Sunday 17 March 2013

The Capita Report; 'Protecting Library Services' or "would you buy a used car from this bunch?"

My initial reaction to the recent Capita report on Libraries is that it's not actually a report but a sales brochure for their services and it doesn't actually say anything new or substantiated so for those reasons alone it doesn't deserve to be taken seriously but i know it will be in some circles so here goes;
Also see;

"In light of these cuts, libraries have two options; either they have to continue to significantly reduce the services they offer to the public, or they have to implement new ways of working to save money."

What about option three; go back to basics by concentrating resources on books, staff, buildings and IT, after all, if asked, this is what the vast majority of library users would say that they wanted from their service and fight to keep Public Libraries publicly funded/managed and staffed.

A problem shared is a problem halved
"Sharing services is one of the key ways to save money and the attraction of a shared library service can be a strong one."
There are obvious financial savings in this approach but it ultimately leads to less staff especially specialist staff (cataloguers, stock librarians, acquisitions staff etc) and doesn't always lead to a more efficient service, for example the feedback that I've had from staff who work in libraries linked to one of the big consortium is that there are serious issues with stock management, reserves and inter library loans. Creating bigger services also means that those who run the service/s are further removed from those who use it.
They also use the example of The Hive which was built with PFI money which raises concerns re sustainability and cost effectiveness.
The reality is virtual
"however, as libraries are now competing for clicks with websites such as Amazon and Lovefilms their customers will be expecting them to replicate that user experience"
Is this true, are Public Libraries really trying to compete in this market and if they are should they be? And do library users really want or expect the 'experience' to be the same?
"a typical face-to-face transaction costs £8.62 versus £2.83 for telephone and £0.15 for the web. Therefore significant savings can be gained by 'shifting' expensive face-to-face transaction to a lower cost channel."
You can't always get the same level of service in quality terms by telephone or online, a face-to-face enquiry with a trained, specialist member of staff is the gold standard, surely the service is more than about quantitative and financial indicators? And also what happens if the online service crashes or experiences technical problems or the phone just rings and rings due to the staff being too busy to answer it or you are just put through to a call centre?
Another real concern not discussed in this section is the 'digital divide', they assume that everyone has access to the internet and have the skills to utilise it.
Helping cusomer to help themselves
"as well as reducing costs, self-service machines can help improve both customer service and staff satisfaction. With self-service machines taking on mundane tasks, staff are freed up to improve service in other areas"
Self-serve reduces costs by cutting staff and there is absolutely no impartial evidence that it improves customer service and staff satisfaction, this is just the normal senior management mantra, if they asked front line staff the majority would probably say the opposite. The other myth is that self serve frees up staff time, in my experience and from the multitudes of feedback that I've had from front line staff throughout the country this is just not true, staff spend most of their time showing people how to use them and sorting out queries and technical problems with the machines and any freed up time they do have is spent catching up with the massive backlogs of work built up due to short staffing. Also outreach programmes have been reduced meaning that even if they did want to spend their time interacting with the community the framework and links may have been lost.
And what are these 'mundane tasks' do they mean the tasks that library staff do to ensure the smooth running of the service, by doing these tasks library staff learn their jobs, they are the day to day foundations of our trade, it's bit like telling a plumber that they don't need to know how to cut a pipe!
"it fast tracks all the things they would previously have queued for. This is the same technology our customers use in the supermarket and at the bank and they have taken to it instantly"
Library users still have to queue after the introduction of self serve due to technical problems and queries and trying to run libraries with too few staff and too few kiosks. Do library users really want the same experience as in a supermarket or bank? And while some may have taken to the new system the levels of user dissatisfaction and complaints about self serve have been hidden.
Income collection and income generation
The example they use of Bexley creating a premium service is being duplicated or proposed by many LA's and in my view raises ethical issues, especially around creating a two-tier service with those who can afford to pay more getting a better service than those who can't.
Reducing the administrative burden
"In some forward looking councils, there are proposals for integrating the library with the council's sports centre" - how is the forward looking, surely it dilutes the message and has only been done to save money? How does it improve the service?
"the data gathered from the card would then be used for marketing" - Oh dear! do library users want their 'data' used for marketing purposes and what are the data protection issues involved?
"Libraries are facing a time of great challenge and huge opportunity..." - the 'opportunity or crisis' spin again.
In fact this whole section is spin, from "move away from the idea that a library is a physical building" to library staff being freed from stamping books to spend more time empowering communities, when in fact the whole 'report' has got nothing to do with users or communities but increasing profits.

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