Karen Calhoun: September 2008 Archives
I have written and spoken often of the pressures on library technical services departments, which are being asked to do more work with the same or fewer resources at a time when they must find ways to become involved in new library initiatives. To achieve the results they need, technical services departments require breakthrough, double-digit improvements in cost, time, and effectiveness.
Some process redesign pioneers like Stanford and Cornell--braving the scorn of others--began over a decade ago to blaze a trail, and today some very large players indeed are embracing the concepts of process redesign and continuous improvement (systematic and continual rethinking of an entire process, not just bits and pieces of it). In 2007, for example, I became aware of the achievements of the Collection Acquisition and Description (CA&D) division at the British Library at Boston Spa, under the leadership of Caroline Brazier (then Head of CA&D, now Head of Resource Discovery) and Alasdair Ball (Head of CA&D Operations).
As is the case in so many places, the British Library's Boston Spa processing operations needed to keep up with the traditional work of selection, acquisitions and cataloging while simultaneously shifting focus to digital developments--all at a time of flat or shrinking resources. Through changes informed by workflow analysis and process mapping, Alasdair guided CA&D staff to 15% staff savings a year and faster turnaround of materials while also freeing up staff time for a digital processing team and other projects.
In late 2007 I invited Alasdair to visit OCLC's
The lower left corner of the floor plan shows where materials arrive. As many materials as possible are "fast tracked" and returned to "finishing" in the shortest possible path (shown in red) through the room. Teams located in the bottom half of the floor plan--a few more dozen feet into the room--complete the processing of still more materials and return them for finishing. Only those materials requiring the attention of original catalogers or other specialists make their way the full length of the red path through the room.
The following photos illustrate how our Contract Services in Dublin Ohio applied what they learned from Alasdair to our workflow redesign and space renovation. The
This photo illustrates the efforts of the "order entry" group. Our "air traffic controllers," these staff members organize the flow of materials by checking them in, searching, and using a set of automated tools to process as many materials as possible. What cannot be completed at this early stage is routed to the next appropriate team.View image
Three objectives of the workspace redesign were to provide equally for privacy, teamwork, and a logical flow of materials, while also taking advantage of the bright and airy nature of this large room. View image
The co-located original cataloging teams are organized by type and/or language of material.
Preparation for finishing--for example, custom editing according to a particular library's contract--is completed at the end of the process in a spacious work area that allows for multiple bins of different libraries' materials. View image
Space for physical processing and preparation for shipping is located on the way out of the building.View image
The workflow redesign and space renovation were completed at the end of June 2008. Later in the summer, we invited our OCLC colleagues to a big opening, complete with tours and a picnic lunch, to celebrate what everyone had accomplished and the new beginning. At this point, what is the most evident to me about the change is the pride of the staff in their new space and in what they have accomplished together. We are grateful to Caroline Brazier, Alasdair Ball, and the British Library for their generosity and good counsel.
Worthy of note in this context is LC's movement to new workflows and an organizational structure that combines acquisitions and cataloging. As Beacher Wiggins, director of LC's Acquisitions and Bibliographic Access Directorate, put it in a talk at a June 2007 ALCTS preconference
Your comments on the concepts of continuous improvement and how they have been or might be applied in library technical services, or your accounts of experiences with technical services space renovation and process redesign are welcome here.