Lean Library Management: Eleven Strategies for Reducing Costs and Improving Services Paperback – Feb 1 2011
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Mr. Huber's book about Lean Library Management has become the Bible that I refer to for guidance and inspiration in my efforts to make the circulation department of the Carrollton Public Library (CPL) lean in 2011 and for the future.
Everyone on our Management Team was asked to read it. I have to admit my first thought was `well I hope they don't expect me to read it on my own time!' and my second thought was `what makes them think I have the time to read a trade book yet alone understand it!' Now that I've read it I think it should be mandatory reading for anyone getting an MLS and for anyone who works in a library or city government in general.
Boy was I surprised when I began reading it! I not only found the time to read it but I took it home to read at night (on my own time). I refer back to it constantly. I've adapted some of his ideas already and will be making recommendations for some of his others to be considered for implementation.
I use his verbiage (one touch), and acronyms (SDNA), and discovered how critical the flow chart process was in identifying service gaps and improving processes for better customer service and reduction in costs.
There is an exciting buzz in circulation like I've never experienced in the 12 years I've worked in circulation at CPL. Staff are taking it upon themselves to give input, ask questions, and analyze the how and why we do what we do and then making suggestions! Change is coming from within and not being imposed on people (which we all know goes over so well)!
It is an exhausting and all consuming passion right now for me but also exciting thanks to Mr. Huber's book. I would not have known where to begin or how to being w/out it! And I really mean it when I say it's a joy to read and easy to understand.
CPL is in the throes of a self-imposed managed competition in an effort to keep their Libraries open and stave off privatization. There is a lot of pressure because of the economy to cancel this, cease that, cut back, and close down (all geared toward changing WHAT we do) but not a lot of emphasis on changing HOW we do what we do.
I'm hoping (and believing) that by following the guidelines of Mr. Huber's book we'll not only be able to keep the Library open but improve customer service while reducing costs (just like the book says).
Unfortunately, almost library management improvement effort is seriously hampered by their publicly-funded status. This conveys the implicit knowledge that next years' budget with most likely be based on this years,' plus X% for inflation and growth, and that there is little, if any, monetary reward to be obtained from performance improvement. Further, cost reduction initiatives (eg. overall funding reductions) are easily deflected by building political support via establishing popular services such as free Internet availability, especially when coupled with their invariably being linked to supporting 'sacred cow' activities such as job searches. (If you believe job searches are a major use of library computers, I suggest you look around - reality is that they're mostly used for viewing movies, email, and dating sites. Reality, however, doesn't count - just political posturing, and library funding is unlikely to be cut.) Another political ploy - offering on-site homework help is also guaranteed to build political support.
Author Huber recognizes these impediments, but unfortunately, offers very little in the way of recommendations on how to overcome them. Thus, one's potential market for library improvement becomes very limited - to those led by the very few with a strong intrinsic desire to lead improvements.
Another problem with 'Lean Library Management' is that Huber's process for process improvement is overly cumbersome and verbose. It could be simplified by instead identifying what I call the 'Seven Deadly Sins' of process management. These are readily available activities that have no customer value. Examples: Waiting (books waiting to be moved to the next step, customers waiting for assistance), idle time (most obvious when staff are engaged in non-work conversation - am almost certain sign of over-staffing), error-correction (obvious), checking (also obvious), transportation (eg. an invariable by-product of splitting work into tasks performed by different people in different locations), etc. Transportation, waiting, and idle-time are almost invariably the most serious wastes in any process. Solution - flow-chart the process, ball-park both the added-value and non-value-added times involved, and focus on the most significant non-value-added steps. (The latter suggestion takes advantage of the Pareto Principle - about 80% of whatever you're focusing on is usually caused by only 20% of all the sources.)
Again, I must agree with Mr. Huber - participation is much better than top-down direction when it comes to building acceptance of change. But, this all assumes we got past the first problem of inherent lack of compulsion to change in a tax-funded system. (Need further evidence - think about how little public education has changed over the past several decades. Why? It too has not been forced, by competition, to do so; regardless, it is much easier to simply lobby for more money.
Bottom-Line: Absent a good solution to the general lack of external pressure for improving library processes, we will continue to see obvious waste at our local libraries - staff standing around growing old waiting for the next customer (can't have lines - that's poor service), frequent small groups meeting in conversation, has specialized areas (eg. youth) that are not handled during off-hours via video cameras and 'Help' buttons, an inordinately long time period between when a new book arrives and its availability on the shelf, periodic 'redecorating' (moving eg. hold items, the magazine collection somewhere else), and, as Mr. Huber noted, generalized resistance to change.
It is filled with real-world examples, which is great because you can picture your own library in relation to the case studies presented.
It is also filled with phrases like "performance indicators" and "service performance metrics." Be still my beating heart! I love it. As library and information science professionals, we need to pay more attention to metrics. That should excite us, not bore us or strike fear in our hearts!
Huber talks about going deep into the core of processes and service deliveries to find and fix any gaps between where we want to be and where we are. One of my favorite lines (page 44) is: "What you measure drives performance; therefore, what you do not measure must not be important." and its corollary: "What you measure gets most of the attention and therefore drives your priorities." His conclusion? "Based on my travels and discussions with library management and staff I feel comfortable in my conclusion that budgets and circulation are the primary performance drivers of your typical library." (p.44) Yes! Those are exactly the primary performance drivers of a typical library! (PRIMARY, not ONLY drivers.)
Librarians, non-librarian staff members, managers, and library school students need to READ THIS BOOK!
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