finance the activities of public libraries (Cottrell, 2012). Since this paper outlines the practical views of working public library managers, it is incorrect to assume that the arguments presented in this paper are only theoretical or academic. Instead, it is important to appreciate how the key tenets of the modern portfolio theory affect the financial decisions of public libraries and other financial officers, such as wealth managers, investment firms, and financial planners (Cottrell, 2012). Therefore, most profit-making and nonprofit financial institutions use the ideas of the modern portfolio theory to make financial decisions (Francis & Kim, 2013). This approach contrasts traditional approaches of money management, which focus on asset allocation (Cottrell, 2012).
Possible Strategies That CCLS Could Use To Diversify Its Sources (RQ3)
The third research question sought to understand how CCLS could diversify its funding sources. Collaborating with other organizations emerged as the common diversification strategy for CCLS. Using the FOL to raise funds to undertake library operations also emerged as another strategy for diversifying the CCLS’s funding sources. Establishing an active non-profit foundation for the library was another way of diversifying the library’s financial scope. The document review process also showed that CCLS engaged in financial diversification strategies, such as seeking grants and donor support from the FOL. These findings affirm some of the views that other researchers presented in the literature review process (American Library Association, 2013).
However, some of the financial alternatives highlighted in chapter two of this paper, such as undertaking entrepreneurial projects outside the library field, mergers, and privatizations are problematic alternatives for Clayton County Library because they would cause legal ambiguity regarding the treatment of revenue obtained from adopting these financial options (Collins, 2012). Nonetheless, proposals to seek alternative sources of funding for CCLS affirm some of the views of the modern portfolio theory because this framework emphasizes the importance of having alternative sources of funding for sustaining library operations. However, the investment section of this theory is problematic because not all investments could work for CCLS, or any other public library bound by the same order and policies of operation.
Legal Considerations the Library Would Have To Consider When Adopting a Financial Diversification Strategy (RQ4)
The last research question sought to find out the legal considerations of CCLS if it adopts a financial diversification strategy. The study revealed that most library administrators were legally constrained from undertaking independent programs because they had to seek approval from the library directors. For example, chapter four showed how respondents said their superiors would reverse the decisions of branch managers because of budgetary issues. Therefore, the legal constraints on CCLS’s operations make it difficult for branch managers to make extra money for their libraries using alternative income-generating methods. The ability of parks and recreational departments to get revenue from alternative income sources and the inability of CCLS to do so also emerged as a form of double standard in the generation of income for public institutions. The literature review section revealed how researchers often highlighted legal constraints as restrictions on the financial practices of different organizations (Coffman, 2013).
For example, Koliba, Meek, and Zia (2013) said Section 501 of the American constitution requires tax-exempt institutions to demonstrate proper organizational and structural exclusively for charitable or public welfare purposes. The law also stipulates that tax-exempt organizations should give some of their money to charitable organizations. More importantly, Section 501 outlines that any organization, which does not undertake its activities, in line with its basic function, should pay income tax (Basri, Yusof, & Zin, 2012). This provision means that if Clayton County Library engages in profit-making ventures, outside its purview of library services, it is bound to pay income taxes. This is why Koliba et al. (2013) say that if an institution provides shelter to the homeless, but engages in a business of selling motor vehicles, the revenue obtained from such “side businesses” may be subject to income taxes.
This same complexity characterizes public libraries when they engage in income-generating activities that do not fit within their primary goal (providing library services). The same challenge exists for sales and property taxes because non-profit entities are not required to pay these taxes. Engaging in activities that are beyond their scope of operations, however, makes them eligible to pay taxes. As seen in chapter two, many researchers agree that existing legal statutes constrain the potential to adopt financial diversification practices in public libraries. Most of them also pointed out that taxation is the most notable concern in financial diversification because the law exempts most public libraries from taxation, based on the nature of their social welfare activities (Düren, 2013).
This fact helps us to understand why many respondents were pessimistic about the adoption of a financial diversification strategy in CCLS. The views of the respondents highlight the findings of chapter two, which show that state agencies and institutions (such as the Clayton County Public Library) often enjoy legal protections that profit-making entities do not (Coffman, 2013). For example, Helmig, Spraul and Tremp (2012) highlighted general liability issues as legal impediments to the adoption of financial diversification practices in American public libraries. They also stated that, in line with the doctrine of sovereign immunity, it is impossible to sue the state and its agencies (including public libraries) without their consent (Helmig et al., 2012). Therefore, Clayton County Library enjoys sovereign immunity, unless there is a specific legal exception that states otherwise (Clayton County Public Library System, 2014). Different states have unique subsets of the law, which exempt public institutions from prosecution. For example, the state of Georgia has a waiver through the Tort Claims Act, which states,
“The state waives its sovereign immunity for the torts of state officers and employees while acting within the scope of their official duties or employment. They shall be liable for such torts in the same way as a person or entity would be liable under similar circumstances; provided, however, that the state’s sovereign immunity waivers, subject to all exceptions and limitations in this article” (Helmig et al., 2012, p. 66).
