Directors-Disruption and Tradition

This is the third in a series of posts looking into some survey work in a bit more detail that I did 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. Part 1 and Part 2 of this series can be found online, as indeed can the slides themselves.

Effective but not Disruptive (Slides 7-8)

By now I was hopeful that my respondents had got out of their system everything they had experienced or were currently witnessing in terms of savings. What I was hoping to tease out next was a little trickier, in that I wanted them to suggest one thing they would implement themselves to bring about savings, but that would be mindful of disruptions to staff and service levels. Many respondents didn’t limit themselves to one suggestion, but that wasn’t a problem. What I did find interesting was that there were a real range of good ideas.

The first ones that caught my eye was the fact that staff talent is often overlooked or underused. Libraries are used to pigeonholing people within their roles – you work in Document Supply therefore why would you know anything about subscription models? Many felt this was a real failure of senior management to not only take advantage of broader skills in their workforce, but to even be aware of where these skills may lie. Most library staff have many strings to their bow learned through not just work, but hobbies, clubs and external interests. An awareness or skills and experience audit could turn up valuable, but unrecognised abilities that could help the service develop and thrive. There was also a feeling that libraries have not embraced the potential for savings through flexi working and home working. Allowing library staff to make more efficient use of their own and work time can potentially deliver in spades in terms of motivation and feelings of job satisfaction; which would be returned in kind with an enhanced work ethic.

Allied to this was the feeling that many libraries are top heavy with managers whom are perceived to offer little real value to the services. Along with levels of in-house bureaucracy it could be seen that these two areas could be looked at as a way to enhance staff morale and hence working efficiency levels. It wasn’t just the most senior staff whom should be looked at, others felt that roles and grades could be a barrier to getting the job done – staff with many years of experience being able to deliver the services.

Next up was process reviews once more, and again most respondents were keen to point out that all processes should be ripe for review. There were some that suggested that closing inefficient branch libraries or non-core services that didn’t provide sufficient ROI, impact or value to patrons was a key area. Consolidation it seems is an area that would garner some supporters. This led onto looking at subscriptions and again many advocated reviewing these stringently cutting back on those where usage did not justify subscription; the use of metrics as much as the loudest academic voice winning out.

There were some beautiful left-field suggestions, simply stop giving away free pens, use of staplers, paper etc to users; make them bring or indeed buy their own. A small but notable reduction in the library stationary budget would likely be the result, and if sales were a viability even a mild profit perhaps. Finally many respondents suggested making better use of available technologies – although it wasn’t quite clear if there was any single area of technology that could be better employed.

Impact of the Traditional Approaches(slides 9-10)

The final question that I asked in the survey was the impact of traditional approaches – that is cutting staff, services or acquisitions and how disruptive they were on services. Reducing opening hours and non-professional front-of-house staffing levels were thought to be on aggregate highly disruptive. On the other hand reducing back office staff, professional librarians and stock levels were thought to be only moderately disruptive. Moving to more e-based resources was thought to be only slightly disruptive by many, and offers perhaps a good area to consider for savings. Finally outsourcing activities like acquisitions or technical work wasn’t thought to be disruptive at all, so potentially again an area for serious consideration.

Next post I’ll wrap up with the notable final thoughts and comments that people made as part of the survey, over and above the questions asked.

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