Efficiencies: Other

Bookfund reductionAlthough it is possible to cut expenditure by bulk buying by groups of councils, a common and easy way to reduce expenditure is to simply reduce the number of books bought. Pros – no staff lost, guaranteed “saving”.  Appeals for bookfund donations (see below) may partially offset impact. Cons – the obvious one is less new books equals less use and thus an introduction to the vicious spiral of decline.  Once lost, bookfund is often never recovered again.

Closure for a week.  A forced unpaid holiday for library staff (example – Seattle, USA)- a week will save 1-2% off annual salary costs.  Pro – a library closed for a week will reopen, closure can be at least-used time.  Christmas week is by far the quietest week for public libraries (“the Christmas lull”) and closures then would have the least impact on users. Con – represents a pay cut for staff making employment less attractive, presents a temporary closure meaning many users adversely affected.

Cutting salaries.  A commonly heard argument, especially in the Mail, is for council workers to have reduced pay.  Pro – Senior management are often on high pay, sometimes even getting £400,000 even when sacked. Con – Senior management may earn large amounts but library staff do not count as senior management. Most library workers are on lower clerical grades at below average annual wage.  Pay is variable but, as a general rule of thumb, library assistants get paid at most £15,000 p.a. and represent the majority of staff. A large proportion are part-time.  Librarians earn at most £22,000 with at least one professional qualification.  Library branch managers £27,000 to £32,000 with responsibility for often millions of pounds worth of building and stock.

Donations of booksCuts in the bookfund can be partially rectified by accepting donations of books by the public.  Personal experience shows that these are often popular fiction books, in both paperback and hardback, in excellent condition.  Nottinghamshire has cut its book budget by 36% over two years but has had 80,000 books donated to it from Feb to Nov 2011Sheffield Libraries have gone one step further by asking the public to donate books specifically for selling to other users (with the money going to the Library) if they are not suitable for library stock. However, donations can never largely replace the bookfund – donated books are either very popular (supermarket-sold mass titles) or idiosyncratic non-fiction (ex-student textbooks, religious, etc).

EfficienciesOne of the common arguments if that local government is inherently wasteful and so cuts need not hurt the front-line if such waste is identified.  While some savings may exist (examples seen include reducing glossy council “newspapers”, mobile phone contracts, water coolers – see below – or chauffeurs/cars for mayors), to save a significant amount of money may be difficult, as this article makes clear.  A related argument is that councils should chase up tax avoiders (in London, non-payment is calculated at up to 4%).

Email notifications.  Libraries send thousands of notifications each day, about late books or reservations coming in.  These have a significant cost if posted.  The alternative is to email (or text) notifications which can be don, effectively, for free.  Itis also faster than posting.  Con – Some people do not have mobile phones or email addresses (although it is quite possible to retain a postal option for them). Resources: Library Elf is an American company that will assist in this (for a fee).

Energy efficiency.  There’s a lot of light being expensively generated in libraries and in other council buildings.  Councils could “invest to save” by changing tubes for LEDs (one secondary school can save £20k per year with them).  There are also a lot of roofs on council buildings and libraries – ideal for solar panels.  Oh, and turn that computer monitor off too.

“Floating” stock / “Dynamic Stock”.  The (probably) current situation – Individual items (books, CDs, DVDs, etc) tend to be “owned” by a particular branch within an authority.  When this item is borrowed and returned at another branch, a internal courier system (often a van) is used to then take it back to its home branch. The same thing is done for book reservations.  An alternative approach would be to do away with this entirely and let items stay at the library they end up in.  Pro – reduced staff time in sorting out “away” items and in transporting them back to their “home”.  It also means the stock spends longer available for the user, as it is not spending any time on a transit shelf or in a van.  The approach can save up to a third of transport costs. Con – the worry is that some branches reserve more than others, meaning the stock would eventually be biased towards these libraries.

“Suffolk has had dynamic (aka floating) stock for ten years. We wouldn’t be without it.  It was introduced when we removed the reservations fees for Suffolk library books which led to an upsurge in books moving around. Rather than saving money, it mitigated any additional costs for us.” Alison Wheeler, General Manager, Suffolk Libraries, July 2014

Get rid of Dewey.  Dewey decimal classification are the numbers on the spines of books ensuring each book is in its rightful place on the shelves.  However, this can be overcomplicated (941.0654 anyone?) and take time in cataloguing (unless numbers are downloaded from a non-local database) and in labelling.  Some of the more radical libraries have now done away with dewey altogether.  The reason for this is that dewey numbers are great for the specialist academic but unnecessary (and confusing) for the browsers who make up the great majority of library users.  Also, many public libraries simply don’t have the stock in sufficient numbers to make Dewey necessary.  Whether this saves a lot of money is questionable but, in an era where every penny counts, Dewey may be a luxury that can be done without.

