Collaboration and Efficiency Through Google Apps
As one of the earliest library adopters of Google Apps, St. Louis County Library (SLCL) has taken full advantage of the collaborative and sharing features of these cloud-based applications. One of the most impressive examples of the value of Google Apps was realized in the periodicals selection and ordering process.
As in any library, collaboration and sharing of information within the organization presents some potential challenges. Everyone is overwhelmed with email and attachments, or even worse, buried under stacks of printed information. One such example at SLCL was seen in the procedure for the selection and ordering of periodical titles at all 20 locations. Each manager was given multiple lengthy printouts listing the titles in that location’s collection and other printouts displaying usage data. Managers were forced to cross-check these lists to make decisions about their collections for the following year. Unfortunately, these lists were often inaccurate because of the complexity of managing the periodicals ordering for 20 locations. Managers spent many hours trying to synthesize the information in printed form to make sound selection decisions. Many phone calls had to be made to staff in the Acquisitions department to answer questions or point out errors in the printed documents. In general, Branch Managers and the Acquisitions department dreaded this annual project. Each Branch Manager invested on average 30 hours of staff time in the selection process, a total of 600 staff hours system-wide. The Acquisitions staff was forced to dedicate over 180 hours of staff time to producing the reports and answering questions from the branches. Once selections were turned in, another 40 hours of staff time were required to manually input the selections for the actual placement of orders for 20 locations. Despite having the best intentions, and careful attention to detail, the entire process was fraught with errors. Due to the challenge of including accurate and useful circulation statistics on the printed document produced for each location, the best decisions were not always made in the selection and deselection process. A final disadvantage of the old procedure is that Branch Managers could not easily know what was selected for other locations.
In order to solve the problems cited above, staff created a spreadsheet using Google Apps. This spreadsheet included the necessary information needed for evaluating, selecting, and ordering periodicals for all locations of SLCL. The spreadsheet included accurate circulation data and an accurate list of titles with owning branches clearly identified in their own columns. All of the information that was previously on several different printed documents was now neatly arranged into one place. In addition to the title, circulation, and holdings information, the spreadsheet identified the cost of each subscription, and the embedded formulas automatically calculated each location’s total budget spent and total remaining. Once created, the document was shared with all managers involved in the selection process. Selections could be made right on the spreadsheet rather than communicating this information over the phone, via email, or in printed communication. Additionally, managers could now see their own collections clearly, but they also had the ability to see what others selected. Once selections were made, the information was already compiled and ready to be pushed through for actual ordering. The same document is used for subsequent years as well, making the selection and ordering process more streamlined with each passing year.
The collaborative nature of Google Apps allowed St. Louis County Library to greatly increase overall efficiency in the area of periodicals selection. The spreadsheet is the one and only place that staff need to look to find the necessary information. The entire process has been streamlined dramatically. Google Apps allows authorized staff to control access to the document ensuring that no unapproved changes are made. The periodical collections at all locations are now more responsive to the needs of the community because of the accurate usage figures. The greatest benefit with the application of Google Apps is the incredible staff time savings at all steps of the process. Under the old procedure, the Acquisitions staff spent over 220 hours of staff time on this project, and branch staff who evaluated and made the selections spent over 600 hours collectively. The Google Apps spreadsheet has reduced these times to 6 hours for Acquisitions staff and 120 hours for branch staff. The accuracy of the information is much improved because there is no manual transfer of information from one place to another. Accuracy can also be checked by each contributor to the spreadsheet, so instead of one person checking the order information for accuracy, it can be reviewed by more than 20 staff. Budgeting decisions are much easier for Branch Managers because the information is accurately calculated on the spreadsheet as they make selections. We no longer waste reams of paper printing out the selection lists, nor do we have multiple versions of the document floating around the system. The spreadsheet is live and there is only one accurate and up-to-date copy. These positive outcomes have completely transformed a process and freed up staff time to work on other projects. This is just one of many examples of using Google apps that led Google to recognize St. Louis County Library as a “Government Transformer.”