Council warned against ‘small cabal’ deciding future library IT system

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A new library IT system will be cheaper and better than the current “clunky” system, the head of libraries has informed a committee at Essex County Council (ECC).

However, the place services committee also heard on Wednesday (December 18) concerns warning against a “small cabal” making decisions in isolation.

The changes will be made as part of a £3million investment – £1.9million of which has been set aside for a programm hase of refurbishment for a limited number of libraries.

The Essex Future Library Service Strategy 2019-2024 was approved by the council on July 23, in response to what ECC regards as an outdated model resulting in falling numbers of library visitors.

A £3million investment was awarded to improve the library service through some library refurbishments, new technology and the support and set up of community-run libraries.

A new system is hoped to provide an effective system for managing stock and customer data, which can integrate with other systems such as self service facilities, and a payment system thereby encouraging new users.

However, Cllr Stephen Hillier said it was important the system overhaul was run with proper oversight.

He said: “What is the platform the library management system is currently running on? Are we looking for something that is off the shelf or are we building it to specification? Who is going to develop it? Are we looking for packages that need to fit together?

“My thoughts are that quite often a small cabal sitting in a backroom designing a system, doesn’t necessarily get the right system and I wonder if this committee ought to have sight of the specification before the implementation gets too far down the road.”

Juliet Pirez, head of libraries, said: “We have a system that’s clunky and out of date and really expensive and it is a combination of add ons.

“Any changes we have wanted to make to it since 1994 has been added on at a very expensive cost. So this is our chance to put that to one side.

“We are looking at different options at the moment including a consortium option which would give us lots more stock and services than we have at the moment.

“I can guarantee that anything we get will be cheaper than what we are paying for now and it will be more modern than the system we have now.”

Essex Council had wanted to close 25 libraries across the county, but then in the summer promised no libraries would close for five years.

However, it said it would look to set up 19 community-run libraries, adding that groups wanting to help run their library will have to meet a 14-point list of criteria.

Ms Pirez added: “The idea is that our libraries become community hubs and they attract a wider and more diverse audience. We need to use this money to create a more comfortable and practical space for everyone in the community.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter