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Streamlining Materials Handling

Johnson County Library

Problem Statement

Attention to detail, over accommodation in customer service, and rapid growth in library use conspired to bog down work processes, substantially slow materials flow, and overburden staff. Declining revenues meant no additional staff. Outdated work flow systems needed to be completely dismantled and rebuilt with an eye to standardization, streamlining, and eliminating customization. The purpose: speed the movement of materials to serve patrons better.


Managers listed guiding precepts for the project and relied on new technologies, out-of-box solutions, and vendor packages for streamlining operations. In Collection Development, Technical Services, and Interlibrary Loans Departments, staff abbreviated cataloging and processing by simplifying classifications, stripping down materials labeling, reallocating funds to best sellers, and increasing use of automatic ordering profile systems. In public services, “floating” collections means that materials are shelved where they are returned, reflecting user interests, “refreshing” branch offerings, and obviating return couriering. Clerk and page work flow has been streamlined via centralized training and John Huber & Associates’ Page Labeling Technology for identifying and transferring holds. Switching to telephone or e-mail notification for holds and fines received positive public response. A collection agency Small Balance Program fills a gap in service by notifying library patrons before balances reach $25.00. Except for a $14,000 consultant fee, all project costs have been in staff labor.


In its first full year of implementation, 2010, this project has resulted in: Approximately $130,390 in annual savings; reallocation of $18,000 per year for best sellers; an additional annual retrieval of $83,900 in fines, fees, and lost materials; and net savings in labor of 8.25 FTE annually – not just one time. In times like these, that’s gold. More importantly, the library is delivering better service, trimming processes from four months to four weeks, eliminating backlogs, and delivering requested materials – including best sellers – more quickly. Creating a culture of exploration and improvement that values a must-do vs. can-omit options, staff is taking a broad-based, disciplined, and business-like approach to evaluating all staff-intensive library functions, employing an evidence-based approach that is both clinical and pragmatic. Library patrons are the winners.