Central Purchasing Decision Leads to Happy Ending for Central University Libraries

Fondren East Library (via)
Fondren East Library (via)

A decision five years ago by SMU’s Central University Libraries to create a central supply repository led to what is now considered a campus model for purchasing.

The move to use one central purchaser – who has extensive knowledge of products, prices and vendors — basically came down to implementing best business practices, says Dean Gillian McCombs, director of CUL.

By tightening controls and streamlining the process of ordering supplies for each of the libraries, “we knew that dollar savings would naturally occur,” Dean McCombs says, “and thereby allow us to optimize our very small operational budget.”

CUL oversees five of SMU’s eight university libraries, including DeGolyer Library, Fondren Library Center, Hamon Arts Library, Fort Burgwin Library at SMU-in-Taos and the SMU-in-Plano Library.

Before the central supply repository was implemented, various staff from each library would order supplies individually.

Now, staff members submit a request for supplies, which is approved by a member of the CUL Leadership Team (composed of the dean, assistant deans and departmental directors) and then submitted to the CUL’s central purchaser, says Donna Cotter, CUL’s director of finance and special projects.

“Supplies are ordered from the preferred vendor or at the cheapest price,” Cotter says. “Our purchaser has the most knowledge of products, whereas an employee who only orders occasionally could spend considerable time searching for the right product at the right price.”

The CUL Leadership Team’s approval of supplies prior to ordering eliminates unnecessary and/or maverick spending. Some frequently ordered items are kept on hand in small supply to give the libraries faster access to them, Cotter says.

Transitioning to using the central supply repository has turned out well for CUL employees. Staff members know the ordering policy and are comfortable with the process, Dean McCombs and Cotter say.

Initially, there may have been some hesitation and reluctance from staff to submit orders for specialized supplies – an example being archival storage supplies, Cotter says.

But “our purchaser makes every effort to provide products that are requested, and many times, she can find the same quality products at a lower price,” she adds.