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Centre for Operational Excellence (COPE)
Faculty of Economics and Business
Centre for Operational Excellence (COPE) Projects Libraries network

Libraries network

Libraries network

Dutch libraries are searching for new logistic concepts which may enable them, in spite of reduced subsidies and modern trends including digital reading, to maintain their core function, which is making available a media collection, including books. Research into sharing collections, designing the library network and transporting books among the library branches and to lenders is being carried out in various projects.

Research into smart logistic concepts for libraries

The world of libraries is under pressure. Over recent years, local authorities have made radical cuts in public library subsidies. As a result, branches have closed down and collections have shrunk. Besides that, customer behaviour is changing due to digital developments including the rise of e-books and webshops.

Together with library organisations, the Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek; KB) is in search of a definition of those core functions which suit changing customer needs and may keep alive library services. Note: since January 2015, the services previously provided by the Public Library Sector Institute (Sectorinstituut Openbare Bibliotheken; SIOB) have been provided under the name of KB. For example: all public libraries in the Netherlands are being connected to the online library catalogue in the Netherlands (Nederlandse Bibliotheek Catalogus; NBC+), so that all collections can be consulted using one uniform online platform, which progressively incorporates libraries' digital collections as well. Besides, plans are being made for a national library card which will allow members to borrow or return books in any library in the Netherlands.

Lower costs and improved services

Logistically, there are also various options for reducing library costs and/or improving services by applying new, smart concepts. That is the reason why the Center for Operational Excellence (COPE) of the University of Groningen is cooperating with KB (previously: SIOB) and other partners on several research projects. A number of these projects are part of the Dinalog R&D projects below.

  • Internet logistics: research into the best possible design of distribution networks for deliveries to consumers.
  • Cargo hitching: research into integrated transport networks for freight traffic and/or transport of passengers.

Substudies within these research projects have been identified which should generate solutions for the various problems which libraries are facing:

  1. Collection building and placement. By sharing collections, libraries won’t have to invest as much in purchasing new titles. Based on borrowing behaviour, though, which titles can best be placed in which library? And how should the distribution network be designed in order to deliver these titles to the other locations rapidly and efficiently? Would it be advisable to store part of the collection in a central national depot, or would it be a better idea to make use of a larger number of decentralised depots?
  2. The impact of library closures. What is the impact of cuts on how libraries are used? Does closure of branches bring about a change in borrowing behaviour or cancellation of memberships?
  3. Delivery to the home or the workplace. Libraries consider allowing members to select titles via the Internet and delivering them to their home or work. This could be an interesting concept for keeping alive libraries' core function, particularly in shrinking regions. Pros and cons were studied in two pilot projects: one pilot involving delivery of library books to customers’ homes in a shrinking region and another one involving delivery of books from university libraries to the workplace.
  4. Internal library logistics. Library and depot designs have a great impact on efficiency of operations, including collecting and replacing books. One substudy conducted research into the feasibility of combining book collection and book replacement in one round through the library.
  5. Transport and network design. It is to be expected that national, regional and local transport between library branches will continue to grow because borrowers are allowed to choose titles not only from their local branch, but also from other collections within the national network. What would be the best possible design of the library branches network and how can transport from, to and between branches best be organised?
  6. Physical Internet. The Physical Internet is an open logistic system which distributes goods using a physical network - comparable with data traffic via the Internet. This substudy focuses on the question whether the Physical Internet concept can be used for the purpose of setting up an efficient and sustainable logistics system for libraries. One of the ideas to be researched is social transport: deploying people (volunteers) for transporting books.

Researchers involved

A great many researchers are working on this ongoing project. In June 2014, Susanne Wruck obtained her doctorate at VU University Amsterdam with a thesis on research into the integration of logistic processes around dealing with lending out and returning books in libraries. This research was facilitated by the VU University Library in Amsterdam. As a postdoctoral researcher, Remco Germs conducted research into the logistic processes within the University of Groningen Library. Gerlach van der Heide is currently conducting his study into new logistic concepts for libraries within the Dinalog R&D project pertaining to Internet logistics. In the context of both R&D-projects, students and junior researchers are working on various themes such as those mentioned above. Optimisation of the library network will continue to be a subject of research within the University of Groningen in the next few years.

Substudy: which books should be present in a central depot and which ones in a local branch?

After completing his final project about interlibrary lending, he started his doctoral research with a thesis on the best possible design of library networks. One of its themes is centralisation of distribution. Storing library collections in a central depot creates economies of scale and reduces logistic costs. Besides that, the logistic craftwork at a central depot can be carried out by warehouse personnel instead of expensive librarians. 'One of the questions which I try to find an answer to is about the price consumers should pay for sending a book from the central depot. It is obvious that this service should be available and affordable for everyone. If shipment from the central depot becomes completely free of charge, though, borrowers will order more books than they need, which may give rise to a tripling of the demand', Mr Van der Heide said.

A second question is how many copies of a book title should be stored in the central depot and how many in the local branches. 'It is convenient to make frequently borrowed titles available in local branches and stock the less popular books in the central depot. We are trying to set up a model for that purpose which is suitable for use in practice as well as scientifically interesting.'

In addition to that, Mr van der Heide would like to establish a connection between logistic challenges in the realm of libraries and the issues surrounding Internet logistics. 'Soon, libraries too will provide opportunities to order books online from your home address and to even have them delivered to you. The most important difference is that libraries have a hundred percent returns."

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