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The 21st Century Library: Efficiency Agendas and New Service Models

by Simon Parkes, Civica

In the Internet age, with its explosive growth in information sources and ever more individualised learning requirements, library professionals are finding that meeting users’ expectations and performance targets has never been as complicated. For managers, making the necessary next stage investments in library management is proving equally tough. Should libraries streamline processes locally, align themselves with other departments, or think in terms of regional consortia? How can they realistically manage programme risk and ongoing performance expectations?

''…library professionals are finding that meeting users’ expectations and performance targets has never been as complicated''

Despite increasing visitor numbers, the UK’s public libraries are tied to strict service agreements. The government’s recent spending review and performance targets are likely to impose further tough expenditure and operational limits. Unsurprisingly, the library profession’s organising bodies and individuals alike continue to keep their options open, examining the case for further investment in very efficient, flexible and low risk library management tools or models. These potential innovations reach beyond advanced library management systems. They envisage shared resource models through partnering and consortia. For example the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham recently decided to join a consortium of public libraries in the South East (SELMS) that had already selected the Spydus Library management system from Civica. Joining the consortium not only simplified the process and reduced the costs of the procurement but will also deliver savings of over £800,000. This will be accompanied by significant service improvements . While consortia developments have sometimes compromised separate libraries’ individuality, Spydus implementations help libraries to retain operational identity. Moreover, local authorities facing performance targets can maintain individual service agreements within central management frameworks. Unhindered by the need to compromise on local flexibility and accountability, the powerful business case for consortium working will surely win over many more public libraries to this approach in the next few years.

''Joining the consortium not only simplified the process and reduced the costs of the procurement but will also deliver savings of over £800,000''

The library system is increasingly being viewed as a platform that integrates with administrative and service development technologies such as RFID and integration with contact centres. This latter integration with the wider local authority is key if libraries are to raise their profile within the local authority and play a role in meeting their council’s strategic goals. Civica supplies 89% of the UK’s local authorities and our systems are behind local government transactions with 25 million citizens and businesses. Being better integrated and therefore engaged with other council services enables libraries to play a larger role in the delivery of a wider range of council services through its trusted physical and virtual presence. This not only improves services to the public but also places the public library at the heart of the council.

Our wide international experience gives a further example of how library services could develop in the UK. Civica is involved in a five-year programme in Singapore where a nationally managed libraries service for over 330 schools and colleges is provided. The full service combines managed libraries automation systems, centralised collection services and library administration. The first and second phases cover almost 200 schools, all using Spydus Library Management Application as a ‘managed service’ with library automation systems hosted and managed by Civica as well as the new Civica Collection Services. These provide the schools with book selections, acquisition, cataloguing and processing, and the team has also provided Civica Manpower Services with the recruitment and placement of library staff for most of the schools. This ambitious programme went live ahead of schedule and set a template for modern library working and a model that can be applied elsewhere.

'''The library system is increasingly being viewed as a platform''

At Civica we are optimistic about the future of public libraries. Our innovative approach to technologies and position with local authorities not only enables major efficiencies but also imaginative new services for the public.