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Camden News - by RICHASRD OSLEY
Published: 5 February 2009
Staff fear hours cut as libraries turn high-tech

Public to use DIY check-in scanners

LIBRARY staff fear their working hours could be cut as front-counter jobs are taken over by machines.
The Town Hall is ready to splash out £1.5million on new technology which will do tasks currently carried out by librarians.
Instead of face-to-face contact with staff, readers will simply scan books in and out, similar to the way supermarkets have installed self-ser­vice machines at checkouts.
Library groups, who have not always seen eye-to-eye with the council over changes to the way Camden’s ser­vice is run, have welcomed the move.
Alan Templeton, from Camden Public Library Users Group, said of the new technology: “It has considerable advantages and it is a method of improving service. I don’t think you should oppose new technology just because it is new technology. In this case it’s a step forward.”
He said Kilburn Library had already installed machines and, although initially suffering from “a chequered history”, they were now benefiting readers and speeding up the service.
It is the latest high-tech change to Camden’s operation, which in the past has been accused of slowly making the borough’s libraries look more like internet cafés, with an emphasis less on books and more on gadgets and technology.
The suggestion that mobile phone use could soon be sanctioned inside libraries generated an agitated response last year, forcing senior figures to backtrack.
The new self-service machines are part of a tactic officially known as “Invest to Save”, which boils down to a plan to spend large sums on new technology to reduce staff costs over the long term.
A council press official said compulsory job losses were unlikely but the strategy is known to have unsettled staff and changes to shift patterns have not been ruled out.
The New Journal reported last year how the council unceremoniously ushered one of its longest serving and most popular librarians, Jill Bannerjee, out of her job as soon as she reached 60, even though she wanted to retain some shifts.
Reports circulated at the Town Hall suggested severance pay deals had already been considered.
A budget briefing paper from the finance department said: “The cost [of the project] is estimated at £1.5million. Efficiencies will arise in systems, pro­cesses and staff deployment. Staff savings would be offset initially by severance costs.”
Some staff are thought to be concerned at the timing of potential staff savings, which in their eyes are better described as “cuts”.
A council press official said: “Camden Council’s executive has agreed to invest in new technology, including self-service machines to provide a better service for library customers and faster, more efficient stock management.
“The new technology will free up librarians’ time, allowing them to spend more time helping residents with their reading, learning and information needs. There may be some changes to the way librarians work but we do not anticipate compulsory redundancies.”

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