Friday, August 14, 2009

SMH Article on Outsourcing

Bland ambition as libraries put bucks before books
Paul Bibby Urban Affairs Reporter
July 3, 2009
SYDNEY councils are quietly outsourcing the basic functions of librarians to private book suppliers, leaving suburbs with bland generic books that do not reflect local communities.

Anna Ioannidis at Marrickville Library. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Six Sydney councils have put out to tender the task of selecting, supplying and cataloguing most new books for their 15 libraries.

Ashfield, Botany, Burwood, Canada Bay, Canterbury and Marrickville councils say the use of a single private book supplier is more efficient and will not affect services or the quality of their collections.

But librarians say their basic professional tasks - determining their readers' tastes, sourcing books from up to 20 suppliers and cataloguing them in up to 12 languages - will be carried out by staff from large book suppliers such as Zenith or Peter Pal.

They say their libraries will suffer because private suppliers have no connection to local communities and will not be able to provide more unusual books, such as those by unknown authors or in foreign languages.

"It's the specialist language collections and the more obscure English-language selections that will suffer - you'll get a lot of lightweight stuff that people don't want to read," one librarian said.

Another said the quality of cataloguing would suffer.

"People don't realise how crucial good cataloguing is," the librarian said. "Not only do people have to be able to find books easily, especially as more are using the online catalogue, but most libraries have catalogues in seven or eight languages. If that stops, people from non-English speaking backgrounds won't be able to use the library at all."

The changes are part of a library trend. Canterbury, Baulkham Hills, Hurstville, Holroyd, Rockdale and Ryde councils have either outsourced some cataloguing functions or are about to do so.

A former cataloguer from Marrickville Library, Anna Ioannidis, said libraries were heading towards privatisation.

"Marrickville Library used to have nearly 20,000 Greek titles - now it has [fewer than] 5000," said Ms Ioannidis, whose position was made redundant.

"A library is not a supermarket and the people who use them are not customers."

But the general manager of the South Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, David Lewis, defended the changes.

He said councils were continuing to provide good libraries in the face of dramatically diminishing revenue by forming joint ventures to get a better deal from service providers.

"The quality of services in these libraries will improve because there will be more staff available for face to face and more funds available for new books," Mr Lewis said.

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