Relaunching a library service

What do you do when you decide to do what is verging on library-based insanity, and basically scrap your current library service, and relaunch everything – physical layout, LMS, and classification system? In my case, spend a year, planning, developing, preparing….and then a frantic few weeks hauling stock!

The background to this apparent madness is this: when I took on this role I inherited a library using a layout that didn’t seem to make sense, a classification system I wasn’t familiar with, and an LMS that had been in place for 20 years but didn’t seem suited to our needs. As I was new to the library, a major part of the time I had available while settling in during my initial few months was dedicated to exploring how well these things were working, both for users, and library staff. I had the benefit of my colleague also being new to the library, only a few months after me, so together we looked at these issues with fresh eyes.We came to the following conclusions:

  1. The physical layout over the three floors was not intuitive, and separated core materials over multiple floors, which led to confusion for users and extra travel around the library.
  2. The classification scheme was more suitable for a large library in a common law jurisdiction than a medium sized one in Scotland. Materials on the same topic were split by jurisdiction into different locations in the library, which was confusing for users and did not allow users to browse easily.
  3. The LMS was more suited to a large institution than one the size of my library, and had accumulated too many errors in records to be regarded as reliable. It was also overly complex and difficult for library staff to use, and far more expensive than equivalent products with better functionality

So, what was my solution to these issues?

  1. I decided to change the way the library was physically laid out. This was linked to the classification scheme.
  2. I changed the classification scheme from Moys, to one developed in-house for Scottish law firms – this scheme allows far better browsability of the shelves, and is designed to incorporate the specific legal terms and issues unique to Scots law.
  3. I worked with Procurement to identify and implement a new LMS, which halved the ongoing costs of the system, and gave library staff a greater ability to manage materials effectively.

Well, those are the main points of my relaunch plan. The actual implementation takes a little bit more effort than that!

  • I needed to adapt the classification scheme I had chosen, and update it – it was developed in the 1990s and some of the terms used in it were very dated. It was also originally developed for use in a commercial law firm library, and therefore neglected most areas of criminal law – this whole area needed to be expanded massively.
  • I wanted to be sure the subject terms we would use would reflect current legal terms in use on standard legal databases. I downloaded a standard legal taxonomy from a large publisher, and went through it methodically, pulling out the terms I knew we would use, and adding in some Scottish-specific ones. This was imported into the new LMS and allows us to tag materials consistently, and in a way that users would recognise.
  • I’ve been working with the Assistant Librarians (there’s only one AL, but one is on maternity leave, and the cover librarian has picked up where the initial one had to stop) to import the records for all of our textbooks from COPAC, and catalogue them in the new system. We have at least 3,500 textbooks and 45,000* other items in a variety of locations (both in the library and in a multitude of sub-sites within this building and others), so our focus has been on getting the core textbooks onto the system. I made the decision that we would also be cataloguing the contents pages from the textbooks, to make sure that the books and their contents were findable through the LMS in a variety of ways.
  • The AL and I have manually added hundreds of staff/users on to the system, and monitor staff bulletins to ensure that new staff are added as soon as possible.
  • I measured every shelf in the library, and every law report series/run of primary and secondary legislation/journal volumes, to calculate how much shelf space they’ll take up, then drafted a detailed plan for exactly where they’d go on the ground floor in the new layout (I ran out of time to do the same for the other floors).
  • We decided on what items can be sent to our storage and archive rooms, to reduce duplication in the collection.
  • The three staff currently in the library spent many hours mapping the old classification system to the new one, to enable us to relocate the textbooks from their old shelfmark to their new one more efficiently .

Since last week, my colleagues and I (the excellent Assistant Librarian and a fabulous intern) have been working on the actual physical relocation of stock. We’ve now got the ground floor rearranged to its final layout, have moved half the stock from the mezzanine floor to new (temporary and permanent) locations, and we’re now ready to do the big shift of the textbook stock. This is where the users are going to see the biggest change, as almost everything on this floor will be changing its location.

