Joining SEO is the Best Move We Have Ever Made as a Small Library!
In August 2007, New Madison Public Library joined SEO (Serving Every Ohioan), the automation consortium hosted by the State Library of Ohio. Almost two years later, I still say this is the best move we have ever made as a small library.
Our move to SEO was motivated by many factors. Primarily, we were relying on a dying automation server and outdated ILS software. We explored moving to a new server and software, but we didn’t have $50,000-70,000 in the bank, so we looked at other options. We discovered the cost to move to SEO was minimal (see more details about cost later in this article) and SEO would allow us to offer so much more to our patrons. Here are just a few examples of how we’re able to better serve our patrons now that we’re part of SEO.
Variety is the Spice of Life
SEO allows us to offer so much more variety to our patrons. Our patrons moved from a collection of 50,000 items to a collection of close to 1 million items. They must be happy with this move because our circulation is increasing by leaps and bounds. We’re up 25% compared to 2006, our last full year without SEO, and the monthly numbers continue to climb. As we all face budget cuts, being able to supplement what we can buy with the items held by other libraries is a real blessing.
We’ve been able to start an adult book club because we can easily order multiple copies of the same book. (Our school teachers also love this because they can order classroom sets.) We also borrow items to use in displays or themed units. This was especially helpful during a recent program on container gardening. We own a handful of titles on this topic, but we were able to maintain and circulate a really nice display on this topic throughout the month of May.
In addition, we don’t buy much large print in these tight budget times, but we keep a small collection of large print, that we order through SEO, on our browsing shelves all the time.
Shorter Waiting Lists
Our wait time for popular items is much shorter with SEO, too. Even items that have long hold queues come in quickly because so many copies are held system-wide. We often receive multiple copies of new bestsellers in shipment before we can even get our own copy processed and on the shelf.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of SEO, and I talk about our move to other directors on a regular basis. In these conversations, I hear several myths about joining SEO that I’d like to address…
Myth #1 We’ll Lose All Our Local Control if we Join SEO
This was truly our greatest fear when we started talking to SEO. We’ve always been very patron centered (like most small libraries) and we feared losing the ability to make our own rules and regulations to best suit our needs. We were happy to learn, with only a few exceptions, our own circulation rules and regulations were accommodated by SEO. We still decide what we buy and circulate, our circulation period, fines and fees are all the same and we’re still able to establish our own rules and regulations that best suit the needs of our patrons. Even though we feared losing local control, this fear has been unfounded so far in our SEO journey.
Myth #2 All Our Materials will go to Other Libraries
We worried that our new materials would go out in a US Cargo bag, and our own patrons would see empty shelves when they came in to browse. Again, this is a myth that just isn’t true in our case. Our new stuff does go out, but we’ve gotten pretty creative in our use of reserves/ holds. We’ve used a “Favorite Author’s List” for a long time (if you want to know more about this, send me an email for more details) so our patrons are generally pretty low in the holds queue for best sellers and really popular authors. As long as one of our patrons wants a book we own, it will circulate to our patrons before it goes out to other libraries. We also use SEO resources to fill our shelves (we use our library account to order particular collections or items that might be of interest) so our patrons never face empty shelves.
Myth #3 SEO is Expensive
Any ILS transition comes with a price tag. When we made the decision to join SEO, we sought quotes from ILS vendors so we could compare prices. One vendor specifically known for serving small libraries gave us a quote of $50,000-70,000 for the migration and a new server plus $10,000 a year to maintain our system. It cost us about $15,000 to buy two new circulation desk computers (with more memory) and receipt printers, and to migrate our patron database to SEO’s server. We “linked” our collection so the expense to migrate our catalog was limited. Our annual contract fee is much less than the $10,000 we were paying for an annual maintenance contract, and we’ll never worry about replacing ILS hardware or software ever again. Our biggest savings was realized when we were able to reduce staff size by one full-time cataloger (she retired and came back at ¼ time.) I was also able to transition an IT professional, who was charged with keeping our ILS system in working order, to maintaining our computers and website as well as doing a little cataloging on the side. As we face more staff cuts in 2009, our membership will allow us to shrink full time employees even further as needed because we have access to the professional staff members at SEO. We could feasibly do without an IT professional and cataloging is very streamlined because it is mostly adding holdings to an existing SEO record. I’m not at all blasé about reducing full time employees. I mourn the loss of valuable employees. But, when the economy makes it necessary, our membership in SEO allows us to still provide what our patrons need with less personnel.
**I could write about the advantages of joining SEO all day because it has been great for our patrons. But rather than go on and on here, I’ll end with my contact info and an invitation for you to call or visit any time. I’m happy to answer specific questions and I’ll send you to the right person at SEO if I can’t answer all your questions.
Ann Riegle-Coursey, Director of New Madison Public Library