Every once in a while I get a call from someone with an idea they want to explore that just makes no sense at all. At least not at first. The latest zany idea a client brought to me is a concept they dubbed, “pure central processing” and although my first response was, “You can’t be serious” it is definitely growing on me. Their idea was to eliminate check-in at each of their branches entirely by letting people return things but instead of checking them in there, the items would be taken elsewhere for check-in and then brought back later. They weren’t talking about moving from a staff check-in experience to a self-service check-in experience. They were talking about eliminating the check-in transaction and associated workflows from public service library staff and the library environment entirely.
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Automated Materials Handling
Stark County District Library was 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 included 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 explored 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 sought consulting assistance to analyze the “pure central processing” strategy and to identify critical elements of a materials handling strategy that would allow the Library to achieve their strategic vision.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Libraries in Clackamas County (LINCC) provides services to 13 independent partner libraries in Clackamas County. Primary services include a shared library system and courier services. As a result of our work with LINCC, the libraries now also share RFID self-service and materials handling equipment and LINCC staff manage these systems centrally.
The Galecia Group worked with LINCC to assess the materials handling processes and facilities at all member library locations as well as courier operations at LINCC headquarters. We then facilitated a decision-making process and provided consulting to consortium staff as they planned the procurement, provisioning and implementation of the new systems.
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.