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Outsourcing of Library Functions: A New Idea

N.Suresh. M.Com, M.L.I.Sc (NET), M.Phil,

Assistant Librarian and Information officer,

Anna centenary Library, Chennai-25


This article discusses briefly the outsourcing, its types and History of Library outsourcing. Mentions the implication of outsourcing in library functions. Discusses why library functions outsourcing and Criteria for selecting an Outsourcing Vendor. Highlights pros and cons of Library outsourcing. Enumerates the Future of Library outsourcing.

I. Introduction:

Outsourcing is contracting with another company or person to do a particular function. Almost every organization outsource in some way. Typically, the function being outsourced is considered non-core to the business. The outside firms that are providing the outsourcing services are third-party providers, or as they are more commonly called, service providers.

Outsourcing in Library functions means hiring or contracting out side organizations to perform some functions that would otherwise be performed by their in-house library professionals. Outsourcing is a controversial issue with Library redundancy implications for library staff. Outsourcing describes how services are obtained. Although the term and its practice have been more prevalent in business, library outsourcing has recently become a persistent and controversial topic among librarians. If Outsourcing practiced properly libraries valuable resources can be directed and reengineering of library services can be achieved in its true sense. Outsourcing also opens up new avenues to entrepreneurship among the new generation of library professionals, but we also have to consider its feasibility by the number of such professionals. We should also focus our concentration towards staff–user interaction, and personal touch, otherwise the tacit knowledge inherent in the staff will remain unutilized.

II. Definition of Library Outsourcing

Outsourcing is a frequently misused and misunderstood term and some disagreement can be traced to different definitions (Appleby, 2000). Lund (1997) used "outsourcing" to mean that someone who is not on the university payroll manages the whole or part of a university library function, employing their own staff and assets.

III. Types of outsourcing

III. (A) BPO (Business Process Outsourcing)

In BPO a particular process task is outsourced. An example would be payroll. BPO work could be either back office related or front office work. By front office functions we mean customer oriented work like marketing, answering calls, technical support and so on, whereas internal work like billing and purchase come in the back office category. .
Multimedia/ animation, book keeping, business consultancy, CAD/ CAM, call center, DTP, data entry, proof reading and editing, typesetting, handwriting services, marketing, medical billing and transcription, web design and development etc are all services that could be put under the BPO category.

III. (B) KPO (Knowledge Process Outsourcing)

As is evident from the description, BPO activities involve carrying out standardized processes for the client. KPO or Knowledge Process Outsourcing typically calls for work that needs higher levels of involvement from the worker. The worker has to employ advanced levels of research, analytical and technical skills and has to make decisions of a higher order than BPO work. Examples are pharmaceutical research and development, patent/ intellectual property research, animation and simulation. Data research and analysis, legal services, content writing and development and database development services. KPO industry is less older and mature than the BPO sector.

IV. History of library outsourcing:

One of the first organizations to outsource work was the library. Since the Industrial Revolution. This outsourcing process is beneficial to both the outsourcing company and the outsourcing service provider. In the early 1900s the Library of Congress began providing catalog cards to libraries. On 31st of March 1995 Bakers & McKenzie dismissed the entire library staff at the Chicago office only for the sake of outsourcing. Although the Company announced it to be the matter of the re-institution of their law library, to bring the library more into the electronic age. And by the mid and late 1990s a number of private organisations started to outsource their library functions. Outsourcing has grown tremendously with the arrival of the computer and growth of communication technologies. In India too, libraries have for a long time now been outsourcing their functions. For instance, the Ahmedabad Textile Industries Research Association (ATIRA) has appointed ADINET (a network of libraries in and around Ahmedabad) to take care of its libraries physical verification work and rearrangement of the classification and cataloguing of accumulated books. Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research has contracted LibSys for barcoding and implementing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to all their documents. Even the Indian Airlines had an outside agency convert all their engineering drawing and related documents from microfilm to CD. Almost all libraries outsource their translation work to agencies like Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC) or to independent translators.

Now some of the corporate companies libraries run by outsourcing Company, many academic and public libraries functions like database creation, web site creation&maintance done by outsourcing companies.WIPRO company libraries functions are outsourced and Anna centenary library outsourced their some of the Library functions are website creation, library networking and Library automation and RFID work.

