Developing community library services

Needing to make drastic savings, the Lewisham Library & Information Service in London developed new volunteer-led community library services.

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Challenges and solutions

There were unquestionably some hitches, mainly due to everyone's aim to avoid gaps in service delivery. For instance, Crofton Park changed hands in just three days: Darren Taylor, CEO of Eco Computer Systems, comments, "It was a real baptism by fire - we went straight in and had to set up immediately. In retrospect, it was a good thing, we were forced to be independent right from the start."

The Library & Information Service had to solve some critical issues to implement the community library solution. The main one related to data protection, and to the prevention of unauthorised access to borrower records by third parties. Axiell UK developed a custom made solution, based on their OG operating system.

The new system, OpenGalaxy Touch, makes issuing and renewing books simple enough to involve only minimal training for volunteers who may not be experienced in computer or database use. The solution is fully portable, running on tablet devices and on any browser. It allows parts of the library management system (LMS) to be 'locked down' for data protection reasons so that volunteers only view the information required to issue, return and renew books. Library staff can access other areas of the LMS via wireless or 3G so that, for example, they can use it to carry out stock work in the community library branches or to waive or examine fines.

The solution is visually engaging for volunteers and library visitors, featuring icons (book covers) which, when used on a tablet device, can simply be touched and dragged to move items from 'current items' to 'return', for example.

With the essential LMS backbone now in place the community libraries are proving an excellent complement to the seven "hub" libraries owned and managed by the Council. The community libraries have developed their own character, and their users are increasingly pleased with the result. As Darren Taylor put it: "In the face of savage cuts our council has found a way to keep a decent library service in the borough, and deserves praise ...."

Image of Lewisham's customised solution courtesy of Catherine Dhanjal.

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