Crowdsourcing services to libraries

Following on from my previous post about libraries engaging with new models for the production of culture, particularly crowdsourcing platforms, I wanted to highlight a parallel opportunity for libraries to efficiently get the support they need.

It’s a universal complaint that libraries have very poor budgets for training and advice – especially in relation to exactly the areas where training and advice are most needed, those where public demand is high but libraries’ metrics are not yet well-formed and their staff (including management) are not yet well-informed. Yes, library staff are skilled at research and self-directed study – but sometimes the most efficient way to learn is from someone who has already done all that work and can save you time.

This is especially true for the kind of training that is hardest to arrange affordably – specialised training for only a small number of staff. The time of specialist staff is inherently less flexible and more in-demand, because there are fewer people who can step in for them; and because training sessions tend to be smaller, costs are split between fewer participants and therefore higher per head.

Enter crowdsourcing.

The same basic principles that let the general public aggregate their demand – and money – in support of created works can serve libraries just as well. We just need to commit to doing so.

So what I propose is that libraries – and their umbrella bodies – start talking about formal systems that they can use to pool both funds and lists of topics on which they are seeking advice and/or training. Bodies like ALIA, the PLVN – and equivalents elsewhere – or National/State Libraries could set up a register of topics or activities of interest, and there are a couple of ways in which the aggregation of funding could be handled.

Speaking as someone who became a consultant precisely to give libraries access to this sort of specialised advice, I can affirm that this would be something I personally would be happy to support. While it’s in my financial interests to get as many different payments as possible for the same thing, that’s not my primary objective. So I am entirely happy to hear from libraries who would be interested in sharing the cost of training I run in order that I can help you find people to split the costs.

I would also be happy to help umbrella bodies develop the systems they require to support their members in this way. (And, in keeping with the spirit of this idea, to share the results with other such bodies so that they can benefit too.)

Innovation isn’t just for our patrons, after all!

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