[Editors note: this guest blog post was written by Neil MacInnes, Strategic Lead - Libraries, Galleries and Culture in Manchester. There are some examples of their digital work, but this post also serves as a teaser for a future blog series, which will illustrate how we propose to achieve our ambitions]
In March 2014, the ten AGMA (Association of Greater Manchester Authorities) library authorities signed a memorandum of understanding to support and formalise their relationship and to continue to develop a range of new and existing activities.
Each local authority or trust maintains responsibility for the delivery of the library service but, by sharing resources, the partnership has delivered service improvement that would have been difficult and expensive for individual services to achieve alone—collaboration has meant a bigger impact and better outcomes for our residents.
The numbers emphasise the reach this collaboration offers. In 2015-2016, libraries in Greater Manchester (144 locations) had:
- 12,249,966 physical visits
- 7,201,230 items issued
- 1,598,684 PC sessions (all libraries now offer free wifi)
- 7,516,933 visits to library web sites and online resources
- 860 volunteers and 66,000 volunteer hours
Julie Spencer, Head of Libraries and Museum (Bolton) and I recently presented a report to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) Reform Board to provide an update on GM Libraries and to discuss the role libraries play within the Public Sector Reform and Place Based agendas. We were praised for the success so far, and the benefits this is bringing to the people of Greater Manchester. The memorandum of understanding is a sort of passport to unlock conversations with many more people than we could have reached individually.
Building on a Strong Track Record
The memorandum of understanding built on the long history of collaboration and partnership among library services in Greater Manchester including:
- Time to Read (established 2000-present)
Promoting reading, reading events and festivals. Services in the North West contribute to the cost of a co-ordinator post.
- Stock purchasing consortium (2003-present)
All services benefit from advantageous terms for supply of books and other media.
- Ask About Business (2008-present)
Information services for business, job seekers, employers. All services subscribe to a high quality service with leading edge resources provided by Manchester Libraries.
- Enterprising Libraries – Start Up Engines (2013-present)
A programme of activity funded by Arts Council England through the Enterprising Libraries project. Start Up Engines is an innovative approach to engaging local communities with enterprise and business. Greater Manchester Libraries offer access to start-up information, tools for libraries to support entrepreneurs, and events.
It is this track record of collaboration that enabled us to set up the memorandum of understanding, and as one of the main benefits of working collectively is to give us that capacity to do more, we expect to see many more ideas from across the region being worked up to the benefit of all.
Improving the Customer Experience
One improvement that has flowed from the shared library management system (LMS), which enables customers to have single, seamless access to library services across Greater Manchester. Live from December 2015, this system makes it easier for customers to find information and books across the region. Benefits include:
- One library card - Customers are able to use their library card in other authorities to enable them to borrow books and use PCs.
- Single login - customer are able to view and renew all their loans from libraries across the consortium online.
- One Greater Manchester Library catalogue of books and materials.
- Consortium reservations – customers can reserve books from across the consortium.
The next steps for the Consortium regarding building on the shared systems are to:
- Consider joint promotion opportunities and marketing, marketed using #GMlibraries
- Agree what common standards of service for customers can be achieved
- Explore options for improving the customer experience further, for example, looking at options around payments, fees and charges, customer reservations, and events
Future priorities for GM Libraries – 2016
The following workstreams have been identified as priorities:
The Early Years offer has long been a core part of the public library offer. GM Libraries will work together to identify and map best practice against the new Early Years delivery model, and increase awareness of our offer particularly across partners in Early Years settings.
GM Libraries will work together with colleagues from Public Health to produce health information and promotion in order to increase residents’ awareness and access. A meeting is being arranged in order to link this work into Health and Social Care reform.
E-books and e-resources
GM Libraries will identify how the ten authorities can work more closely together to make it easier for residents to access e-book content and increase reading opportunities. A GM Libraries e-magazine service was launched in July 2016 providing residents with access to 100 popular titles.
Public Sector Reform
There will be a focus on identifying opportunities and new ways in which GM Libraries can support the various elements of the Public Sector Reform agenda and the work of GMCA.
Having a formal memorandum of understanding has made us more businesslike. It sets a structure around something that was already happening, but in ad hoc ways. To other authorities who might like to explore this way of working, we’d say start with conversations. Get together in a workshop setting and assess what currently works well between you, and what doesn’t. Identify common themes and give each a lead. Setting a structure in place makes it easier to track progress, maintain momentum and monitor what is working.
Read more about the shared library card and shared system.
Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce