Following on from the last time’s entry, I’m going to look into the results in a bit more detail of my recent work for JISC on library cost and efficiency savings. As mentioned previously I’m presenting the results of a survey and many (if not all) of the opinions expressed are those of the community whom responded, rather than my own. The slides can still be found here.
Resource Saving (Slides 5-6)
It wasn’t a shock that for many people the heart of saving resources was staff. There were fears about cuts, redundancies or non-replacement of vacant posts. Where they hadn’t happened yet people felt they were very much in the wind. There was also talk of looking at structures and staff roles, with one respondent even suggesting employing volunteers or graduate trainees rather than library assistants – not likely to a popular suggestion with anyone working in a library. Elements of process review were tied to staffing savings, with people making suggestions of everything from the most mundane revisions through to delegation wholesale of functions to other parts of the organisation. I personally liked the suggestion from one respondent that we should question everything, ask “Why are we doing this”.
The fact that with changes like this there is a need for staff to consider their roles and be more flexible also came up a lot. That said a few respondent touched on how there needed to be a change in the attitude of staff, as many would be resident to changes that might actually help their service and their job remain viable. Services as a whole were noted as in need of rethinking themselves as well. The use of improved technologies to save costs, from better energy efficiency or especially a reduction in the use of paper photocopying was also mentioned quite a bit.
Obviously when it comes to saving resources the bottom dollar is often in acquisitions or subscriptions, and people in the sample were experiencing this at different levels. Quite a few noted that careful consideration of where to cut subscriptions was needed, so as to impact on services as little as possible. Others noted the need to review all subscriptions, especially standing orders that have continued unnoticed for years. Again an attitude of question everything was visible.
The final major area identified for review was outsourcing functions that are no longer cost efficient to carry out in house. This was the first appearance of a theme that would be replicated in later questions, identifying book acquisition, processing and cataloguing as the perceived most cost inefficient process carried out in house. Reducing this or outsourcing it completely was considered to be a most desirous option.
Time Saving (slides 7-8)
The next question looked at saving time, bringing efficiencies that in themselves would aid in that old adage of doing more with less resource. The highest proportion of people responded that change to processes and procedures were the most frequently encountered option, along with outsourcing some activities. The idea of making labyrinthine and time worn procedures more efficient I’m sure is many a manager’s most heartfelt desire. Following on from that suggestions were made again to either remove the cataloguing staff or buy in more shelf ready books, reducing the need for the same levels of cataloguing and acquisitions staff as are currently employed.
For the library staff as a whole many respondents identified that there was a need for less silos, for people to be able to work across roles and sections, ignoring old demarcations. This flexibility would help fill gaps and ensure that the work of the organisation as a whole was more leanly operated. Naturally though quite a few people noted that not all library staff would be able to handle the stresses of changes to their routine, and that careful management of this kind of change was needed. However, in a era of financial restrictions there is was an identified need to run library staff along more corporate and business like lines – less touchy-feely and more hardnosed and robust.
Allied to this idea of flexibility were quite a few respondents suggesting that static service points, with infrequent customers, was not the best way to deploy what staff there were. The introduction of self service and return was an opportunity to free these staff up for more essentially, and potentially more satisfying, roles. There were also quite a few people saying that time could be saved by migrating as many paper based or hands on services online, given the easy availability of technologies to help facilitate that.
Next post I’ll look at what people considered were the most effective but least disruptive changes they would personally like to make, along with their perceptions of the impact of the traditional approaches.