Streamlining Operations for Improved Service and Cost-Effectiveness
Problem StatementAttention to detail, a culture of over accommodation in customer service, and rapid growth in use of its 13 libraries conspired to bog down work processes, substantially slow the flow of materials, and overburden staff. With declining revenues, it was clear that adding more staff could not solve the problems. Work flow systems that had grown by accretion over the years were never constructed to handle business of such a large scale, and they needed to be completely dismantled and rebuilt with an eye to standardization, streamlining, and eliminating customization. The purpose was to speed the movement of materials so that patrons receive materials in a timely manner.
Managers began by listing precepts to guide their work. They relied on new technologies, out-of-box solutions, and vendor packages for streamlining operations. In Collection Development, Technical Services, and Interlibrary Loans, they abbreviated cataloging and processing by simplifying classification assignments, stripping down materials labeling, reallocating funds from a small browsing collection to best sellers, and increasing use of automatic ordering profile systems from 65% for books to 80%.
In public services, instituting “floating collections” means that materials are shelved where they are returned, reflecting the pull of user interests, “refreshing” branch offerings, and obviating return couriering. Materials donated at branches to Friends of the Library are no longer catalogued and now are couriered by the Friends to their sorting areas for re-sale. Clerk and page work flow has been streamlined via centralized training and John Huber & Associates’ Page Labeling Technology for identifying and transferring holds. In addition, the library switched to telephone or e-mail notification for holds and fines, with positive public response. A Small Balance Program with the collection agency fills a gap in service by notifying library patrons before their balances reach $25.00. Except for a consultant fee of $14,000, all costs for the project have been in staff labor.
To date since implementation in 2009, this project has saved approximately $102,000 in annual savings; reallocation of $18,000 per year for best sellers; a potential retrieval of an additional $1,800 per month in fines, fees, and lost materials; and net savings in labor of 6.0 FTE annually – not just one time. In times like these, that’s gold.
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 its staff-intensive library functions, employing an evidence-based approach that is both clinical and pragmatic. Library patrons are the winners.