We’re now in the quiet period for my workplace, and luckily we have had the extra help of that fabulous intern – having three people work on this has been so helpful, and we’ve got about half of the stock-moving done in a week. Since I estimate that we’ve moved about 8,000 volumes in the last few weeks, and we probably have the same to move again before we’re done. It’s physically demanding and exhausting, but it’s satisfying to see things taking shape.

Despite me having tried to explain what we were doing in the library and why to a variety of people in advance of this move, it’s only now that people can actually see for themselves how things have changed that they’re beginning to see what I’ve been talking about. Already we’ve had positive feedback, which is very good to hear – it’s been a LOT of work to do this, and knowing that users are happy with what’s been done is a great vindication!

It’s not finished yet either – once we have the bulk of our textbooks on the LMS we’ll be officially launching the new system to users, and training them on the new uses of the system – they can see their own account to check what they have on loan, see who has the items they want out on loan, request books of photocopies be sent to them, and all sorts of exciting new things that just weren’t possible before. The relaunching of the service continues…

So, what would I advise if you were planning to do something similar in your service, that on first glance seems to be verging on masochism?

  • A core part of this relaunch was the new LMS. Take the time to find out the detailed specifics of how you can buy a new or replacement service – despite trying to get this sorted out early, not having been involved in a public sector procurement process before I had no idea quite how long it would take – what is simple in the private sector (“this is the best product for our needs”) becomes an epic and labyrinthine process (“we need a new LMS…this is what an LMS is”). I had trialled a variety of LMS, expecting that I would be able to then select the most suitable one, only to find that all my efforts had to be scrapped and I had to start again, and work in a very convoluted structure. So – seek advice early! I did, but unfortunately, what I was told was incorrect, so – seek advice early, AND get a second opinion on that advice too!

  • Despite all my best efforts of measuring, and matching, and over-estimating, and allowing for expansion space….things haven’t gone quite as hoped with how materials fit on the shelves. This has meant making some ad-hoc decisions on temporary new locations, and will mean another phase of stock moving will have to come later. So – even if you think you’re giving plenty of space…give more.** And have a fallback plan in case of overspill of stock if the estimates don’t work out.

  • Things will always take longer than you think – I wanted the new LMS to in place and being catalogued onto by September 2015, but due to a variety of delays, it wasn’t partially ready until December 2015, properly useable/staff being trained until February 2016, and our old LMS went offline at the end of January 2016. This meant we had only a few weeks to try and get stock onto the new system before it went live and our old one became inaccessible. Needless to say, this was NOT ideal! It also pushed back our stock move plan from spring 2016 to summer 2016.

  • Don’t get distracted – the AL and I keep on finding things that need sorted as we look closely at the stock while moving it*** and have to keep reminding ourselves of our priorities – just get things moved, THEN you can fiddle with them.

  • Ask for more storage or disposal boxes than you think you need, because these sort of stock moves also include some informal stock reviewing – I’ve decided to send a variety of things for disposal (no, we didn’t need that partial third set of those law reports), and others to storage (SIs and SSIs are not something I expect to need regular access to). However, I had only requested enough crates for what I had already decided to send elsewhere, and additional items needing moved weren’t accounted for. The lack of crates to put things in for these purposes means stock sitting temporarily on trolleys until we can get

  • We weren’t able to get internal physical help for this stock move (it would have been available to us), as so many of the move decisions were based on knowledge only I had in my head, and because we kept having to make ad-hoc decisions, it would take as long for me to instruct someone who was helping to do it, as to do it myself. I hate having to work like this – I try and share my knowledge with my colleagues as much as possible, so this was not a natural way for me to work. It also meant I needed to be constantly involved, which was difficult to balance with my normal demanding workload. If you have the time to plan something like this, try and factor in writing up detailed instructions/guidance for anyone who’s offered to/been instructed to help.
*To be honest, it’s probably actually far more items than that – we just keep finding more stock in random locations!

**How can something that took up 30 inches of shelf on one floor take up 40 inches on another floor?

*** Why were the loose parts from that volume from 1991 not sent for binding? Does this volume need a repair on the spine? Everything is so dusty, should we be cleaning these?

And now…time to get these empty bookshelves filled up!

Author: Jennie

Law, libraries, books, crafts, and general geekery.

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