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A Better Library Service Costs Less: Shared Services in London Libraries-- the London Libraries Consortium

By Ann Rennie
27 October 2007

Imagine nearly two and a half million people living in ten different local authorities all with access to what is effectively a single library service. With just one library card they have an entitlement to around 5 million items all recorded and instantly discoverable in a single shared catalogue. They can request material from any library and when they have finished return the book to whichever branch is most convenient. No wonder customer satisfaction is rising. Welcome to the London Libraries Consortium.

The benefits of such a ‘shared service’ to citizens are clear. Better access to more resources and requests are met more quickly. The fact that the participating local authorities are also making significant cashable savings is the icing on the cake. The lead authority, Havering has already made savings in the region of £100,000 and expects similar saving this year (2006/07). Much is being re-invested in improvements to front line services. Issues have gone up 9% for the last two years. Stock procurement is now much more efficient and, in Havering, the cost of adding books to stock has fallen over eightfold.

How has this been achieved? London Libraries Consortium (LLC) was originally set up as a stock purchasing consortium of six partner boroughs that all had the shared aim to reduce the costs of stock procurement. Working together meant sharing the costs of tendering and the higher volume of orders and standardised servicing meant stock suppliers could provide higher discounts.

The consortium saw that costs could be further reduced costs by reviewing how the stock was processed through their Library Management Systems (LMS). A shared LMS would mean a more streamlined process for getting books on the shelf and would provide more choice for customers. There were also substantial savings to be made by sharing hardware and software and by having the vendor host and manage the system by, for example, sending out borrower notices by post email or SMS and providing core management information.

In 2003 LLC invited vendors to tender for a new LMS. The shared LMS began as a partnership of just two London boroughs but there were plans to expand to six. The contract was won by DS Ltd and in 2004 Havering and Redbridge went live with the new system. A key to the continued success of the project has been the way the consortium has been set up. Havering is the lead borough and has a ‘Framework Agreement’ with DS. The partners have a consortium agreement with Havering. For potential partners this considerably lowers the barriers to participation by streamlining and reducing the costs of the procurement process. Consequently new library authority partners can be up and running with their new system much faster. The original two boroughs have been joined by five more and issues currently run at around thirteen million a year with a joint spend on books of around £5,000,000. By the end of 2007 there will be ten participating boroughs across London. Discussion are under-way with a further three boroughs

The consortium is managed by Board that takes the strategic lead. An Operations Team and several specialist teams deal with the operational issues. An important initial success factor for the DS Galaxy system was its good consortium capabilities and flexibility in accommodating all sorts of local requirements. This was important in enabling the partners to operate with their local policies. However as experience is gained and confidence grows in the consortium the benefits and efficiencies of standardisation become more apparent and new partners join on this basis.

There are further benefits and savings to be achieved. New library authorities widen and deepen the service to the benefit of all users. The consortium is looking a sharing its reserve stock to avoid unnecessary duplication and plans to implement better customer service through RFID based self service. There are still more saving to be gained in stock procurement with wider adoption of EDI process such as EDI invoices and more complete integration with the various council finance system.

In summary the LLC has demonstrated that library authorities can work successfully together to deliver better services to customers at the same time as reducing costs.