Materials Handling Strategy Analysis

Stark County District Library is pursuing a series of initiatives to minimize redundancy in materials handling practices and reduce the time staff spend in the back office so they can spend more time out in the library engaging with customers in a variety of ways. The Library’s strategic vision includes a dramatic reduction of materials handling activities in each branch and the elimination of service desks. Instead of working behind desks, the expectation is that staff will work with patrons side-by-side in the branches and spend more time delivering high-quality programming inside and outside of the library buildings. In order to achieve this vision, the Library is exploring a “pure central processing” strategy in which material is returned at each library location but only checked in at a central sorter. This workflow would be supported by two times daily delivery service. The expectation is that this approach would result in material check-in within a four hour window, physical delivery turnaround times of no more than 36 hours and a traditional “bookdrop” workflow for patrons. The Library seeks consulting assistance to analyze the “pure central processing” strategy and to identify critical elements of a materials handling strategy that will allow the Library to achieve their strategic vision.

Do More With More

My consulting practice seems to go in phases and lately I’ve been in the consortia phase.  It’s a gratifying place to be.  In each case, I see the power that comes from libraries coming together to do something better than any one library could do on its own.  In some cases, it creates opportunities that would be completely beyond a library’s capability due to lack of resources (be they human or financial or both). 

Initiatives that require costly technology or costly technology experts are particularly good projects to handle at the consortial level.  The integrated library system (ILS) is one of those big, complicated, costly technologies that can be leveraged in many ways. There’s the underlying platform (server and operating system), the application (the ILS itself), and there are the people involved in managing the system (ILS Administrator) plus the staff using the system.  Some, or all, of these components can be shared across libraries.

For example, a group of libraries can use the same server and application yet operate as independent libraries.  That’s what a group of libraries in Northern California is doing.  They are each part of a shared Koha system hosted by a service provider.  Each library administers its own system and has its own patron records and collection. But they save a lot of money by sharing that platform and that vendor contract, and by not having to manage the operating system and deal with backups and software updates.

Case Studies Demonstrating RFID, Self-Check and Materials Handling Best Practices

One of my clients requested that I put together some case studies that would demonstrate Best Practices for implementing RFID, self-check, and automated materials handling. I was able to put together two excellent examples of how to do it right. 

Johnson County Case Study

This case study was written based on a document prepared by JCL staff after their RFID implementation. It was their own evaluation of the process so it includes a description of things they did right and what they could have done better.  It provides great information on how to plan and manage the implementation and includes useful and impressive outcome metrics.

MidContinent Library System Case Study

This case study was written based on telephone interviews with the staff.  They describe another excellent process for implementing automated materials handling and then RFID and self-check. Even though I recommend implementing RFID before AMH, this process worked well for them and they are now achieving 90% self-check use systemwide. 

San Mateo Public Library AMH Consultation and Procurement

Worked with San Mateo Public Library to replace the existing automated materials handling system with a state-of-the-art system.  Project involved consultation related to RFID and automated materials handling configuration options and includes development of RFP, guiding the library through the procurement process and assisting with selection of a new system.

The existing system was installed in 2006 and provides convenient patron returns from numerous locations including drive-up returns, outside walk-up returns and two inside returns. The project will include evaluating options for retaining some of the conveyance and only upgrading the sorter as well as full-scale replacement of all components.  Ayre worked closely with the team to develop specifications for the new system and guided them through the procurement process.  The new system has been successfully implemented and is now up and running.

Feasibility Analysis and Procurement for Central Automated Materials Handling for Couriers

Peninsula Library System (PLS) is a consortium of nine libraries providing. PLS hosts a shared integrated library system (Sierra) and provides delivery services to 41 locations daily. PLS asked Lori Ayre to provide a feasibility analysis for implementing an automated materials handling system to replace the manual sorting done by couriers.  

Ayre evaluated the delivery volume, materials movement patterns, courier sorting, presorting done at the libraries, delivery turnaround times, and other aspects of the operation.  She provided the PLS Council with several options for consideration including adding a smaller sorter that would operate two waves of sorting, a larger sorter for sorting all material in one wave, providing batch check-in of incoming deliveries at the libraries, and adding an additional delivery day on the weekends.

Charleston County Public Library RFID and AMH Consultation

In November of 2014, Charleston county residents passed a $108.5 million referen-dum to address the Library’s building and technological deficiencies. The Library then sought the services of an architectural/engineering firm to develop a program guide manual for the subsequent Charleston County Public Library (CCPL) Capital Improve-ment Project (CIP) that would affect all 16 outlets of the CCPL system. Lori Ayre of The Galecia Group was included in the proposal submitted by McMillan Pazdan Smith to provide guidance related to RFID, automated materials handling, and workflow optimization. 

The CIP project includes building five new library buildings as well as a new Operations Center. In addition, virtually every one of the other branches would be remodeled. The scope of the original engagement included developing guide specifications for certain building systems including security, access, A-V, RFID and product standards for other library items. 

Once the program guide had been completed, Ayre was hired by Charleston County in order to assist the County in finalizing RFID and AMH product specifications and help-  ing the staff to re-envision how service delivery could be changed with the help of self-service and materials handling technologies. Ayre also developed the scope of services that would be used to identify suitable AMH and RFID vendors.

RFID and Automated Materials Handling Consultation for LINCC Consortium

Worked with LINCC to assess materials handling processes, systems, and facilities at member library locations as well as LINCC headquarters. Scope of work includes facilitating a process to guide procurement decisions, making recommendations related to implementing RFID and AMH as a cooperative and guiding the procurement process starting with drafting the RFP and concluding with a negotiated contract with vendor(s).

Pleasanton Library RFID and Self-Service Consultation

Assisted the Library in evaluating opportunities for implementing RFID and self-service technologies. Engagement includes developing procurement and implementation strategy and facilitating procurement process from RFP development to contract negotiation.  Originally planned to include automated materials handling as part of the procurement but these plans were delayed due to plans related to library remodel and/or new building.

The Library is currently using Innovative Interface's Express Lane for self-check and will be comparing the benefits of adding RFID to their existing Express Lane systems versus moving to self-check systems provided by the RFID vendor.

Liberated from the Circulation Desk - Now What?

I’ve been involved in several library remodels and building projects lately for public libraries in the 15,000-30,000 square foot range. My job is to help select self-check systems, and to implement RFID and automated materials handling technologies for the purposes of optimizing materials handling workflows.  However, optimizing materials handling workflows is really about optimizing services to patrons.  Selecting technologies and making recommendations about how to optimize their use is the easy part.  The harder part is helping libraries transition from their traditional staff-based circulation workflows to self-service workflows which free up staff to focus on other patron needs without the constraints, and structure, provided by the traditional circulation desk model.

Traditionally, the circulation desk is the first thing you see as you enter the library. The staff at the circulation desk are not generally librarians although I’m pretty sure the public considers everyone at the library a “librarian.”  So when the patron enters the library, what they encounter is someone working hard to get through a big pile of library material. There might even be a long line of people waiting to check-out their material. Maybe the staff person looks up when the patron enters, maybe not.

Library RFID and AMH Consultation

Wide range of consulting services related to RFID and automated materials handling including analysis of 33 of the Library’s 37 outlets, recommendations for AMH configurations at each location as well as identification of impediments to using AMH or RFID, cost-benefit analyses, market analysis of RFID and AMH vendors, case studies demonstrating best practices, and presentation of findings from study and recommendations.