PL Information Technology Models of Service (2013)

CULC/CBUC Research as done by Ken Roberts, MA, MLS and Cheryl Stenstrom, PhD, MLIS.


As public libraries increasingly rely on technology to support services, library staff seek even more efficient ways to increase their technological capabilities.

Both in Canada and the United States, the prevailing models for the delivery of public library service rely on municipal funding and municipal infrastructure, whether physically-based (e.g., buildings) or services-based (e.g., administrative services). In some instances, it has been noted that municipalities want municipal IT departments to provide more services to public libraries. Recent research has shown that the development of strong relationships with governing counterparts can be an effective tool for gaining financial support for public libraries. However, anecdotally, concerns are being expressed in the public library community that reliance on municipal IT departments can be detrimental to achieving library strategic goals.

Previous studies in the fields of public administration and librarianship have shown that the municipal appetite for forming partnerships is growing. A desire to focus operational budgets on core activities is the main driver behind this trend. While costs savings are being achieved in some instances, little is known about the effectiveness of these partnerships. It is noted that frameworks describing power and influence may be useful in defining the factors of success in these partnerships.

This study focuses on different operational models for library IT service, their degree of independence/dependence on city-managed IT departments and their effectiveness. Through a two-part survey and case studies, a more complete picture of the models currently used by urban Canadian public libraries has been developed.

The results show the prevailing Canadian model is one of little integration with City IT departments, though many limited partnerships exist. The majority of the libraries surveyed rely on their City for at least one service (e.g., email, VOIP), typically these services require little day-to-day support and have little strategic impact. On the whole, these partnerships are working well. Dissatisfaction frequently arises when there is a desire to implement new projects and services with a high degree of investment in time or money (e.g., RFID or renovating web presence). Some effective relationships with corresponding Cities do exist, and, where there are aligned priorities, libraries are able to take advantage of the expertise offered by City IT departments. Difficulties seem to arise when needs are unique to each party, particularly when libraries require prompt support for a unique service that requires an understanding of patron demands.

While several financial models also exist, cost savings for the library are not realized when working with the City. In fact, entering into partnerships without a foundation of strong communication, trust and authority can result in increased costs for both parties. Funding new projects is generally a problem in all models.

The details of this report show there are a number of areas in which libraries that operate independently from their City IT departments report higher performance than those that are more tightly integrated. Exceptions exist, and while it appears that working closely with funding municipalities has advantages, realizing strategic IT goals that are driven by patron demand is not one of them.


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