Open Source software. The software that libraries run for their catalogue, circulation and back-office functions in the UK (‘Library Management System’ in the UK, ‘Integrated Library System’ in the US) is mostly still proprietary software  (that is, whose entire programming is copyrighted by a private company) while e.g. in New Zealand and the US Open Source (i.e. collaboratively written) alternatives have become mainstream over the last decade. The LMS tends to be a significant expense in a library’s budget (in the tens of thousands of pounds per year – perhaps £50k for a 20 branch system, perhaps £70k – due to economies of scale – for a 40 branch system) so it makes sense to investigate the savings potential of OSS packages such as Koha (for a small number of libraries.  The first UK council to adopt it was Halton.) or Evergreen (for a larger number, popular in the USA.  The Western Isles is the first, to my knowledge, British authority to adopt it). OSS packages also allow a library to change the code, e.g. to accommodate special requirements, or to fit in with established workflows. Although Open Source applications can simply be downloaded, most libraries will want to buy in commercial support or even hosting from vendors such as the Library Co-op or PTFS-Europe and Unlimited Priorities(USA). See this article on the development of Koha.

Opening hours.  Cutting opening hours will save money, mainly in terms of staffing and secondarily (and less significantly) in terms of heating/lighting.  Also, by cutting library hours rather than closing libraries,it is possible to spread the cuts more equally around an entire authority rather than penalising one or more particular community.  It also means that all buildings remain in existence for when/if more money becomes available for libraries. Campaigners in Camden and Dorset have advocated this strategy. Hertfordshire County Council cut its library opening hours by a third, with very little public protest, doing the same thing. However, reducing opening hours can clearly be part of a slippery slope – less hours open equals less usage equals more chance more libraries will be closed next time. See fears expressed in this Northern Ireland article.

The suggestion has been made by Hertfordshire that groups can apply to use a library for free, in those times when it is closed,  on condition that they allow customers to use the branch at the same time.  Pro – “Free” opening hours extension, usage of otherwise vacant council building.  Con – Various Health & Safety worries, doubts over whether groups would be willing to hold meetings etc when anyone walk in, need for group to have one of their own as “security” when meeting,  worry that (if successful) such an experiment would mean library opening hours could not be extended again.

Promotional. While not directly cost-cutting, boosting the usage of libraries will have a direct impact on cost per visit due to the comparatively static costs of staffing, building, heating, books etc.  Successful application can turn a library around. Promotional ideas include:

Friends Groups: An essential for any library that is serious about the importance of customer views, Friends can also play a vital role in running events, fundraising and advocacy. Children: Class visits (and especially school assemblies) are the cheapest form of direct face-to-face promotional work possible in terms of staff needed per guaranteed number of potential users. Summer Reading Challenge and other events.  Some libraries, especially in the USA, have summer classes run by volunteers.

Digital.  This is wide and varied. Creating an email newsletter for informing of events etc.  Please note that this may cause problems for large-scale authorities as email sites may view it as spamming. Recommended newsletter sites are “http://www.verticalresponse.com/ http://www.ymlp.com/,http://www.newsweaver.com/,http://www.taylorfitch.com/,http://www.taylorfitch.com/, andwww.constantantcontact.com” (from Lis-pub-libs thread, 29/3/12). Facebook page/Twitter account/Iphone app/Wifi installation.  Questionable if this can be successfully charged for but good to have in order to encourage “non-users”.

Solar panels - Libraries have roofs, solar panels save and even make money, solar panels go on the roof: simple.  Worcestershire have recently put panels on their Tamworth Library.

Use shops, not purpose built buildings.  A purpose-built library, especially if new, costs more than moving into an off-the-peg retail unit, especially like now when so many are vacant.  Hull have had success with this idea and aim to use more retail units.

Stop big projects.  Some authorities (e.g. Brent, Dorset, Calderdale) are closing smaller libraries but building/upgrading the largest ones.  Many of these projects (e.g. Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester) had multi-million pound new/upgraded central libraries on the cards before 2010 and thus before the large council cuts.  Others (e.g. Brent) are starting big projects as a deliberate policy of concentrating what resources they have in largest do-everything hi-tech centres as a response to the cuts.

  • Stopping these flagship projects would often free up resources urgently needed elsewhere. Big Libraries are often of no use to local communities with limited transport/resources.

“What is the point of spending millions on a new library and archives in Halifax when other library services are being slashed?”

  • Con: Ending such projects could effectively stop what little upgrading there is, prevent certain services (e.g. wifi, specialist librarians).  Projects that have already been started would often save no money if stopped due to cancellation penalties and such building work that remained could be unsightly or worse.

Volunteers – There are several “additional” services that volunteers have been doing around the country that some authorities have, historically, not seen as core.  One of these is volunteers, often organised by the WRVS, delivering books to those who are housebound or in elderly people’s housing.  However, this is controversial, especially if not successful.

Water Coolers – Check to see how much your local council spends on water coolers for staff in headquarters and other offices.  The UK has perfectly drinkable tap water but many authorities provide free bottled water for staff.  This money could be better used to keep libraries open.  On the LIS-PUB-LIB discussion site (13/9/11) the following figures were quoted for council spending on this issue – North Yorkshire £35,000.  Somerset £18,000.

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