Upper Murray Regional Library: the collaborative experience.
The information revolution presents many challenges for the information professional. This paper looks at the strategy of collaboration used by Upper Murray Regional Library to meet the challenges of delivering services to meet increasing demands for information.
Collaboration is an old strategy that has great relevance in today's world. To provide the best access to the plethora of information being produced, libraries need to pursue this strategy. They also need to open up the field of candidates with whom they collaborate, to ensure maximum results.
Collaborative libraries are nothing new. Librarians, especially in public libraries, have an ethos of networking, sharing and collaborating to achieve a higher level of service for their users. Examples include
* the Sydney subject specialisation scheme, in which public libraries cooperate so that there is an indepth collection of resources in the subject areas. Each library service is independent but the collections they house are interdependent to provide the whole collection
* joint use libraries such as that at Cootamundra where the public library and Tale library are in the one building with their collections interfiled, the staff work side by side and the funding comes from both Tafe and local government
* document delivery services where libraries cooperate to provide access to a vast range of books, other resources and information through the interlibrary loans system
Collaboration is something that libraries achieve at a number of levels. At a national level in Australia there is Kinetica, where libraries cooperate to provide a national database. At a state level there is NSW.net, considered in greater detail later in this paper. At a regional level there are collaborations called regional library services. At a local level there are joint use libraries. Collaborations can be formal, with contracts and agreements, or informal where libraries share knowledge and experiences with each other so as to gain knowledge for delivering better services.
The catalysts for collaboration are
* the supplying and sharing of information. People increasingly expect an immediate answer to their questions and that all information will be accessible from any library
* the ever increasing volumes of information being produced. Libraries have always been the storehouses of information and knowledge, but the information revolution has brought about the phenomena of the information society and the knowledge economy
* with the information revolution has come the other phenomenon of the technology revolution, the digital age. Of the varied technologies that we use to store and deliver information, the most influential is the internet. It brings with it the challenges of how to access the content, how to catalogue and index the content how to manage access so that it is equitable for all
These phenomena are the catalysts for collaboration because of the impact they have on libraries.
These impacts have been economic, because access and storage cost money. Libraries have been in the information storage and delivery business for centuries but have never had such demand placed upon their services. The new access and storage technologies are expensive to acquire, and have the added need for ongoing funding for maintenance and replacement.
By collaborating, libraries can increase their ability to meet the demands for information, but do not have to store the resources to deliver this information. Individual library services can no longer hold resources just in case the information contained in them is needed. This is a physical impossibility. In the past libraries sometimes tried to hold information needs of users. This required hundreds of square metres of floor space and kilometres of shelving. Storage of resources was a very costly exercise. It was duplicated in many library services.
Just in time
In a very competitive funding market, libraries today do not have the budgets or the staff resources to hold, access or deliver everything needed to meet demands. A new strategy is needed to meet the next phase in the information revolution. This is to become just in time library services.
Just in time libraries are able to deliver the information just in time. They do not try to hold resources, but they have developed networks through which they source, request and deliver information or resources. Just in time libraries are collaborative libraries.
Collaborative libraries are those which engage partners to work together to achieve common goals. These libraries are managed by people who
* think outside the box
* are lateral thinkers
* have recognised a threat and have turned it into an opportunity
* have assessed their services and the information environment in which they exist and have realised that they cannot possibly deliver all the information services required as an independent entity.
* recognise that taking a partner will allow them to maximise resources, access to information and technology whilst at the same time minimising costs.
The library manager of a collaborative library
* constantly assesses his or her environment using the Swot analysis
* knows the limitations of their organisation--not trying to be everything to everybody
* looks for opportunities--how to maximise service delivery without the need for increasing budgets
* looks for possible partners--who is out there with the same, or similar, goals
* thinks outside the box--looks outside the library profession for answers
* takes risks--only by taking risks can we decide if a new strategy will work
Successful managers of collaborative libraries have identified their needs and then looked for other people of like mind with whom to work on finding a solution. They are looking for someone with the same philosophy and same objectives so that they can work jointly to achieve a common goal.
