The technology and people underpinning the Library Consortium’s new game-changing LSP explained by heads of service Kelly Saini Badwal of Sutton, Anthony Hopkins of Merton.
There is strength in a consortium voice—it provides the opportunity to lead together under a unified plan, and reinforces the concept that each library contributes to the consistent drive needed to innovate, improve, influence and persuade. Cohesive library leadership like this at national and global levels is important to bring transformative change that benefits communities and library services.
THE Library Consortium (TLC) – (until recently the London Library Consortium) has existed since 2002. It started with 2 London boroughs and now is made up of 18 local authorities, of which 17 are London Boroughs. Next year it will expand further outside the capital when it is joined by Essex and Thurrock with other authorities in the process of joining too. All of this has enabled the TLC to make a giant leap in the future of their libraries to take advantage of the latest innovation in library LSP development. It is a commitment to access, organization and growth and means that as collections grow, they will have a gamechanging, library service platform that will unlock the potential of the public library and indeed their communities.
Technology and finance often dominate the digital agenda. In a world where local authorities are struggling to provide basic services, aligning work forces with new technology is likely to be difficult. It’s a problem that a consortium may be able to overcome. Public library budgets have shrunk meaning a lot of our officers need to be multi-skilled. “In a consortium it’s what we’ve got collectively, that we need to build up. We don’t all have LMS expertise and none of us has anyone whose only role is to support the LMS. So, it’s how we bring it all together, that’s where we get the efficiency and the expertise. “ Building a team like this is powerful!
TLC’s new LMS is now about to enter a revolutionary stage – the implementation of the Library Services Platform (LSP) a new state-of-the-art platform, which will increase engagement and enhance the perception of the public library service.
It will link together the various apps and digital services that currently run independently of each other and provide customers with an exciting new front end to access online services. It will offer interconnected search results that showcase rich library content. Personalised experiences such as lists, reading history, recommendations will be gamechanging for library customers.
Kelly Saini Badwal, Head of Cultural Services at Sutton Council, which is the Consortium’s lead authority, said: “At the moment if a customer wants to use digital stock, or if they want to borrow an ebook or magazine or audio book, they have to use adifferent App for each one. This exciting LSP is an intuitive customer-driven experience that will bring all that together. Customers will be using it in the same way that they use other apps and it’ll give them their top reads, recommendations and, for example, if they’ve read a book, they’ll be told if there’s an event from that author.”
The exciting new Library Services Platform (LSP) had been developed by SOLUS and in addition to connecting existing services, it opened the door for other council services beyond the library and potentially to commercial services. Anthony Hopkins, Head of Library, Heritage and Adult Education Services for the London Borough of Merton said, “It allows us to use ‘best of breed’, we don’t have to develop our own systems – if there’s something out there that people are used to using, like for example Eventbrite or Google Calendars, we can just bring it in and plug it into the platform.”
Pushing the market!
The consortium explored uncharted territory in its search. It was able to do so mainly because of its collective financial power and collaborative working with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Both Kelly and Anthony acknowledge that this power was an important factor.
Anthony, who sits on the Library Consortium’s Strategy Group said: “When you take into account all the authorities it is a multi-million-pound contract, giving us strength in numbers in terms of procurement. When we went through the procurement process we really pushed the market in a way that I don’t think the sector has ever done in the UK. This was because we were not just thinking about purchasing an LMS, we were looking at the next generation of technology and a platform and having far better services and systems for our customers to access.
“We engaged with a lot of providers outside of the library network,” he said. “We went to the Googles, the Amazons and the Microsofts and gathered their thoughts and ideas as part of the soft market testing – all of which we built into our specification.”
Kelly says that right from the start joining the consortium opens a reassuring peer- to- peer communication that doesn’t just require collaboration, but also demonstrates its value.
“When a new authority joins, an existing authority will hold their hand and staff will go on site for a couple of days to get used to the system, the new terminology, new layout. When Hounslow joined, Croydon staff went and supportedthem because Croydon had just joined and they would remember the problems, the things they had to get over, and they got to share that knowledge. That’s really powerful”
She says: “The biggest thing for me has been the knowledge sharing with heads of service. We come together and say “this hasn’t worked for me” or “my customers are complaining about this and we help each other. Just talking to other heads about the challenges we face really helps. It’s an added bonus that you can’t quantify financially. I can get advice that otherwise wouldn’t be readily available.”
” With the LSP, the platform, the front-facing part us what customers see and access. So, while the LMS feeds into the LSP (library services platform), the LSP is also drawing in data and information and services from a raft of different things, such as Overdrive.”
These connections will enable smoother interactions with customers. For Kelly in Sutton, the consortium means her users have access to over 6 million books rather than 150,000. And Anthony points out that what Merton spends on ebooks would give it access to 10,000 books while membership of the consortium bumps that up to closer to 150,000. One of the key purposes of the LSP is the management of the complexity of sharing and access across nearly 20 library services. But a side product of the scaling up of services is the scaling up of data generation – potentially making it so much more powerful.
The integration of the LMS, the LSP and all the apps and digital services will generate a lot of data about users. Kelly said: “At the moment public library leaders don’t use data as well as they could. They tend not to consider their own data or what value it has. We tend to rely on global, national information. But that’s something that’s changing. We’ve been looking at the data that the library consortium has now. There is also a lot of untapped data coming in from the existing apps. It remains untapped because it is not integrated. Anthony said: “The platform will just be a lot more integrated at the back end. At the moment it’s bespoke separate reports … with this we can potentially share it with other systems to improve the picture of the customer and what people are using, how they relate and engage.
This is the kind of work that’s going on at the moment.” While this could unlock many possibilities, Anthony says: “the fact that we all work together means that we can manipulate it, read it better, and share challenges and problems -what the system can do is very advanced ”
Thank you Kelly Saini Badwal of Sutton and Anthony Hopkins of Merton for sharing this leadership story on the technology and people underpinning the Library Consortium’s new game-changing LSP