Friday, 5 September 2014

Consortiums and Cost Savings: LINC-y-Gogledd

For my second blog post ever, I’m introducing you to the North Wales Libraries Partnership (NWLP) Inter-Library Loan (ILL) consortium, LINC y Gogledd (LINC Libraries in Cooperation; funded by Welsh Government). Perhaps not the most riveting topic on the planet, but cost-savings connected to consortiums may keep you reading, especially if the words ‘cost-savings’ are strategically placed a few times in the first couple of paragraphs. 

LINC partners, all thirteen of them, comprise of college, government, university, public, specialist and workplace partners, totalling 80-90 libraries by the time you include every public and campus library (it’s fair to say the devil does not make work for my proverbial!). Partners, all thirteen of them, share their resources free. Why? I guess, more importantly than anything else, the consortium widens access to collections – any user can have the books they want, free of charge, delivered, free of charge, to the library they specify. In addition, LINC allows the public to join college and university libraries and borrow in person (also free) – people just need a signed referral form and they’re good to go! Anyhow, before I divert…The consortium also provides a better service to the customer, allows partners to meet Welsh Government objectives (shared services and sustainability are 2 of the strategic objectives in the Welsh Government Libraries Inspire strategy), and saves partners money (at least £200k since 2010, potentially double). 

For any readers whose attention may have been grabbed by consortiums and cost-savings and have opted to read on, if you are now wondering whether it’s worth considering a consortium for your service, the quick answer is, yes, it is, especially if your service borrows considerable numbers of ILL.

If, readers, you are now wondering how and where the cost savings come from, I’ll elaborate presently, I just need to provide some background (I’m not trying to keep you reading/dangling, honestly; it’s just difficult to explain without putting you at least somewhat in the picture – and you may need to persevere here for a tiddly minute)…

LINC began in 2002 with:
  -   Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd public library services (who share a catalogue) and Bangor University Library;, quickly followed by:  
  -   Coleg Menai and Coleg Llandrillo (now Grŵp Llandrillo-Menai).

LINC was doing pretty well, so, in 2007, LINC expanded to:
  -   Denbighshire and Flintshire public libraries (who share a catalogue), with intentions to expand to (it needed a little help from there, which is why I was employed!):
  -   Wrexham public libraries, Glyndŵr University and the former Yale College Wrexham (now part of Coleg Cambria. We have to specify ‘Wrexham’ so we don’t get into trouble with Yale College in the US of A!);
  -   The former Deeside College (now also part of Coleg Cambria);
  -   Any other library/ies within the region – Gladstone’s Library, Wales’ National Writers’ Centre Tŷ Newydd, and Natural Resources Wales (confused yet?!).

Anyway, in LINC’s early days, only 71 items were borrowed via ILL across the then partnership. Five years later, following the 2007 expansion to Denbighshire and Flintshire, there were almost 5,000 recorded items borrowed (there are many thousands more we don’t record, more info if you battle on through the blog post!). Approximately 3,800 of recorded ILL were sourced from BLDSC and sources external to LINC. Approximately 1,000 were borrowed within LINC. At this point, BLDSC was supplying 40% of all ILL across the partnership. Before I get bogged down with (anymore?) unnecessary detail about whether partners provide ILL as a free/subsidised service to the customer or recuperate the full ILL cost, it’s easier to strip it back to basic maths and leave you to fill in the gaps:
  -   3,800 books x CONARLS @ £5.50 minimum = almost £21k minimum, excluding return postage and packaging (easily £1 per item);
  -   3,800 books x BLDSC @ £10 maximum = £38k maximum, excluding p&p.

Basically, ILL was costing the then partners around £21-£38k per annum and the consortium wasn’t saving the partners a tremendous amount. However, by the time LINC became embedded in the newer partners and the all-Wales library catalogue was alive, kicking and embedding nationwide (ILL across Wales went crazy, with significant increases of 300-400% in some instances), the cost savings started kicking in too…

In 2011-12, over 7,300 items were borrowed across the partnership, with more than 4,400 items sourced within LINC. In 2012-13, almost 7,300 items were borrowed, almost 5,000 within LINC. Now do the maths, because this is where the cost-savings come from (got there in the end, albeit perhaps a little long-windedly!):
  -   2011-12:
  • 4,400 x CONARLS @ £5.50 = £24k minimum excluding p&p;
  • 4,400 x BLDSC @ £10.50 = £46k excluding p&p;
  • 4,400 in LINC = NIL!
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  -   2012-13:
  • 5,000 x £5.50 = £27k minimum excluding p&p;
  • 5,000 x £10.50 = £52k excluding p&p;
  • 5,000 in LINC =NIL!
These figures would have carried on into 2013-14 if the all-Wales catalogue hadn’t been beset with technical issues (new catalogue imminent) and the universities hadn’t changed their catalogue search defaults (due to confusion with electronic resource access). Despite ILL decreasing slightly, 63% of total ILL were sourced within LINC (saving partners £45k+) and BLDSC supplied:
  -   8% of LINC partner total ILL (bit of a decrease from 40%, sorry BLDSC!)
  -   0.6% of total authority partner loans, amounting to 65 items, which has crashed down.