Upper Murray regional Library is very successful at collaborating to achieve identified goals. It is a public company, limited by guarantee, that provides library services to nine councils in two states, NSW and Victoria. It was formerly a regional library service in which the councils collaborated to maximise resources and minimise costs. The administration centre is situated in Wodonga, Victoria. It is a unique situation to deliver library services in two states under two local government acts and also corporation law. The area covered by the library is 28,112 square kilometres and the population of the region is over 122,000. It is geographically a very challenging area, ranging from the Snowy Mountains to the inland plains.
These geographic and state border challenges have created the opportunities for Upper Murray Regional Library to collaborate. These collaborative projects are helping to deliver improved information and library services. They have allowed the
* transformation from a just in case library service to a just in time service
* delivery of a higher level of information service
* reduction of the cost of service delivery and at the same to maximise access to resources
* reduction of the cost of information technology, including telecommunications
* relevance in the community and the library's future place in the information society
The projects in which there are partners are varied. Five of them illustrate the different partners with common goals and the range of services delivered.
Upper Murray Regional Library is part of MurrayLink Libraries Inc, a group of Victorian libraries which have collaborated to reduce costs and improve services. The original members of the organisation were library services ranged along the Murray River--hence the name.
The purpose of the organisation is to provide a cost effective library catalogue and an internet network. The group has developed services and supports interlibrary cooperative activities. A consortia contract for the supply of services from Kinetica was brokered and has operated since 1999. A joint purchasing project has been launched by the group and resources sharing has been a strength which has improved the effectiveness of the member libraries.
MurrayLink Libraries Inc has established, operates and maintains a server through which the network is accessed. One of the advantages of this group is that members can choose the level at which they want to participate. They do not have to be a part of every initiative of the group thus allowing independence within interdependence.
This project has overcome the problem of distance in the delivery of information and recreational services. Roving collections of audiovisual materials means that collections have been extended and new resources are introduced to the member library collections regularly.
Costs of delivering information have been reduced because of free delivery provided by the Victorian state government. The collaborating libraries have maximised their collection development budgets through the joint purchasing project. Cataloguing of items was thought to be cost effective through the consortial contract with Kinetica but this is under review.
The members of MurrayLink are now just in time libraries. They are interdependent in providing a cost effective service which also overcomes the tyranny of distance and isolation in rural and regional Australia. This project was begun in 1996 and has been successful in meeting the eight reasons identified earlier for a cooperative approach to information provision.
This project has maximised access to the internet. NSW.net is the NSW public libraries virtual private network. Established in response to the identified need for high quality, fast, wide bandwidth access to the internet for public libraries in the state, it has greatly reduced the cost of internet service provision through public libraries until 2003.
This is a formal collaboration between the State Library of New South Wales, local government and libraries. It has the support of the Local Government and Shires Association which have endorsed it as the preferred electronic network for local government in New South Wales.
What are the benefits of NSW.net? It has been able to reduce the cost of technology and telecommunications for three years. This affords libraries and local government the opportunity to establish local and wide area networks for information delivery. Such an initiative would not have been possible had all of the libraries that are part of NSW.net acted independently.
It acts as a consortium to negotiate subscriptions to information sources at a reduced cost so libraries can maximise their budgets and access to resources. Once again, this would not be achieved by independent action. It allows each library to deliver a higher level of information service, to become a just in time library, and to meet the information needs of users.
Learning Innovation Resource Centre
This is an innovative project between Upper Murray Regional Library, Wodonga Tafe and La Trobe University. The catalyst was that each institution is building a new library. Wodonga Tafe and La Trobe University share the current library and campus. The new library will be built within La Trobe University and will be a traditional library of printed materials. The space at Wodonga Tafe will be recreated as a learning innovation resource centre with lecture rooms, study areas and a technology centre with 24 hour access to the internet.
Upper Murray Regional Library is building a new library in Wodonga and this facility will have a technology centre. The opportunity to join these three institutions in a collaborative project to deliver services to the students and community was recognised and the project is now being developed.