V. Functions are outsourced in library:

The following are some library functions that are generally outsourced:

  • Classification & Cataloguing.

  • Preservation. & Shelving

  • Photocopying

  • Binding

  • Translation

  • Library Automation & Bar Coding

  • Members Identity Cards

  • Indexing

  • Database Management

  • Network Management

  • Web site designing and maintenance.

VI.Why outsourcing for library functions:

The reasons why libraries should outsource their work are given below:

  • Library Professional can concentrate on core activities.

  • Operating and training costs can be reduced.

  • Efficiency can be improved.

  • Value-added services can be provided.

  • Productivity can be increased in less time.

  • Best quality services can be provided.

  • Manpower can be saved.

  • Customer satisfaction can be ensured.

  • Skilled manpower can be bought at lower rates.

VI. Criteria for selecting an Outsourcing Vendor:

When your decision to outsource has been confirmed, you will need to initiate three stages to provide the most benefit of outsourcing to your Library. First one is planning- In this stage processes and routines are examined and quantified, and the costing out of internal workflow and operations occurs. In addition, the selection of a vendor and contractual negotiation occur in this stage. Second one is Implementing- Restructuring and reorganizing workflow occurs in this stage, along with the introduction of new processes and routines, and the development of new policies. Then, you learn how to use new systems and further assimilate your work with that of the vendor. Third one is managing this stage involves quality management and problem resolution. Specific quality indicators should be developed so that quality can objectively be assessed. To thoroughly address this stage, there necessitates the Outsourcing vendor and a librarian.

Other Important Criteria for selecting an Outsourcing Company:

  • Quality assurance

  • Reasonable cost

  • Reputation of the company/agency

  • Exposure to advanced skill and technology

  • Contract terms

  • Privacy and Confidentiality

These checks are extremely important if the library does not want poor service meted out to its users by the outsourced company.

VII. Pros of Library outsourcing:

  • Outsourcing is the potential tool to reduce overall costs and improve the quality of library services and products.

  • Outsourcing leaves the library Staffs to provide better reference services if cataloguing or some other library works are being outsourced.

  • Library management can concentrate more on resources, especially human resources, and on public service activities.

  • Outsourcing may bring order to technical services operations that have been mismanaged, or have become non-productive.

  • Outsourcing helps to hire expertise when in-house staff is not available. For example: in case of translating foreign documents or in case of binding materials etc.

  • Value added services are also available from the cataloguing vendors. Like- Table of contents.

  • Improves uniformity if all the outsourced works (cataloguing, retrospective conversion etc.,) done, following a standard Increases users satisfaction by providing effective & up to date services in less time.

VIII. Cons of Library outsourcing:

  • Outsourcing of technical services is not suitable for every library.

  • Library staff needs to monitor ongoing costs and continuously assess the value of outsourcing as costs change.

  • Staff reallocations require Librarian to identify ways of reassigning and retraining staff as work disappears and new work is identified.

  • No safeguards for intellectual property.

IX. Conclusion:

Outsourcing is seen as a tool that helps libraries complete the tasks necessary to process new materials without directly adding new personnel. It is helpful to provide better and sufficient service to users. Library professionals need not panic about the loss of job when outsourcing in library function. But truth is they get more job opportunity in library outsourcing filed but they must improve communication skills and updated knowledge of ICT application in Library field. In general, there is no evidence that outsourcing has had a negative impact on library services and management. Outsourcing has been an effective managerial tool, and when used carefully and judiciously it has resulted in enhanced library services and improved library management. Instances where problems have arisen subsequent to decisions to outsource aspects of library operations and functions appear to be attributable to inadequate planning, poor contracting processes, or ineffective management of contracts.


  1. Appleby, B. (2002). Public libraries: Outsourcing technical services.

  2. CCLA Technical Services Standing Committee, (2009). The Use of Outsourcing Technical Services Functions in Florida College Libraries by the 2008-09.

  3. Lund, H. (1997). Outsourcing in commonwealth universities. ACU Bulletin of Current Documentation 130 (October):17-26.

  4. Martin Robert, S (2000). The Impact of Outsourcing and Privatization on Library Services and Management: A Study for the American Library Association.

  5. Ugah, (2010).Outsourcing in Nigeria libraries, Library Philosophy and Practice.

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