Decisions Blog

Fact Not Fiction: Implementing Effective Stock Management

Alyson Hogarth put it in a nutshell: What do we need to Manage?

  • Choice of stock
  • Movement of Stock
  • Deselection/disposal of stock”.

Alyson (from Middlesborough Libraries) was the keynote speaker at the NAG (National Acquisitions Group) seminar “Fact Not Fiction: Implementing Effective Stock Management ” in York yesterday. Most attendees were working librarians and stock managers from Public Libraries, supplemented by a scattering of supplier representatives.

Interestingly, the “how” of managing stock turned out to come down mostly to “Management Information” in the widest sense: information that supports decision-making on purchasing, rotation and withdrawal.

There were supplier presentations from Nielsen Book Data (Bookscan and Libscan), Infor (a technology horizon scan) and Bridgeall (focussing on the new procurement module in SmartSM).

Library-led presentations included one from Joanne Shadbolt of Manchester (ingeniously entitled “A Hitchhikers guide to Galaxy” – a reference to their DS/Axiell LMS), and one from Steve Kettle of Leicestershire Libraries outlining a stock project that they have been running since 2006.

For me, Steve’s presentation was the most interesting of all (and not primarily because Leicestershire use Talis Alto). Their stock project is a co-ordinated effort involving community profiling, market segmentation, promotion/branding and performance management that had a highly professional feel. From the evidence that Steve presented it had clearly worked, both at the level of issue performance (increases in most categories between 2005 and 2008) and in terms of the library’s contribution to Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) outcomes.

The seminar brought four issues into sharper focus for me:

  • The lack of a nationally agreed standard for stock or genre classification, primarily for Fiction.
  • The degree to which management tools presume, presuppose or prescribe a process, and the degree to which they merely inform or supplement existing decision-making processes. This is exemplified by SmartSM at one end of the range (built around a specific methodology) and Bookscan at the other (no assumptions about process).
  • The trade-off in stock management tools between practical and conceptual simplicity on the one hand, and ultimate power and flexibility on the other.
  • The move towards supplier selection

All in all a very interesting event. It will definitely be in my diary for next year

You cannot control that which you do not monitor

Management, said Peter Drucker, … means, in the last analysis, the substitution of … of knowledge for folklore and superstition… (from People and Performance)

It is just over a year since the Audit Commission published the In the Know report. This showed a quite startling link between the effective use of Management Information by Councils and outcomes of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) – see Fig 1 on page 10.

Good management information:

  • pinpoints where things are going wrong and remedial action is required (e.g. a fall-off in loans for an item, site or class of user or a drop in the numbers of visitors or PC bookings)
  • provides opportunities for pro-active experimentation (e.g. monitoring the issue performance of new sorts of material, or assessing the usefulness of publicity aimed at particular classes of user)
  • assists in tuning and optimising ongoing processes like stock selection and staff rostering. For example a university library might want more staff to help with enquiries during the day, and more coffee-shop staff in the evening when the main use of the library is study, reading and computer use.
  • Do suggest other things to add to this list using the comment facility (or make any other observations that you wish on this topic)

However a word of warning: as the “In the Know” report also highlighted, information is expensive. Furthermore, too much of it risks losing the few important bits of information in a blizzard of trivia. I’ll return to this point in a later post.