Suresh Limbachiya

Librarian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .“ Knowledge is Totally Free at the Library. Just Bring Your Own Container ”

Outsourcing for Library and Information Services: An Idea

Posted by Suresh Limbachiya on 26/01/2010

Harvard Business Review has identified outsourcing as one of the most important management ideas and practices of the past 75 years. So, what is outsourcing?

Outsourcing means to source from outside or in other words getting another person or organisation to provide a service on a contractual basis.

 History of library outsourcing

One of the first organisations to outsource work was the library. Since the Industrial Revolution, companies have grappled with how they can exploit their competitive advantage to increase their markets and their profits. The idea of outsourcing has its roots in the ‘competitive advantage’ theory propagated by Adam Smith in his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’ which was published in the year 1776. This outsourcing process is beneficial to both the outsourcing company and the outsourcing service provider. In an outsourcing relationship, the outsourcing service provider enables the outsourcer to reduce operating costs, increase quality in non core areas of business, save on effort and increase in productivity. In the early 1900s the Library of Congress began providing catalog cards to libraries. In the year 1983 OMB revised Circular A-76 to add federal libraries as one of 14 functions targeted for contracting out, or “privatization.” (Circular A-76 was the legal statement released by OMB (Office of management and Budget) for the performance of commercial activities agencies of Washington DC.)  On 31st of March 1995 Bakers & McKenzie dismissed the entire library staff at the Chicago office only for the sake of outsourcing. Although the Company announced it to be the matter of the re-institution of their law library, to bring the library more into the electronic age. And by the mid and late 1990s a number of private organisations started to outsource their library functions. Outsourcing has grown tremendously with the arrival of the computer and growth of communication technologies. In India too, libraries have for a long time now been outsourcing their functions. For instance, the Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association (ATIRA) has appointed ADINET (a network of libraries in and around Ahmedabad) to take care of its library’s physical verification work and rearrangement of the classification and cataloguing of accumulated books. Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research has contracted LibSys for barcoding and implementing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to all their documents. Even the Indian Airlines had an outside agency convert all their engineering drawing and related documents from microfilm to CD. Almost all libraries outsource their translation work to agencies like Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC) or to independent translators.

 What functions of a library are outsourced?

The following are some library functions that are generally outsourced:

• Cataloguing

• Classification

• Technical Processing

• Preservation

• Shelving

• Photocopying

• Binding

• Translation

• Library Automation

• Bar Coding

• Members Identity Cards

• Indexing

• Database Management

• Network Management

• Web site designing and maintenance.

 Why outsourcing

The reasons why libraries should outsource their work are given below:

• Library and Information Professional can concentrate on core activities.

• Operating and training costs can be reduced.

• Efficiency can be improved.

• Value-added services can be provided.

• Productivity can be increased in less time.

• Best quality services can be provided.

• Manpower can be saved.

• Customer satisfaction can be ensured.

• Skilled manpower can be bought at lower rates.

 Impact of outsourcing on libraries

A library could have several reasons to outsource its work. Whatever be the reason, the staff must be confided in when the library is considering outsourcing some work. There is often a temptation to outsource work in order to cut costs, but that should not be your soul reason for outsourcing. Outsourcing should be used as a strategic tool to become flexible and competitive as a company.

 Outsourcing library service

Now the libraries of private organisations and many academic libraries, emulating the business sector’s successful outsourcing venture, are outsourcing a major chunk of their non-core activities. This arrangement enables them to invest more time, money and human resources into key activities and building strategies that rejuvenate their growth. But before deciding to outsource some issues need to be addressed carefully and strategically:

• Core competencies

• Quality

• Rising Cost

• Loss of Control

 Criteria for selecting an outsourcing vendor

Before selecting an agency or company to do a job, a library has to look for the following in the company:

• Quality assurance

• Reasonable cost

• Reputation of the company/agency

• Exposure to advanced skill and technology

• Contract terms

• Privacy and Confidentiality

These checks are extremely important if the library doesn’t want poor service meted out to its patrons by the outsourced company.

 Keep watch on outsourcing provider

Apart from selecting the right vendor, to achieve the full benefits of outsourcing, libraries need to pay attention to certain factors.

These are as follows:

• Specifying requirements

• Monitoring of the operations

• Managing internal resistance

 Advantage of outsourcing

Outsourcing is the potential tool to lower overall costs and improve the quality of library services and products.

• Outsourcing leaves the library staff with more time to devote to patrons and improve services for them.

 • Outsourcing can improve production by eliminating backlogs, and cataloging material as it is received.

• Library management can concentrate more on resources, especially human resources, and on public service activities.

• Outsourcing may bring order to technical services operations that have been mismanaged, or have become non-productive.

 Disadvantage of outsourcing

Outsourcing of technical services is not suitable for every library.

• Library staff needs to monitor ongoing costs and continuously assess the value of outsourcing as costs change.

• Staff reallocations require managers to identify ways of reassigning and retraining staff as work disappears and new work is identified.

• Where all library work is outsourced, then familiarity with practice areas of firm, firm culture, partners, and associates is lost.

• No safeguards for intellectual property.

 Outsourcing and school library

Outsourcing and outsourcing in school library services are indeed very critical topics and have gained popularity recently as well as in the past. But needless to say few good school libraries have well understood the importance of outsourcing and school library services, how they complement each other.  Benefited surveys show school librarian can spend up to a third of their time managing a “doing it themselves.” However, outsourcing and school library services are a proven solution for more than 15 percent of Indian schools.

 While it may not be the answer for everyone, the outsourcing and school library activities option gives you the opportunity to free up your time and energy for your primary responsibility – educating children. The basic guiding factors behind outsourcing and school library activities are the benefits of focusing on one thing – the thing you do the best. Outsourcing and library activities can be especially helpful to schools as they consider renewing, re-bidding or canceling an existing program. They also examine the contractor’s performance, especially as it relates to their contractual commitment to the school library.

 Outsourcing can be done for cataloguing, classification, computerization, purchases products or services from an outside supplier. But in school library all works are done by the school librarian, sometime school library has a large collection of books and computers are not there at that time school library wants outsourcing. Commonly, for preparation of database to required outsourcing.  In other words, outsourcing is an organization’s contractual relationship with a specialized outside service provider for work traditionally done internally by that organization. The decision to outsource is a major strategic one for most companies because it involves weighing the potential cost saving against the consequences of a loss in control over the product or service. In my school we have twenty thousand books, and management required immediately school library automation, so that time we prepared database through outsourcing. Recently we are subscribing magazines through outsourcer.

 Outsourcing is a good proposition for libraries to inspect. Despite resistance from some quarters it is growing with the success of several outsourcing projects. If practiced properly library’s valuable resources can be directed and reengineering of library services can be achieved in its true sense. Outsourcing also opens up new avenues to entrepreneurship among the new generation of library professionals, but we also have to consider its feasibility by the number of such professionals. We should also focus our concentration towards staff–user interaction, and personal touch, otherwise the tacit knowledge inherent in the staff will remain unutilised.


 [Published in “Teachers Net Magazine]


One Response to “Outsourcing for Library and Information Services: An Idea”

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