Managing in tough economic times

Sheila Cannell, Director of Library Services at University of Edinburgh, spoke about the current risks to libraries and how to try to overcome some of them during the recession.

The risks she highlighted included:

  • Value proposition
  • Human Resources – large numbers close to retirement age, little to attract newcomers to profession
  • Durable goods – value of books decrease, value of space increase
  • Legacy technology – still using old technology
  • Intellectual property – using Google to find e-books etc.

Sheila made suggestions as to how these risks could be addressed, such as changing the perception of the library, investing in staff development, building a new vision for the profession, adapting the collection to use space differently, and collaborating to find new ways of doing things (e.g. collaborative digital books such as Hathi Trust).

She talked about how many of our users are in different places to libraries, using a version of the Web Trend Map with its distinct lack of library presence to demonstrate this (click image for larger version):

Web Trend Map from Information Architects (formforce on Flickr)

Web Trend Map from Information Architects (formforce on Flickr)

Sheila emphasised that the word “library” isn’t an issue, and instead of trying to rebrand as a different entity we need to focus our efforts on changing people’s perceptions of the library.

Some of the ways libraries can address the recession include:
1. Taking costs out of the business (e.g. giving user what they need, but not more than they need; review all activities and stop some if appropriate; review staff costs; increase productivity)
2. Finding other sources of income (e.g. diversification of income streams – charge for services, find different funding streams, new business opportunities, grants)
3. Collaboration (e.g. work with others to reduce costs or bring in income, cloud computing, hosted services – for example SHEDL, Scottish Higher Education Digital Library, which combines funds from Scottish HE institutions to allow access to wider variety of e-journals for each institution)
4. Innovation and creativity (e.g set a tone in library to encourage low cost innovative ideas, create a culture to discover small solutions that work for users)

As well as saving money, the recession gives libraries the opportunity to move on with other agendas, e.g. sustainability, digital, open access, empathising with user groups.

What can we do?

  • Move to user’s space (e.g. Web 2.0)
  • Provide easy to navigate digital environment
  • Support institutional business in all ways possible (learning and research)
  • Transform library as space
  • Think about information literacy agenda
  • Provide help, support and consultancy
  • Measure impact! Value value value
  • Be proactive
  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate (users, others professions, other departments etc.)
  • Listen to users

As many of the audience were managerial staff, Sheila also discussed how bosses need to adapt their skills to cope with the economic climate. She emphasised the important of looking after staff and also themselves by sharing values, motivating, developing, being open and honest to build trust, and the key – communicate, communicate, communicate.

I was pleased to see Sheila mentioning how important communication is; it’s something I’ve been harping on about for a while as I think it’s something that as a profession we need to improve, it’s been evidenced both at local levels in all the library work I have experienced, as well as on national level (such as the CILIP 2.0 event regarding communication from CILIP), and even further afield to global communication with other countries e.g. American Library Association. One of my main areas of concern when implementing anything at work is the consideration of communicating that change to both staff (within our department and further afield) and users.

Sheila’s talk was really interesting, it’s good that despite accepting the difficulties, we can focus on how to overcome these and there was actually a lot of positive ideas in her presentation. I certainly look forward to more collaborative work and addressing some of the other agendas affecting libraries at the moment.