Therefore, the Tort Claims Act allows people to sue state officers, based on the actions they commit when undertaking their duties. However, this legal provision does not apply to all states (Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2013). Therefore, public libraries that are outside the jurisdiction of Georgia are subject to unique sets of laws (Mapulanga, 2012). Nationally, sovereign immunity laws protect such institutions (Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2013). Besides outlining a framework that governs liability issues, Georgian laws affect the management structures of public libraries and, by extension, how well they could adopt financial diversification. For example, the law says Boards of Trustees must manage public libraries in Georgia (Clayton County Public Library System, 2014). The Boards outline the selection process for these groups of people and state the length of their tenure (Clayton County Public Library System, 2014). The law also outlines specific duties and responsibilities of these library staff. Concerning the financial practices of these institutions, existing legal statutes prohibit board members from taking revenues that come from library activities, unless they are reimbursing themselves for activities they undertook while performing their duties (Klentzin, 2012).
Similarly, in another issue that affects the financial operations of public libraries in Georgia, the law states that such institutions would only receive state funding if they meet for a minimum of four times in a year (Klentzin, 2012). Furthermore, the law states that these meetings should include public participation. Issues concerning tax exemptions and tax return compilations are also likely to emerge here. This view is in line with the goals of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that outlines tax code exemptions for public libraries and other non-profit organizations (Koliba et al., 2013). A crucial requirement for these non-profit organizations to receive the privilege of non-payment of income tax is the failure to pursue commercial and monetary profits (Koliba et al., 2013). These views highlight the importance of understanding the effects of legal restrictions, management attitudes, and organizational practices when implementing the financial diversification strategy at CCLS.
The legal challenges outlined above stem from the fact that financial diversification is a new concept in the financial management practices of nonprofit entities. Indeed, many researchers have investigated its application within the scope of the lucrative profit-making sector, but neglected its application in social welfare organizations (Elbert, Fuegi, & Lipeikaite, 2012). This is why there has been little focus about its application in public libraries. However, based on the financial challenges that affect public libraries today, researchers are now concerned about its application in nonprofit organizations (Coffman, 2013). Clayton County Library provided a perfect example of an institution that experiences the financial challenges of a poorly performing global economy.
Limitations of the Study
This paper relied on the opinions of 18 respondents to come up with the research findings. It was difficult to establish the trustworthiness of the participants because there was no way to verify the authenticity of their views. This is a common problem in many qualitative research studies. The major assumption in this regard was that the respondents were giving their honest opinions. Matteson, Musser, and Allen (2015) reaffirm this concern because he says that, unlike studies that focus on naturalistic sciences, qualitative research findings often have validity and reliability issues. Four issues emerged as main concerns for the limitations posed by the trustworthiness of the findings – credibility, transferability, dependability, and “confirmability.” Credibility issues concern the truthfulness of the responses given by the research participants. Transferability poses an issue with the use of the research findings in different research contexts. The dependability issue refers to the ability of the researcher to replicate the findings and derive the same results. Lastly, the issue of “confirmability” appeals to the concept of neutrality where the findings of the study should ideally be free of researcher bias. Instead, the respondents’ views should shape it. Comprehensively, trustworthiness was a limitation of this study because it could have affected the four issues described above (dependability, “confirmability,” transferability, and credibility).
Based on the issues discussed in this paper, it is unclear how existing legal provisions would accommodate a new mandate for public libraries to generate money through alternative means (besides public funding). Future studies should investigate this fact. However, based on the concerns highlighted by the respondents and the attempt by CCLS to seek alternative sources of revenue, a complete shift of public library policies should occur if public libraries want to adopt a financial diversification strategy. If this is not the case, there should be, at least, a careful attempt to make sure that new revenue-generating activities do not contradict existing laws (Humphery-Jenner, 2013).
Because trustworthiness was a limitation in this study, future research should use other data collection techniques to find out whether the findings would remain the same. Researchers should also investigate whether the same findings would suffice in other libraries outside Georgia. Such an analysis would help us to understand the transferability of the research findings. For example, investigating financial diversification in other libraries could help us understand the impact of different legal frameworks that exist in other states on the research issue. Furthermore, since the interviews findings outlined in this study have shown the perspective of public libraries towards alternative sources of funding by explaining its limitations and policy positions towards finding alternative sources of funding, future research should also explain the perspective of alternative funders towards funding public libraries.
This way, we can understand their attitudes towards public libraries and the considerations they would voice if they wanted to fund public libraries in the first place. This way, we can have a comprehensive perspective of financial diversification in the public library sector. Stated differently, the interview findings outlined in this research only explain one side of financial diversification in public libraries – the library’s view. Investigations of the views and considerations of donors and independent financial institutions towards funding public libraries as an alternative source of funding would provide the other view of financial diversification in the American public library sector. The importance of undertaking such a research study stems from the fact that private corporations often incorporate their governance practices to public service organizations that do not subscribe to their philosophies (Kostagiolas, Papadaki, Kanlis, & Papavlasopoulos, 2013). This consideration emerges as a key function of this research because this study has emphasized the need to seek collaborative ventures and partnerships with other stakeholders when diversifying funding in the library sector.