However, these figures only tell half the story; savings are potentially double. Capturing the number of ILL between public library partners that share catalogues (i.e. ILL between Anglesey, Conwy and Gwynedd public libraries; and ILL between Denbighshire and Flintshire public libraries) is extremely tedious and time-consuming, so, figuring there are better ways for staff to spend their time and more responsible ways to spend the taxpayer’s money, we don’t do it! Educated guesses from ILL staff put the number of books within the “thousands and thousands” per annum, so, whatever numbers have been thrown around in this post, you can probably conservatively add another 3,000-4,000 items per annum that are not recorded in the current ILL figures.

Further cost-savings come from postage and packaging. Postage cost, there is none. Packaging is reused repeatedly (and I mean repeatedly! It’s not unusual to see envelopes/boxes with label upon label upon label sellotaped on top of each other (actually, scrap piece of paper upon scrap piece of paper upon scrap piece of paper etc.!), which is more environmentally responsible too!   
The next question that may be floating around heads of discerning readers who have made it through this blog post so far, is, if not via postage, how are the thousands of books that float around the north Wales region transported. The answer will follow in a mo, it may first be of interest to you that we do not depend on grants to maintain LINC, it’s self-sustaining; and the added cost for the LINC delivery mechanism was, and remains, minimal. The cost per item delivered was examined in 2011, working out at 0.57p per item, including staff time. So, to address any questions  re delivery...

A delivery network of vans created by tweaking existing delivery routes, connects the libraries across the region. This was my first role for the NWLP. All I had to do was work out how to transport an item from A to B quickly. It involved introducing hubs, interchanges and sites for main hubs/sub-hubs/request stops to ensure onward connections. Working with existing systems kept added costs to a minimum and provided a robust, sustainable delivery mechanism that connected the libraries across the region. Though fuel has increased since 2011, ILL has also increased, which is great as it brings the cost per item delivered down further. Plus, savings outweigh the extra mileage and working within existing systems meant that our carbon footprint barely increased.

Perhaps readers may question how universities/colleges benefit from the partnership. The universities joined LINC to reach students living at a distance from the institutes, students on placements (e.g. nursing/social work), distance and part-time learners, and offer their students a better service by increasing the resources on offer (it also served to engage communities and widen access to their collections, but as that is not so relevant here and it’s hard to find a smooth link, I thought I’d bang it in brackets!). Bangor and Glyndŵr Universities also borrow approximately 1,500 items per annum from each other, as well as sourcing items from LINC public/college/specialist libraries (many stock key academic textbooks). Glyndŵr Uni borrows 93%+ of all ILL through LINC; Bangor University, 58-70% within LINC.

Some FE colleges borrow 100% of their ILL within LINC, and we’re talking a few hundred items. And public library staff have reported noticeable cost decreases, with some borrowing few ILL outside the partnership.

Here, I will re-cap and, perhaps, pre-empt your next possible ponderings/concerns…
  -   Consortiums are sustainable, environmentally responsible, widen access to collections and provide a better service to your customers, no matter what your sector;
  -   Consortiums can help you save the equivalent of every ILL charge plus return postage, minus charges to the customer, e.g. if your service does not charge the customer, you’re saving the full going CONARLS/BLDSC rate (sorry BLDSC!) minus the item delivery cost, which can be as little as 0.57p or even less!; 
  -   LINC is not the only ILL consortium in Wales so there is more than one model should you wish to consider consortiums further. One regional partnership uses a courier, which is also very cost effective; 
  -   84% of 394 test journeys were delivered in same-3 days; 94% within a week. Our customers are very happy, we’ve done surveys!;
  -   Procedures are pragmatic and simple (item is ordered via respective internal procedures, taken off the shelf, labelled and put on the respective delivery van);
  -   Paperwork, minimal;
  -   Financial admin, diddly squat (staff love us for that!);
  -   Partners retain their own policies (e.g. restrictions, loan periods, number of books etc.);
  -   No, you would not suddenly be left with empty shelves and a limited selection for your regular customers, you actually have more to offer them;
  -   No, you would not suddenly be swamped with thousands of requests you don’t have the staff capacity to deal with, it takes three years before ILL increases noticeably and simplified ILL procedures save time anyway!; 
  -   If you want to know more, get in touch!
I will end this post from a personal perspective. I’m doing a distance learning MSc with Aberystwyth University and I use LINC myself. I can order the vast majority of textbooks I need in the local library or online, and I don’t have to stray far from my own front door to pick them up (in fact I'm expecting some to arrive today!). Or, I can drive to the nearest college or university to get the textbook I need immediately. It saves me a whole world of pain and I have more time to write assignments, in between lengthy blog posts, although it wouldn’t be a wish wasted if I wished I could write 1,700 words for an assignment as quickly as I can knock them up for a blog. Maybe I have found my calling and a new cyber-social-banter-blogger has been born!

Enjoy the weekend.
Hwyl (goodbye in Welsh) 'til next time,  

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