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Streamlining of Collection Management

Kansas City Public Library, MO

Innovation Summary

In 2011, the Collection Management Services department was facing increasing workloads with a workforce that had seen a 36% decrease in the past three years. Staff was frazzled, frustrated, and feeling forgotten. Working with a consultant, we streamlined workflow in all areas, realigned duties, and formed a more cohesive team.

Problem Statement

Collection Management encompasses seven activities ranging from acquisitions and cataloging to courier services and interlibrary loan. That work at the Kansas City Public Library was complicated, first of all, by logistics. The department was headquartered in the basement of the Central Library, with materials moving to six higher floors. It was determined that staff members wasted a collective 20 hours a week waiting for elevators. Furthermore, workspace was cramped. Materials were held in chaotic staging areas, and bottlenecks were common. That inefficiency extended, among other places, to patrons’ holds. There was no specialization; they were handled department-wide by staff with varying schedules. As a result, holds weren’t pulled consistently. Many items weren’t found on first look, and patrons’ waits were extended. The handling of both incoming and outgoing materials also was problematic, involving too many steps – moving unboxed books to a staging area, then out for ILS processing, then back to the staging area for cataloging – and handling by too many people. It took days for even shelf-ready materials to move. Returned materials were transported down two floors, sorted onto trucks, moved to sorting shelves (where they sat for as many as five days), returned to the trucks, and moved back upstairs for shelving.


With the help of a consultant, a cross-functional team was created and the workflow in each unit was examined. We looked at the physical space, volume of work, number of staff, and how each task was performed. We questioned everything. A primary problem – collection management’s basement location and layout – was addressed by relocating the department to a ground-floor area near the delivery doors. All deliveries now come directly to staff workstations. Outside of items transported from one of the Library’s indoor book drops, materials don’t move from floor to floor until ready for shelving. We developed a new, simplified process for receiving new materials, starting with the delivery of boxes straight to workstations for unpacking. Non-processed/cataloged materials now go to book trucks for cataloging. Shelf-ready materials are quickly unpacked and moved out, reaching their destinations within 12 hours. For returning materials, we eliminated staging areas. New sorting workspaces were created, featuring custom-made, mobile shelving that can handle approximately twice the volume of a standard book truck. Workflow was made very systematic, with staff concentrating on specific duties: pulling holds, shelving, and shelf maintenance. All returned materials are now back on the shelf within 12 hours of drop off. Items placed on hold are headed to customers’ pick-up locations by 11 a.m.


The move to the ground floor has cut the staff’s composite wait time for elevators by almost half. The department’s modified layout puts staffers closer to their work, and so there’s less movement of materials – we try to follow the “one-touch rule.” The direct delivery of materials to collection management workstations also furthers that goal. With holds ready for delivery before noon each day, materials are available for customer pick up within 24 hours of placing them. That, and the expedited reshelving time for returned items, allows staff more time to audit and straighten shelves. The number of lost and missing items has dropped dramatically. New arrivals that are shelf-ready are now in delivery bins or shelved in 6-12 hours. New non-processed materials are routed for cataloging the same day they’re received. Catalogers are able to prioritize their workload and move items more quickly. All told, patrons are accessing materials a day to five days sooner. This project was a collaborative effort, embraced both by administration and staff. Some staffers were resistant to change but, with input in the process, their comfort level rose. There also was general agreement that if something wasn’t working after 2-3 months, an alternative approach would be pursued. Department members were assigned new job descriptions and performance benchmarks, and most are hitting or exceeding their targets. Moreover, they continue to share thoughts about further streamlining and improvement.