In an unrelated sphere of analysis, although the document review and the interview findings highlighted key issues to consider when adopting financial diversification in the Clayton County library, scholars need to do more research to understand the impact of legal diversity across different states in the US and explain their effects on the adoption of financial diversification in public libraries. Such a study would reveal legal inconsistencies that appear across different states. It would be possible to have a broader understanding of the implications of adopting a financial diversification strategy across other states and public libraries if we use such findings (besides Georgia and Clayton County Library) (Woodby, Williams, Wittich, & Burgio, 2012).
Lastly, concerning the study design, it would also be prudent for future researchers to use random sampling to understand the views of a wider scope of library directors about the research questions. This analysis would further expand our insight regarding imprecision because a study with more participants and an unbiased research sample would be more valid and reliable. Public organizations and policy makers in the public library financing sector should pay attention to the findings of the proposed areas of research because these stakeholders bear the greatest responsibility in ensuring that public libraries continue to provide their services to the community. Indeed, from the potential findings that they would get, they would understand the considerations for adopting alternative financial sources in the public library sector.
Implications for Social Change
As highlighted in the first chapter of this paper, the findings of this paper could add to the growing body of literature surrounding financial diversification in the public service sector. It would provide a point of reference for future researchers to explore this topic and understand its application in the library sector (Aharony, 2012). The findings of this study would also be helpful in improving community welfare (regarding its educational growth) by helping policymakers to inch closer towards finding sustainable sources of funding in the public library sector. Stated differently, the proposed study could advance scientific knowledge regarding how public libraries could sustain their usefulness by improving their financial positions through financial diversification.
Positive Social Change
Ultimately, the social change implications of the study is to provide useful information and data to policy makers, library administrators, and other stakeholders who are seeking ways to sustain public library funding. This would be a pragmatic solution to the financial challenges affecting public libraries in America because the stakeholders identified above have the tools for effecting social change in this sector. By sorting out these issues, public libraries would be in a better place to continue providing their social services. Furthermore, future researchers would know what to consider when recommending new financial strategies for improving financial stability of public libraries. While policymakers have debated this topic in local workshops, it has not yet moved into formal publications, and hence this research study will represent a way in which the topic would move into formal publication, and could contribute to scientific knowledge.
Reflections of the Researcher
I conducted this study based on the convenience of gathering information from an institution I was familiar with. Although this strategy made it easier for the researcher to gather information, and reduce the time taken to conduct the study or the resources associated with it, it is not the best way to collect information in such a study because researcher bias could easily affect the credibility and reliability of the findings. In other words, the findings given by the respondents could have been subject to my relationship with them.
In this paper, the researcher set out to investigate if a financial diversification strategy would enhance the financial stability of Clayton County Library. Similarly, the researcher sought to understand how operational challenges and legal issues would affect the adoption of this strategy. Using a qualitative research approach, the interview findings affirmed that that tax issues were the most common financial challenge of Clayton County Library System. This statement answers the first research question. To answer the second research issue, the interview findings also revealed that tax issues affect CCLS because it limits the institution’s ability to finance ongoing programs and pay its workers well. Consequently, the library suffers from operational/managerial problems, such as a high employee turnover rate. Some of these problems stem from the legal restrictions imposed on the library’s operational guidelines that prevent it from seeking alternative sources of income. Legal issues emerged as the main concern, in the interview findings, when answering the fourth research question.
Stated differently, public libraries today operate within a constrained legal framework that defines the scope of activities they could engage in and the associated forbidden actions as well. Since Clayton County Library is a social welfare organization that ascribes to the principles of public service management, adopting a financial diversification strategy, without altering existing legislations would amount to a contravention of existing legal frameworks that guide public service management. This is an illegal act. Based on existing legal statutes, it is difficult for public libraries to engage in commercial activities that are beyond the scope outlined by the present legal framework. However, the respondents agreed that seeking profitable partnerships with other partners could be a first step to diversifying the institution’s financial pool. This statement answers the third research question. Alternatively, the document review process showed that CCLS has attempted to diversify its sources beyond its traditional sources.
Nonetheless, the interview findings also showed that goal ambiguity is another hurdle that complicates the adoption of a financial diversification strategy at Clayton County Library. Particularly, this paper draws our attention to the differing goals surrounding the management of social welfare services and the management of public services. While one goal focuses on promoting the “public good,” the other focuses on promoting shareholder interests. Financial diversification options highlighted in this dissertation have this ambiguity. Based on these factors, this paper proposes that Clayton County Library adopt financial diversification strategies that do not cause legal, or structural, conflicts. Comprehensively, advocating for more allocation of financial resources to public libraries could alleviate the financial challenges that public libraries, such the Clayton County Library, experience. The first step of this process is helping people to understand the value of public libraries. By doing so, they will create a strong grass-root pressure that would prompt policymakers to understand the importance of public libraries in the society. Consequently, the policymakers would allocate more funds to these institutions. Collectively, adopting alternative financing strategies that do not draw a lot of public attention regarding the legal or operational complexities of financial diversification are the best alternatives for improving the financial sustainability of public libraries.
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