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Supply Chain for Libraries – The Big Picture
Currently, libraries are facing tremendous pressure to provide new services to support the continuous expansion of their academies; meanwhile, established library operations lockdown majority of the available resources that could otherwise be used for rapid growth of emerging services. Library stakeholders expect libraries to demonstrate more impact their services have on the academies; yet, at the same time, library resources have been plateauing in the past several decades. Libraries, as service organizations, will need to examine and optimize their current model of operations. Supply Chain is a discipline, and a framework, that can help raise the utility of their limited resources to maximize user benefits.
Prelude to the Need of the Supply Chain
Is a whole book devoted to the topic of the Supply Chain warranted for libraries? Is Supply Chain not a concept geared toward businesses, particularly in the sphere of manufacturing, retail, and logistics? Libraries are not-for-profit organizations, and therefore, they operate on a different set of values. So why do or should libraries care about Supply Chain or Supply Chain Management? Can a business process, such as Supply Chain, solve library challenges and serve library end users?
The above questions might immediately emerge when library professionals see the title of the book “ Supply Chain Management for Collection Services of Academic Libraries.” The answer is quite simple: the book’s intention is not to set an agenda to turn libraries into for-profit organizations, but rather to introduce the concept to library colleagues as a means of serving their constituencies.
Because there are many different types of libraries, each offering many great services, the library type might determine the variety of services they may offer and how they might manage them. The focus of this book will be on the collection services of academic and research libraries only because collection services are bread and butter to academic and research libraries.
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Supply Chain is not a panacea for solving all collection services problems, but it provides crucial insights into how collection processes flowing from vendors, to libraries, and then to end users can impact scholarship and research bottom lines. Supply Chain Management concept also offers a framework to guide libraries to get more mileage out of their collection budget and improve collection usage experiences.
So, if Supply Chain is the means, what is the problem that it is trying to help libraries solve? Let us look at the following example set in an academic library setting from the perspective of subject liaisons, catalogers, library administrators, and, most importantly, patrons. I believe that colleagues who have been working in the library setting must have found themselves in similar situations at some point in their careers.
Supply Chain Management Example One
David was thrilled about his recent acquisition of a private collection of a renowned author that he was able to secure a couple of months ago. He knew his faculty and students have dreamed of getting hold of this resource for a long time. As the valuable collection arrived at his library’s loading dock, he learned that he was out of luck in regard to available shelving space and available processing resources. Shelves have long become a highly competitive commodity among selectors after years of collection building. The university just started a conversation about a new storage facility to accommodate the ever-growing collection needs of the library, but it would not solve David’s problem, which requires an immediate solution. The approval of creation of a new book storage building was not an easy decision to make at the university level as it came with a high price tag and competed with other institutional academic priorities. For now, David’s library had to make a decision to backlog any incoming materials until the library comes up with a solution to accommodate more volumes. To make matters worse, even holding places for unprocessed materials at this point were becoming almost full. David was disappointed and started wondering when his faculty and students will be able to have access to this collection. This collection required much curation as it contained resources in a variety of formats, including cassettes, floppy disks, papers, pamphlets, monographs, journals, and two laptops from the 80s. He thought that perhaps catalogers and archivists could start processing the collection while the campus was solving the storage issues.
Jane, Head of Collection Processing, was panicked when David approached her with a request for processing the collection. She did not want to disappoint him, but she had few resources to deal with David’s collection at that time. She was even not confident when her team would be able to get to his collection in the future because of other previously outlined priorities and commitments. Jane indicated that she was not made aware of his acquisition and thus had already promised other selectors to process their collections. She also hinted that she still had a lot of backlogs her team was currently plowing through, and thus, she had no idea when she could get to David’s collection. Jane also indicated that her processing space was at capacity with recently acquired collections and that she was not even sure whether she would have space for David’s collection. She suggested outsourcing the collection, but David was not so keen on the idea. David was concerned about costs and his time that would be required to oversee the inventory and quality assurance of the outsourcing job. As collection development was only part of his job responsibilities, he did not wish to have tasks related to outsourcing pull him away from his teaching and outreach assignments.
Director of the Libraries received a call from the Development Office concerning a collection grant received from a Foundation a year ago. The Development officer reminded her that it was time to report back to the Foundation on the grant’s work progress. Lyn was listed as the legal person who signed the agreement with the Foundation and thus was accountable that reporting on the grant takes place. As readers may guess by now, the grant was to support David’s recent exciting acquisition. Lyn learned from David that the library would not be able to meet the foundation’s expectation to get the collection fully processed and made accessible by the date outlined in the grant. Outsourcing was not a viable financial solution because the grant was not big enough to sustain the cost. Under the pressures of current situation, Lyn decided to prioritize the processing of this collection in-house, which required the library to hold off on processing other collections. The processing priority became a politically charged topic. Lyn also decided it was time to start a librarywide collection deaccession project to create more room for incoming materials. Every liaison was mandated to become part of the project and was expected to manage expectations of the respective constituency. It is a tough path to communicate and align stakeholders’ expectations.
The above stories are extreme scenarios that a library may occasionally encounter. Although those stories are fictitious, they might represent some real experiences of library employees with collection management. The introduction of the Supply Chain concept to library industry is an attempt to improve collection services by optimizing processes around them. As the above stories only cover some current challenges that libraries face, it is worth noting that Supply Chain can be very future-oriented, offering libraries efficient and economical solutions to align their collection services and processes based on user goals and social and technological contexts that exist in any given point in time.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 1 – Supply Chain for Libraries—Big Picture from the book Supply Chain Management for Collection Services of Academic Libraries. You can continue reading the chapter by clicking on the link below:
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