Ealing and Northfield

Library productivity

I do think that the new (not so new now after a year) Labour administration has been badly advised by officers in respect of the libraries. There are other ways of taking costs out of the library service besides closing the smaller libraries which do not perform as badly as some people would try to tell you. In fact I would suggest that it is the larger libraries that are hiding the productivity issues.

There are something like 125 FTE staff still in the library service of which some 21.5 FTE are what I would call back office staff. Seven of those back office staff are very expensive managers who in turn report up through another three layers of management within the council. Two years ago, when I was in charge of the libraries, we took £400K of costs out of the back office and no-one even noticed, except for the fact that we used some of the savings to put resources back into the front office to increase opening hours! I have obtained the following figures for library staffing levels from officers:

The size of the libraries varies a lot. The Ealing Central figure includes the dedicated manager.

If we then take the output figures from the library consultation document we can start to get a grip on productivity. The first chart below shows library productivity in terms of 2009/10 visits per FTE.

Four libraries (Jubilee, two Northolts and West Ealing) were closed for refurbishment during this period so can be forgiven. Both Hanwell and Northfield are in the top five. Both Acton and Greenford have more than 10 staff and Ealing Central has 27 but even with automation they cannot achieve economies of scale and out produce these tiny libraries. On first look the 50 odd FTE at these three libraries could be made more productive.

The next chart is library productivity in terms of 2009/10 issues per FTE.

Again the four part closed libraries perform poorly obviously. Without automation and only 3.6 FTE Northfield comes out on top. Perivale and Hanwell are in the top 5. Employing 35 FTE Acton, Greenford and Southall look weak.

The final chart is library productivity in terms of forecast 2010/11 visits per FTE. This is the most up to-date information so could perhaps be given the most weight but we all have good years and bad years so we shouldn’t forget the previous year.

Ignore Wood End as it is closed for part of the year. Northfield and Perivale compete even with their small staff and lack of automation. Although Hanwell and NLCL are laggards they both beat Acton, again with its large staff.

The conclusion I draw from all of this is that the council should look at front office work practices in the large libraries. It should be easier to get economies of scale out of a large workforce dealing with large volumes, especially when there is automation using RFID.

There are 62.7 FTE working in our four largest libraries. There are only 11.5 FTE working in the four slated for closure. I know where I would look for my savings.

PS The Jubilee Gardens library which combines a doctor’s surgery with a library looks like a stunning success. Its 3.6 staff manage double the productivity of some of the larger libraries.

2 replies on “Library productivity”

A few reasons why self-service machines don’t replace staff:

Some people won’t use them
Not all the books have RFID tags in yet
The machines break now and again
You can’t use them to pay fines
They don’t answer questions
They don’t put books on shelves, organise events, run reading groups, sing songs to toddlers etc

I’ve stood many times in long queues at Ealing Central Library while the machines were free. If anything they need more staff points during busy times, not more machines.

How much roughly are the expensive managers being paid?



I am not suggesting that RFID can replace all the staff but it does look like it could have more impact on productivity. I note that in supermarkets, banks, etc the self-serve is underutilised at first. Customers resent it. Then, as they get used to it they take to it. The usage definitely changes, especially if you provide floorwalkers temorarily to show people how it works.

I would prefer to encourage people to use RFID more and have single-handed small libraries than have libraries closed. I think this is what the majority of users would prefer to.

I don’t understand the pay grades well enough to tell you. I have been meaning to ask though so will.


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