Efficiencies: Back Office / Front Office



Much of the work that is done in a “behind the scenes” unit (such as ordering books, processing them, etc) should be done “front of house” by the staff in branches. As well as being able to thus make back-office staff redundant and thus saving money, the advantage is seen that branch staff know more about what books are needed than those tucked away behind the scenes and thus can be more responsive to the local community.  Moreover, councils can be labyrinthine with, sometimes, non-libraries costs (such as wages or even building costs) being accidentally included in the Libraries budget.  Close analysis of the budget may produce “easy” savings by this method.

Tim Coates is the most prominent advocate of this model saying “There’s a huge waste in spending on back-office, some of the costs on bureaucracy are unbelievable”.  He has done several widely circulated videos analysing the savings that are possible (including this one).

Organisations such as the National Acquisitions Group exist to help over advice in behind-the-scenes work such as supply chain efficiency.  Similarly, there are book-buying consortia across several libraries such as the Central Buying Consortium.


– branch staff are busy enough without doing the extra work with, presumably, no extra staff 

– Branch staff would simply move from the public counter to a back-room in order to get the essential work done.  

– Ordering of books is often a process ideal for centralisation.  Books can be ordered by one person for all the county, knowing the size of the library in question at almost one keystroke.  Libraries are different but not that different.  Moving ordering to branches would thus cause unnecessary duplication of work.

– branches would become more individual and lose the corporate feel (this may, of course, also be seen as a “pro”).

– centralised teams are well places to arrange countywide programmes of events rather than each branch organising their own in an ad hoc fashion. 

“Whilst there may be opportunities to examine issues such as purchasing of stock and supply chains as a means of achieving savings, it would be a mistake to view anything that isn’t ‘frontline’ as somehow expendable. After all, the end result of a local resident being able to go into their local library and borrow the latest bestseller is a small part of the overall story – wellstocked and well-planned library services are no mere accident.” Love your libraries

(This item was produced with help from Gary Green)

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