Madeline Barratt, of the London Borough of Enfield Libraries, had some practical comments to share about the value of communities and collaboration. When it comes to libraries joining together in a consortium, the sum of the parts is indeed greater than the whole.
She grew up poor in London and libraries were her lifeline. She says that communities now are struggling as much now as when she grew up in the 60s. London has 362 branch libraries in 32 boroughs, and a budget of £7.5 million. It also exists in a national context. Suffering the severe economic downturn in the UK and under pressure to reduce costs, it was modernize or die. She noted that there’s currently a big public debate on future of libraries – but the discussion often doesn’t even include librarians. Finding a voice and a consensus are key challenges.
To meet the challenges, the London Libraries Consortium was formed and represents 12 public libraries with 3 more waiting to join. It has grown exponentially in 6 years. The consortium is committed to delivering excellence and providing value for money, and most importantly, is starting to flex its muscles in procurement power. She says, “We do this through shared resources in IT, stock management, exploiting shared contract opportunities, staff development, training, and knowledge sharing. The Consortium tries to be business like in shared contracts – to negotiate as much as it can. “It’s important to show we’re at the table in ebook negotiations.”
The customer benefits are fairly major:
- Access to items in a single shared catalog
- Little need for interlending
- Access to 148 pickup and drop off points
- One card to use in any authority
- Easy online access
- Consortium buying power – getting 30-40 % discount on books
- Staff with wider knowledge and skills
The staff benefits are significant as well:
- A resource that is called on more and more
- Development of wider skill sets
- Staff are ambassadors for their own authorities and the consortium
- Lead and participate in a variety of work streams and projects
- Meet and network with staff and managers at all levels
- Negotiation skills improve – see the bigger picture
The challenges—which grow like weeds—include:
- How best to exploit membership
- More savings (25% over next 3 years)
- More efficiencies and shared services
- Does the collaborative model work – especially as it has grown larger? How can we improve it?
Paula J. Hane, News Bureau Chief, ITI