Government libraries – a new model?

In the Australian state of Queensland a new model reflects the changed nature of library and information services.

In 2012 a new government reviewed existing services  - a complete restructure of library sevices was the result.

The Queensland Government Research and Information Library (GRAIL) recently celebrated its first anniversary.  Much has happened in the year since the special library of the Queensland (QLD) Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) packed up and moved across the river to settle in the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) in its new incarnation as GRAIL.

GRAIL (like the previous DPC library) provides a library and research service to the central agencies of the Queensland government; its clientele are the public servants of those departments.  SLQ is essentially the major public library of the State. SLQ collects, preserves, promotes and makes accessible Queensland's documentary heritage and provides content to meet the information needs of Queenslanders.  

What triggered the move from government department to State Library?   A change of government in 2012 precipitated reviews of existing services. The DPC library was the subject of one such review.    

The eventual outcome of the review was that from 1 July 2013, SLQ was responsible for the provision of an information and research service to DPC and five other Queensland government agencies. State Library would establish a new unit, Government Research and Information Library (GRAIL), with the existing DPC library staff to deliver this service.  Six full time equivalent staff and a proportion of the government collection transferred to SLQ.

Developing sustainable services

In developing the GRAIL model, SLQ’s intention was to ensure the development of a cost effective and sustainable service which, if required, could be extended to other Government departments and agencies. The costs to the government agencies are based on a Memorandum of Understanding and Service Level Agreements. 

The GRAIL model is focused on three interdependent activities: providing content; enabling access to required information; and providing reference/research services on demand.  This model reflects the changed nature of library and information services, focused on provision of online services/desktop delivery, building the capability of staff, and providing efficient distribution via electronic alerting services.

There are many benefits of this arrangement including, for government clients, a seamless transition of service. DPC library closed on Friday 28 June 2013 and GRAIL began service on Monday 1 July 2014.  Government officers now gain access to a far larger collection of resources as they draw on the resources of the State Library.  SLQ gained many Qld government publications which had not made their way into the collection despite the State Library being a Qld 'legal deposit' library.

In theory, being part of a much larger library meant technical functions such as acquisitions, cataloguing and circulation could be handled by existing SLQ units with GRAIL staff concentrating on research and current awareness. While this has proved true to a certain extent, as with anything new there have been teething problems.  Differences in culture should not be underestimated as there are differences in approaches between special and public libraries.

Building and maintaining client relationships is a large part of a successful special library operation and it continues to be a major focus of GRAIL.

SLQ was not a lending library but implemented a lending service to government officers via GRAIL. This was used as a pilot scheme to implement lending of the SLQ information collection to the wider Qld community which commenced from the end of July 2014.

Negotiations around e-resource licensing, duplicate e-resources and the extension of existing licenses to include public and government clients are time-consuming but progressing well.  Government clients are extremely supportive of the new model. GRAIL now has seven government client agencies and there is potential for further growth.  

Angela will be speaking at Internet Librarian International in October 2014.  During the session she will outline  GRAIL’s service provision to government, the efficiencies, benefits and differences of operating within a large library and what they’ve learnt along the way.