Over the last several years, it is hard to miss the overall trend in the information management industry away from centralized library services. The concept is that, while these services are helpful, they are more of a convenience than a necessity since there are many information management software solutions on the market. From my experience, it is important to evaluate this decision very carefully as removing the central library can create more problems and cost inefficiencies than it saves.
Here are the reasons why:
Purchasing efficiency – The first and most obvious benefit of a central library is the purchasing control the central library offers. When you have one group that is responsible for information acquisition and distribution of information, several things happen:
- There is no duplication of purchases. If more than one group needs the information, the library will upgrade licenses. This is often far cheaper than two departments purchasing for themselves.
- Information retrieval is much faster, more cost effective, and more complete. If information is needed for a project, an experienced librarian can be instrumental in helping the organization maximize the use of internal resources because of their experience and training in working with large catalogues of data. It is one thing to have a central collection of data available to all end users and it is quite another to have a person trained to use the collection that can help the end user find what they need. Without the librarian, it often becomes the responsibility of a department head or scientist/engineer to find needed information themselves. This costs them time and invites the inefficiencies caused by a lack of experience finding relevant information. As an example, a scientist may look for oncology therapeutics information and find nothing. The librarian would look for what the scientist looked for, but they would also try the words cancer, treatment, and drugs. This is a simplistic demonstration, but it is indicative of what it means to have an experienced librarian at the helm.
- Vendor relationships drive down costs. Without a central library, end users will often go to the first place they find the information they need to make a purchase. Many in fact will not even be aware of relationships that have been established with key information providers. The presence of a library allows for the establishment of strong relationships with specific vendors they know that have good pricing but more importantly, can be trusted to provide honest and reliable service.
Information Platforms - One of the most efficient ways for larger organizations to acquire information is to establish subscriptions to reports from trusted publishers. The central libraries are often the part of the organization that is best equipped to execute on agreements of this nature. Without a central communication point for establishing this type of contract, it can be very challenging to arrange for access to these services. This is especially true of organizations with many departments and/or operating divisions. Just the logistics of getting four division heads to examine an information solution can prevent an organization from moving forward with a potentially optimal solution. So, without the presence of a central library, an organization may be missing out on the ability to create and maintain the services that are the best solution for significant cost savings for acquiring needed information.
Procedural efficiency – another way that a central library often reduces operating costs is by helping to maintain a consistent procedure for the purchase of information. Without the benefit of a central library, it is up to each department, and sometimes each end user, to acquire reports themselves. In many cases, these end users have no idea how the purchase process is supposed to happen. In my own experience, this has lead to many purchases that do not follow the required procedures for processing the purchases. This can range from missing POs to the more challenging problem of overspending budgets due to the lack of systematic purchasing. In the worst cases, a lack of procedural knowledge can lead to a total inability to acquire new information at all when end users cannot figure out the process fast enough for project deadlines. In all of these cases, additional accounting time and resources are wasted dealing with these issues or there is an opportunity cost related to the inability to get current and accurate data to help with the projects being worked on.
While it will always be necessary for organizations to make tough decisions regarding the acquisition and management of all resources, it is my hope that this blog has provided some helpful insight into some of the things that need to be considered when addressing the issue of information control.
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