Activity-Based Costing (ABC) and Time-Driven Activity-Based Costing (TDABC): Applicable Methods for University Libraries?

Kate-Riin Kont, Signe Jantson


Objective – This article provides an overview of how university libraries research and adapt new cost accounting models, such as “activity-based costing” (ABC) and “time-driven activity-based costing” (TDABC), focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of both methods to determine which of these two is suitable for application in university libraries.

Methods – This paper reviews and summarizes the literature on cost accounting and costing practices of university libraries. A brief overview of the history of cost accounting, costing, and time and motion studies in libraries is also provided. The ABC and the TDABC method, designed as a revised and easier version of the ABC by Kaplan and Anderson (Kaplan & Anderson 2004) at the beginning of the 21st century, as well as the adoption and adaptation of these methods by university libraries are described, and their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their suitability for university libraries, are analyzed.

Results – Cost accounting and costing studies in libraries have a long history, the first of these dating back to 1877. The development of cost accounting and time and motion studies can be seen as a natural evolution of techniques which were created to solve management problems. The ABC method is the best-known management accounting innovation of the last 20 years, and is already widely used in university libraries around the world. However, setting up an ABC system can be very costly, and the system needs to be regularly updated, which further increases its costs. The TDABC system can not only be implemented more quickly (and thus more cheaply), but also can be updated more easily than the traditional ABC, which makes the TDABC the more suitable method for university libraries.

Conclusion – Both methods are suitable for university libraries. However, the ABC method can only be implemented in collaboration with an accounting department. The TDABC method can be tested and implemented by separate departments, and thus can contribute to the provision of better and more effective library services at lower costs. However, the involvement of experts in costing and accounting is recommended.


cost accounting; costs; libraries

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