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February 7, 2007

One card to rule them all

The UK's Museums, Libraries and Archives Council recently published the results of a feasibility study for a single membership card for all of London's public libraries. The card is likely to be a smartcard and the possibility of linkage with transport card Oyster is being considered. The launch of such a card would represent an interesting development, especially if the smartcard format is used.

By CBR Staff Writer

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council’s (MLA) proposal for a single library membership card for all London libraries is a very interesting development as it brings the idea of a single, multipurpose smartcard and its potential for service and business efficiencies much closer to reality.

With smartcards, operational and transactional data can be gathered automatically and reports about services produced on-demand online. This would allow libraries to monitor the effectiveness of their service in real-time and design promotional schemes that would increase income by better targeting of customers.

At present, most London library services operate their own membership systems, so if users want to borrow books or multimedia material from neighboring libraries run by different councils, they would have to join both and carry a different membership card for each. In addition, most libraries offer online catalogue checking and reservation services, and also operate self-service and out-of-hours checkouts.

A smartcard as a membership card is ideal for all of these operations as it would enable automatic authentication and tracking. Depending on functionality, it would be possible to make electronic payments using the same card to pay for borrowing multimedia material such as music and DVDs, and to pay library fines.

London libraries would have to decide how the scheme is to be operated; for example, outsourcing card issuing, processing, management, and maintenance, as opposed to setting up a shared services structure. The business rules would have to be agreed for application processing, data capture and validation, security, and quality standards. It would also be essential to go through a data quality exercise to ensure that all the membership and catalogue data is accurate and valid.

Another factor to be considered is compliance with the UK’s Data Protection Act. That would require customers to sign up to new terms and conditions to allow libraries to share their data.

Linking the libraries card with Oyster and its existing systems and smartcard infrastructure would make the business case viable by creating economies of scale and also genuinely extend the reach of the scheme to all parts of London. This will depend on spare capacity on the Oyster smartcard, or the ability to fit all the applications on a new card. However, economies of scale could be generated even without the Oyster card, if all London libraries join in.

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Such a scheme would meet the UK’s transformational government and shared services objectives, and allow councils to continue with their modernization agenda.

The single library card should be a smartcard – the only type of card that has built-in automation and data-gathering capabilities, thus providing the means for local authorities to gain real-time insight into their business. If successful, the scheme could be extended to include additional applications on a single card, such as concessionary fares, and leisure and car parking schemes, for the whole of the capital. This would cut card processing and administrative overheads in all of those areas, and extend real-time data gathering and reporting capabilities to all those local authority departments.

Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)

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