Saturday, 6 February 2016

Collective strength

It's National Libraries Day. I could  stand at the railings outside what this time last year was my local library, pining for services lost but I'd much rather think of positive things.

National Library Day is the date chosen for the public launch of the Greater Manchester Libraries Consortium.

The consortium's been a work in the wings for the best part of five years, three years in concrete form. The heart of the technical architecture is the library management system: we started sharing the bibliographic data three years ago and this first phase of the shared lending functions was technically live just before Christmas. It's a small but important step: customers can look at an online catalogue shared by the whole consortium — Blackburn, Bolton, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport and Trafford — and reserve an item from any of them.

At this stage you'll need to go to the item's "home" library to pick it up, there's a big piece of work to be done on transit logistics across the consortium but even with this caveat it's an exciting first step and it was good to see not only a big piece in the Manchester Evening News but also a very approving editorial. We don't often get high-profile hugs these days, we should enjoy them when they come along.

Strangely enough, although reservations are easily the most complicated part of the lending library operation this phase has been the easiest to implement because for all intents and purposes each authority's operation is still acting in a stand-alone basis.The next phase will require more of an integration of circulation systems and the scoping work for that is going on at the moment.

Like any decent undertaking like this we've had our fair share of stumbles and oh no moments, and one of the painful consequences of sharing a system across a consortium is the need for a fair bit of coordinating effort to get the ducks in a row ready for routine system upgrades. But there are upsides: we've built up a couple of useful support networks and the benefits have certainly extended beyond the confines of the library management system and the consortium.

And the public have a new extension to their library services and the promise of more to come.

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