It will broaden the range resources available, provide 24 hour access to the internet, catalogues and online databases and a possible virtual online reference library. A common library card for all three libraries is being investigated.
The learning innovation resource centre is the result of innovative thinking and risk taking by three institutions to collaborate to meet their common goals of increased access to information, better service delivery, maximisation of resources and maximising budgets.
Upper Murray Regional Library recognised that there was the need for training by those who wanted to do research on the internet. This was evidenced by the number of people asking library staff how to use the internet. It was also recognised that there were already three tertiary institutions offering such training. Research was undertaken to identify what gaps there were in the training market in the region.
The Continuing Education Centre, the Tafe colleges and the universities were offering courses, but there were no programs to teach people how to find information on the internet. The Continuing Education Centre was approached with a proposal that has resulted in Upper Murray Regional Library offering evening training courses on Find it on the net. The collaboration means that the courses are advertised in the CEC course book. Upper Murray Regional Library takes bookings and runs the courses.
The library is now a legitimate training provider in the community and its courses complement those offered by the tertiary institutions. The result of this collaboration is the provision of a requested information service.
Mobile satellite project
The need for online access to information on the mobile libraries of Upper Murray was the catalyst for this major undertaking. Rural and remote communities in the Upper Murray region do not have the telecommunications infrastructure to provide access to the internet or online access to the library management system
Staff at Upper Murray have been researching the possible solutions for three years. The technology was not available until recently. The primary partner in this project is Networking the Nation which has provided the funding to conduct a pilot of mobile satellite and collect data for a best practice model for implementation of the technology across Australia.
The project was launched at the end of October 2001. Future partners for collaboration as the pilot project progresses are councils, health services and educational institutions. They all have a common goal to provide online information services to rural and remote communities. This makes them excellent partners.
Where do we go from here and what are the challenges?
Collaboration is a very powerful strategy for libraries to address their challenges. It works, and is not hard to do so why not continue it?
To ensure Upper Murray Regional Library's relevance to its communities and to maintain its place in the information society it will continue to look for opportunities to work with other organisations to achieve common goals.
It will continue to assess its services and identify the threats.
One such threat is competitors in the information industry who are not in the library field. There are information providers who are providing information services for a fee. They deliver fast service, particularly to businesses. This is an area in which libraries have a very valid role. Why not look at joining forces with them? Perhaps they could be situated in the library. Outcomes could be that they work independently, but are interdependent through the sharing of resources. This would validate the library service to a part of the community that does not currently use public libraries.
Upper Murray will pursue a collaboration with a local interact business, which hosts the region's web presence. There is information on businesses and local government as well as community organisations. The library is negotiating to be the gateway through which all information requests are channeled. This has revenue potential.
If libraries step outside of their comfort zone and think laterally they can identify many opportunities to instigate collaborative arrangements and partnerships to strengthen their position. This could provide better services to communities, and best practice solutions and models to assist libraries in maintaining their relevance, and assuring their future.
The collaborative projects in which Upper Murray Library is involved are successful and have greatly increased its ability to meet the demands placed upon it. Collaboration gives it the opportunities to provide the best level of service to users by maximising access to resources and technologies and minimising the costs associated with that access.
Libraries need to remain dynamic, viable entities that are responsive to the needs of their users. They can be leaders in information service provision if they are prepared to move out of their comfort zones and to look outside the box to identify opportunities for collaboration--and then to pursue those opportunities with a passion to ensure their success.
Lynne Makin BAppSc(ILS) AALIA is the chief executive officer/library manager of the Upper Murray Regional Library. Her career includes positions at Wollongong Public Library, North Coast Institute of Tafe and Great Lakes Library Service. She is currently president of Viclink and was a finalist in the 2000 Telstra business woman of the year. Lynne is a Rotarian and works on the youth committee for her club. Address: Upper Murray Regional Library PO Box 314 Wodonga Vic 3690 tel(02)60229100 firstname.lastname@example.org