Taking stock at North Ayrshire

17 December 2015

Highlighting how Capita's intuitive Soprano solution has improved library services across the mainland and islands.

With a combination of branch libraries, secondary school and mobile libraries to manage, North Ayrshire Council’s stock take had historically been carried out section by section, making it a complex, time-consuming task, where errors had more chance of creeping in.

Alison McAllister, systems and support officer at North Ayrshire Council, explains how by switching to Capita’s web-baed staff interface, Soprano, they were able to carry out their very first complete stock take, save staff time and improve accuracy.

North Ayrshire Council’s thriving library service is well used by its community of 700,000 customers and visitors. Along with the traditional books and publications, we have started to offer our customers a whole range of innovative services including a libraries app, and opportunities to listen, read and research online. But as the needs of our customers evolved, we felt that it was time to improve some of our internal processes, and one of these was the stock take.

North Ayrshire: facts and stats

  • The population of North Ayrshire is around 138,000
  • The council covers approximately 886 sq.km; half of that land is on the Scottish mainland and the other half is made up of islands
  • The council manages 17 branch libraries, nine secondary school libraries and two mobile libraries, one on the mainland and one on the Isle of Arran.

Our challenge

Previously, we had carried out the branch libraries’ stock take with library staff scanning each item in and then manually matching this list up to the catalogue of stock we expected in each library as well as the issue lists, to disregard items that were currently out on loan.

This involved comparing three spreadsheets and manually hiding any items that we matched. What was left, after many hours of matching up, was the list of outstanding stock that had not been accounted for.

This process tied up the time of our central library staff and meant that we ran the risk of some inaccuracies in our catalogues. It also meant we had never been able to do a complete stock take as we had to break the job down into sections, so did not have a truly accurate picture of stock. We felt this needed to change and so we turned to Capita to help.

Streamlining the stock take

We have had a strong, long-standing relationship with Capita’s library business spanning 14 years, and in that time, there have been some exciting developments in library technology. So when Capita launched Soprano, a web-based application that allows you to access your Capita library management system (LMS) from any device, it made sense for us to take a closer look at how the solution could help us to keep track of stock across our 17 libraries.

We chose Soprano because its stock management module would eliminate the task of manually matching stock that is in the library with stock in the catalogue. Because Soprano is so intuitive, it also meant it wouldn’t require very much training at all.

Putting knowledge at librarians’ fingertips

My colleague, Heather Benson, Administrative and Performance Officer at North Ayrshire Libraries, was closely involved in the project, and she explains how it progressed:

"Our central team trained staff in how to use Soprano at their branch. As Soprano is so easy to use, the library staff had no problems following the instructions, and they were able to get on with the stock-taking process immediately.

"Whenever we had any questions, Capita were very responsive, and because we have worked with them for so many years, we knew that they could support us through the transition."

Counting the benefits

Each library involved in stock taking has Soprano on their computer and they simply scan in each book as normal. We do it via our desktop computers, but you can use any mobile or tablet device to do the scanning work too.

Once the scanning is completed, Soprano does the rest. It links directly to our LMS in real time to identify items that should be in stock and those out on loan and simply reports on unaccounted items. The simplicity of the process meant we were able to carry out a complete stock take across all our libraries at the same time – which resulted in our first fully accurate picture of our catalogue.

Sound information

We are finding that librarians at the branches really welcome the opportunity that Soprano offers them to be more responsible for the stock taking. Also, the library staff now feel confident that the catalogue is correct and they know exactly what we have in the library at any one time.

This means that we avoid the frustrating situation where someone requests a book that appears in the catalogue, but we no longer have at the library.

Time saving

Another key benefit for us is that the physical stock-taking process is so much quicker than it was before, and this is having a huge impact on the libraries. Previously, staff in one of our branches would take three or four days to scan
 in all the stock, and then it could take another week or so to process all the data and pass it back to the library to be rechecked.

The stock take in our largest library used to take weeks; with Soprano it only takes five days.

Now that staff at each of our libraries are responsible for their stock takes, there is less pressure on the central team, who are freed up to carry out their other roles. They can now spend more time on day-to-day tasks such as reviewing the stock, ordering new items and answering questions from customers, therefore providing a better all around service. It also means that the team can get out and about promoting the library too, encouraging more customers to use our services.

Looking ahead

We would be keen to enable our school libraries to carry out their own stock takes using Soprano too. This way, the school libraries will have a much better idea of the stock they are holding, and it will release even more time for central staff to spend on developing library services for the community here in North Ayrshire.

The benefits of Soprano’s Stock Management module:

  • Improved efficiency as staff no longer need to manually check stock lists, rekey information or use paper lists
  • Faster stock takes which can be carried out at the shelves rather than trolley ~ by trolley
  • Increased accuracy of library catalogues as they are updated in the LMS automatically
  • Improved customer service as librarians know which items are held in stock at any time

Why use Soprano?

  • Soprano is designed to be used in a mobile environment, freeing staff from behind service points and allowing them to assist users at the shelves, or outside the walls of the library altogether.
  • The highly intuitive interface gives staff the flexibility to navigate around the system with ease and with only minimal training.
  • Tasks such as picking reservations, stock taking and bulk changes to stock can now be carried out at the shelves in real time eradicating the need for printed lists and drastically improving the time taken to update vital information for borrowers.
  • As a fully web-based solution, Soprano is being kept up to date with regular releases every 6-8 weeks. This removes the need to schedule in downtime for a staff interface upgrade and gives staff small and regular updates and improvements to their user interface.

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