Disrupting the Library, part 3

Disruptive Suggestion #2:  Dramatically Reduce Complexity

This suggestion challenges us by asking what your library does that could be streamlined from your users’ perspective?  Think of common transactions and services.  How many steps must a user take to complete a transaction?

Sometimes it’s really difficult to simplify processes that have grown increasingly complex over time.  Sometimes library processes are complex for the users to save staff time.  Regardless of the reason for the complexity, often with a little thought and effort (and not necessarily a lot of money) unnecessarily complex user processes can be streamlined.

For example, I once worked with a library on a project to eliminate manual staff checks of user bags upon exit.  The reason for the bag checks was that the radio-frequency security system installed at the exit was unreliable because over the course of its existence the company had changed the frequency used for library books.  The antennae at the exit therefore had to cycle through two frequencies and in this slow process anyone exiting at a steady clip could easily remove a book undetected.  The manual bag inspections served two purposes to defend against loss:  rechecking the work of the security gates and slowing down users.  Imagine that, DELIBERATELY SLOWING DOWN USERS.  Ranganathan must have been rolling over in his grave.

With the help of their users, the library identified this as a cumbersome process that they would like to improve (cough-usercomplaints-cough).  For years this problem existed and a few corrections were investigated that were determined to be too costly or too risky.  So, what to do?  First off, it is really difficult to change something that’s always been the case, especially when the reasoning behind it is protecting the collection, so we started to think of how there could be a better way.  Knowing the date of the frequency change we ran a report against the ILS and identified the books that were mostly likely to have the old style radio-frequency emitter.  We planned a summer project for tagging these books with the new frequency (after we tested that the tags would not interfere with each other) and by the start of the next school year the antennae were set to only pick up a single frequency, enabling library staff to only conduct a bag check if the alarm sounded.

What are the processes that your library users find complex and what could you do to improve them? The solution may not happen right away but unless you begin to think it through, the solution will never happen.

This is the third in a seven part series that not only provides suggestions for transforming and innovating in the library, but also (and more importantly) shows how business literature is helpful in improving the services we provide.  As a case study the series refers to concepts presented in the Forbes.com article 6 Highly Profitable Ways to Disrupt Your Industry. 

Read Disrupting the Library, part 4.


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