Three-municipality library in the midst of South Savo

Joroinen, Juva and Rantasalmi are municipalities in South Savo, which approved a partnership agreement in summer 2006 to begin joint service production. The purpose of the partnership is to respond to the change in the service structure which is underway in the country and to preserve services in the municipal regions, as well as the independence of the municipalities. The area has c. 17,500 residents.

Service production is being organized according to the client-producer model, in which one municipality will manage agreed duties on behalf of the other municipalities of the agreement (a “host municipality model”). The clients are municipal governments and the producers are the joint committees of the host municipalities. In organizing the services, the goal is to obtain a decentralized, network-based operations model. According to the agreement, Joroinen will produce the library services.

Library cooperation at its best

When it comes to library operations, this region has a long-standing tradition of cooperation. Libraries have succeeded in carrying out joint projects, which could never have been carried out using the resources of a single municipal library. Such projects include two projects testing library bus Internet connections, two reading diplomas for school-aged children, in cooperation with schools, and an electronic data processing training project for personnel.

In the beginning of 2005, joint library bus operations began upon the initiative of library directors in the alliance municipalities. Previously, there were two library buses working in the area. The cooperation restricted the number of buses, but brought the residents of Juva’s sparsely populated region into the library bus circle. The municipality of Rantasalmi, along with two library bus functionaries, is responsible for the operation of the library bus. The new, three-municipality library bus was ready and running in summer, 2006.

Library – alternative and necessity, JRR alliance municipalities’ library strategy 2005-2015

Preparations for cooperation in library activities began as soon as May, 2004 upon the initiative of the library directors. The initiative stated the vision of regional library operations, strategic goals and a plan of action for reaching those goals.Work on the strategy was continued in 2005 with a joint seminar involving elected officials, administration officials for recreation, education and culture, and library staff. In accordance with the seminar initiative, director of library activities, Jaana Sopanen, was able to work full-time on a strategy for one month. The municipalities’ committees of culture and education worked on the strategy in the autumn and it was finally approved in May, 2006.

The bases for the strategy are the guidelines of Finland’s national library policy and the economic situation of the municipalities. According to the regional library strategy, the libraries’ duty is to produce cost-effective and equally accessible basic library services to the residents of the alliance municipalities.

The vision of the strategy is a hybrid library formed of the libraries in the region which would have joint, centralized services and automated routine work. The professional staff shall focus on first-rate patron services, such as information services, to support learning and provide guidance in civic skills for an information society. Three libraries shall serve the area and a library bus, which shall provide service in the tri-municipal area in two shifts.

The service locations shall share a staff, library system, administration and acquisitions. The number of employees shall be close to the minimum goals set by the Ministry of Education. The level of service (quality and quantity) shall be determined annually in connection with the processing of the budget and, if necessary, productization of library services can be used as an aid. The objective is to produce cost-effective library services of consistent quality, which are at least on the level of that which is set forth in the finance law for education and cultural activities, for the residents of the alliance municipalities.

Library directors on a typical cooperative meeting. Photo: Jaana Sopanen

Implementation

The organization of joint library services is proceeding at a good pace. Plans are to choose a joint library system and take it into use, to outline a final library services agreement, to “test productize” the joint library services budget estimates, and to arrange a joint seminar for all library staffs.

Productization of library services has been seen as a problem in Finland and some library professionals think that failed productizations have already been carried out in our country. In these cases, a loan has been chosen as a library product and the library’s productized budget estimates were based on this loan. A loan has not been chosen as the product for the productized budget estimates of the JJR municipalities’ library operations, but the actual period of opening hours, for which quality content of the product can also be defined. There is no doubt that productization will be a challenge for the alliance.

The many years of cooperation between the alliance municipalities’ library directors is based on teamwork and the use of areas of personal strengths and skills. The objective in the organization of personnel is to create a team organization and to delegate authority and responsibility. The personnel will be transferred to the services of the producer community beginning 1.1.2008.

Conclusion

There is a positive attitude towards the JJR cooperation in the regional libraries. The library directors have seen the change as an opportunity, not a threat. In a relatively short time, many reforms have been made upon the library staff ’s initiative.We are (justifiably) proud of these reforms. The importance of strategic planning is emphasized in cooperation – from the perspective of the future of the libraries, it pays to take action before action is taken upon you. We also try to follow the saying: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!!

Photo: Nils Lund Pedersen

Library director, Joroinen municipal library.
Library director, Juva municipal library.
Library director, Rantasalmi municipal library.