This article first appeared in the April/May edition of Government News.
A technology rollout that lets borrowers tap
into multiple facilities with one device is proving a big hit in terms of convenience and cost savings writes Sue McKerracher Executive Director .
In May 2014, the Northern Territory will go live with its one library card for all public library users in the territory, following on from the example set by South Australia, which launched its one library card project in 2012.
It sounds so obvious from a user perspective – I become a member of my local library and I can use the same library card wherever I am in the state or territory – but behind this simple statement lies a complex web of operational issues and a rarely achieved degree of cross-council and cross-government cooperation.
Let’s take the South Australian example. In the first instance, this required the State Government and the State’s 68 councils to sign off on sharing the costs of a multi-million dollar investment in one library management system, which would then be adopted by all 135 libraries across South Australia.
This investment in the tight fiscal environment of the 2010-2011 State budget was no small sum, however it was supported by a cast iron business case and some “selling” of the benefits to both councils and their library users to ensure 100 per cent take up of the system.
Then there was the issue of which library management system. While initial scoping had been carried out earlier, as part of the construction of the business case, the project proper commenced in May 2011, with a detailed tender process and acceptance testing resulting in Sirsi Dynix being chosen as the system provider in early 2012.
As only one council was using the system chosen , this meant 67 councils committed to investing in a brand new IT solution for their libraries. The four year roll out plan allowed time for the changeover, but as anyone who has run an IT project will know, there are all kinds of difficulties with making such a fundamental switch – from extracting your organisation from the contractual arrangements with your original supplier, through implementation, to overcoming the cultural issues of people who may be naturally resistant to change. Sirsi Dynix is an American company, but the consortium has chosen to have the software hosted in Australia.
Centralised helpdesk support is provided by South Australian Libraries Board staff, with further support provided by Sirsi Dynix if required. It is testament to the ‘rightness’ of the One Card library network, that the roll out is 18 months ahead of schedule.
Of course, there have been some operational glitches, but the strength of the combined will of all the stakeholders to see the project succeed, has overcome these, and the project has proceeded at full speed. By October 2014, all 135 South Australian libraries, including 42 joint use libraries (shared services for schools and communities) will be connected through a single software platform. The co-funded project has been led by staff of the Libraries Board of South Australia on behalf of all South Australian councils.
“The system provides immediate and ongoing benefits for all councils and their libraries, as well as delivering significant service benefits for all library customers,” says Geoff Strempel, Associate Director of Public Library Services South Australia.
For councils who already had a modern Library Management System, they have been upgraded to a ‘state of the art’ system. And as a result of purchasing the software in a ‘Whole-of-State’ consortium, the purchase price was lower than any one of the councils could have achieved by themselves. Likewise, annual maintenance costs are significantly below industry standard rates, delivering ongoing benefits to councils over the life of the 7+3 year contract.
“For some councils accessing this system has leapt them forward 20 years in terms of technology and customer accessibility, providing each council with its own branded website and 24/7 access to online library services,” Mr Strempel says.
“The State’s one million library customers now have seamless access to the four million items in libraries across the State. They can reserve items from any library and have them delivered to their local library at no cost. Likewise, they can borrow from and return items to any library, with a courier service delivering the items back to the owning library.”
Other states are watching these developments in South Australia with keen interest. The improvements in one of local government’s already most valued council service, and the cost savings achieved, make One Card an attractive option.
The ACT has always had One Card, in that its nine libraries are all part of the same service. The Northern Territory will be rolling out a unified service across its 16 shires and municipalities from May this year. In its Tomorrow’s Library review of Victorian public libraries, conducted by the State Government’s Ministerial Advisory Council on public libraries, one of the seven stated considerations is ‘procurement practices and opportunities for standardisation of operations, including borderless libraries and inter-library operations’ ie a One Card system.
One of the factors that make this sharing of information, experiences and opportunities possible is that, although they are local government- and state or territory Government-funded, Australian public libraries operate with a high degree of cross-border cooperation. Hosted by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), state-based public library associations and territory libraries meet every two months to talk about the rapidly-changing environment for public libraries.
ALIA Executive Director Sue McKerracher comments, “This forum enables senior library leaders to discuss what’s happening nationally and internationally. Items on the agenda currently include national standards and guidelines for public libraries, to help guide government investment; the growth in ebooks and elending; and the role of public libraries in early literacy.
“We are also concerned to support councils in jurisdictions where state or territory governments are significantly reducing their contribution to public library expenditure, leaving local government to pick up the bill,” Ms McKerracher says.
“Cooperation on this scale helps libraries achieve things which simply wouldn’t be possible if each state and territory had to operate independently and develop initiatives from scratch. South Australia’s pioneering approach with the One Card system will help libraries in other states and territories achieve similar benefits, without having to reinvent the wheel.”
Facts about Australian public libraries (2011-2012)
Australia’s public libraries provide quality information services that support lifelong learning to the Australian community, significantly impacting on the cultural and information industry.
- 1,505 public library service points with 1,429 fixed point libraries and 76 mobile libraries
- One public library service point for every 15,000 people
- More than one third of all public libraries are open more than 45 hours per week
- More than 7 out of 10 public libraries are open for more than 30 hours each week
- Almost 181 million items were lent to 10 million members of Australia’s public libraries.
- Over 110 million customer visits annually, or more than 9 million per month
- More than 40 million items (1.8 items per person) were made available for the use of the community and over $123 million was spent on ensuring that these collections remain up to date and relevant (more than half the collections are less than 5 years old)
- Total expenditure on public libraries has increased from $815 million in 2007-2008 to over $1.01 billion in 2011-2012, representing a 24% increase.
- Expressed on a per capita basis, funding for public libraries has increased by 17% over the same period to $44.55. [ends]