August 14, 2006
A view from the library
Here is Miriam's comment on reading the Price Waterhouse Cooper report, with which I completely agree.
"The problem I have with this report (other than the fact that it is so horrible to read) is that it seems to address the concept of libraries in a very abstract way. I am not opposed in principal to the idea of regional ordering and distribution centres but this model doesn’t seem to have been thought through on a logical scale.
Yes it would be great if libraries could get a huge discount on books, if our management systems could communicate and if processing and cataloguing were uniform but changing these things all at once would take up a huge amount of time and resources which would impact upon basic services.
A discrepancy between old and new stock can’t just be handled by shelving them differently (most of us don’t have unlimited space). If we change the way that stock is catalogued it is necessary to recatalogue all of the existing stock. This is possible but it would take a lot of time and effort. Just because new technologies are currently available does not mean that we should automatically subscribe to them, if 10% of authorities currently use Radio Frequency Identification technology then the stock of 90% of library authorities do not contain RFID tags, are all of these books supposed to be written off?
Maybe I am just very stupid but I can’t seem to grasp the concept of the eMarketplace as described here. I understand that local consortiums negotiate a deal with an individual supplier so that they are effectively buying in bulk and therefore receive a discount. As I understand it the eMarketplace procures books from various suppliers and purchases titles from them on an individual basis. I freely admit that I know next to nothing about procurement software but this all seems very complicated. Is it currently feasible?
Supplier selection is a relatively simple process compared to what is described here. The stock analysis software described would have to perform some quite intricate analysis in order to assess all of the factors mentioned on a regional scale. Existing automated supplier selection processes do not offer the level of sophistication that is hinted at here and I know from personal experience that the statistical evidence generated by library management systems can sometimes be very misleading unless looked at in context. LMS (nice use of use of annoying TLAs and obfuscation throughout the report by the way) sometimes barely communicate between different branches let alone between different authorities.
I can’t imagine any sensible stock manager allocating the suggested percentage of stock funds to an outside agency. If all stock funds (except for the 5% on local interest books) are allocated to a regional hub then what is left for maintenance and display purposes? Not all books purchased are newly published; we also replace lost or damaged stock and fill stock gaps. Fiction books are often published in series; would this proposed software not only order new books from a series held in a particular library (something that our supplier selection system can’t do at the moment) but also decide that some of our existing stock should be replaced? If I withdraw a popular book because it has been returned with half the pages missing will it be flagged in the regional hub or do we just have to wait until someone requests it? What do we do when 10 copies of the latest best-seller which have been on order for months don’t show up if we have nothing set aside to pop down to our local bookstore?
As you say a much better idea would have been to examine the problems from the bottom up, as it seems as though the writers of this report have little idea of how a public library actually works on a day-to-day level. There seem to be an awful lot of things here that could go horribly wrong and a great risk of making things worse rather than better."
Posted by Perkins at August 14, 2006 8:38 PM
Speakling with my publisher`s hat on now. A few weeks ago the Buying Manager of a prominent library supplier rang me. He wanted to make himself known and he wanted to ask what the discount would be if he ordered 50 copies of a book we publish. I told him. He said if he ordered 100 could I improve on it. I said yes. He therefore ordered 100. He said he already had a lot of library orders and was sure the 100 would disappear. We did our business efficiently and in a friendly way - he tried to get a further 5% discount and was refused. He was not surprised but it was his job to try and obtain it.
Now how long did it take ? One phone call, 10 minutes max. Presumably a library goes direct to him to see if he can supply the title and he came to me, the publisher, I imagine he prepares the book for the library ? Or do the books go to someone else to be bound and labelled etc ?
Still, it seemed a perfectly straightforward way of doing things and he got a very good discount. So why is it all made to seem so complicated ?
Perhaps Miriam knows. Perhaps Tim does. I don`t. It does seem to be a case of making something which could be simple, very very very complicated indeed.
Posted by: susan hill at August 14, 2006 10:01 PM