The New York Public Library (NYPL) and Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) will integrate their tech services departments, the libraries announced last week, saving BPL $2 million per year and NYPL about $1.5 million.
Christopher Platt, Director of Collection & Circulation Operations of NYPL, will lead the combined operation, christened Book Ops. Charlene Rue, Director of Collection Development of BPL, will be deputy director of collection management, and Salvatore Magaddino, Deputy Director of Collections and Circulation Operations at NYPL, will be deputy director of logistics. Book Ops will be jointly operated and governed by both systems. Governance details are still being finalized, Platt says.
The plan was developed at the behest of New York City, which initially called all three of the city’s library systems together and tasked them with finding ways to cooperate and share money, Platt told LJ. But while the Queens Public Library was part of the original conversation, ultimately it implemented separate cost savings instead, so it will not be part of the Book Ops project.
The libraries will consolidate their book buying, collection management, selection, acquisition, cataloging, processing, and delivery functions. As a result, some 27 positions will be eliminated—but no actual staff members will be laid off. The systems were able to absorb the consolidation entirely via past and planned attrition.
“The staff savings is almost a side” benefit, Platt said. The main efficiencies come from handling more in house that was previously done by outside vendors at greater expense, from sharing sorting and delivery, and as Rue pointed out, to negotiate deeper discounts because of the libraries’ greater combined volume of purchases. Rue also says the merger gives the systems the opportunity to streamline its processes.
The operations will be located at the Library Services Center in Long Island City which NYPL moved into three years ago, when it combined technical services for its research and branch libraries. It is a “large, purpose-designed, state of the art facility,” explained Pratt, which contains “stuff that is usually shoehorned into a central library,” including an automatic sorter. Each system currently moves more than half a million items per month between branches, so together, Book Ops will handle a full million per month. “But we have the capacity,” says Platt.
Rue says the costs of the project are already covered in the libraries’ current budget. “We did an extensive feasibility study, and have been crunching numbers up until today,” she said. “Where we are now is preparing for the implementation phase.” The goal is to start implementation on April 1 and be fully implemented by the new fiscal year, which begins in July. However, says Rue, “that date could float depending on the staffing levels and whether we have to hire.”
NYPL and BPL looked around for other libraries implementing similar initiatives, Platt told LJ, and found few in the public sphere, but several in academics, including Columbia and Cornell’s 2CUL project. Like those Ivy League institutions, NYPL and BPL consider the tech services merger the beginning of a wider collaboration. In this case, Platt says, “it lays the groundwork to allow patrons to return books to the other systems… it happens now on an ad hoc basis [when patrons return books to the wrong library by accident], but it will give us an opportunity to be more systematic.” Although Queens is not participating in the technical services integration, Platt hopes the library will eventually be a part of the integrated book return project. As to an even more ambitious collaboration, interoperable library cards, Platt says it “is still a possibility. It is kind of a like a future phase; it involves new technology.”