Circulation Workflow Project

As a result of my usability bent, I’ve become the spark behind many positive changes. Most notably, in the winter of 2009 I did a Circulation Workflow Analysis as a Directed Field Work under the supervision of District Circulation Manager Holly McKinley. Perhaps typical in the current economic climate, the circulation department at the Bend Public Library has seen a dramatic increase in circulation over the past decade, with numbers climbing even higher in recent months. The library has also added many new and expanded services over the years with no corresponding increase in circulation staff. In order to continue to provide excellent service to library users, the circulation department must work smarter and more efficiently. This was the essence of my Directed Field Work.

After this project ended I served on the newly formed Bend Circulation Workspace Redesign team, whose efforts continued after I moved on from the circulation department. I’ve been particularly pleased with the outcomes from this project. I credit the extent to which I sought and acted on staff input for the project’s effectiveness. Many changes were made immediately and many more of my recommendations have now been adopted.

Directed Field Work: Circulation Workflow Analysis
Supervisor: District Circulation Manager Holly McKinley
Winter 2009

Contents

  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Procedure Review
  3. Process study
  4. Literature Search
  5. Results
  6. Recommendations

Learning Objectives Project/task Description Evidence for Evaluation
  • Understands design concept, development and accurate depiction of the work flow configuration of a designated area and its use as tool in analyzing inefficiencies (assigned area is the Bend Circulation Department)
  • Demonstrates analytical methods in review of the work flow study and ability to synthesize results
  • Search literature on work flow studies, diagrams, and assessment tools
  • Identify parameters of the work flow study
  • Identify information sources
  • Outline process that will be undertaken in constructing work flow study for the Bend Circulation Department
  • Literature search results
  • Work flow diagram of the Bend Circulation Department
  • Results Summary
  • Demonstrates skills and ability to manage a project
  • Obtains circulation staff input to evaluate the efficacy and pertinence of both DPLS Circulation Department Operating Procedures and corresponding software application processes
  • Develop project objectives, key components, and timeline for the project
  • Develop implementation schedule
  • Create training materials and presentation package for staff meeting January 7, 2009
  • Develop strategy for monitoring and interpretation of results
  • Project Time line
  • List of evaluation criteria
  • Results Summary and Recommendations
  • Demonstrates ability to synthesize information and develop innovative solutions to inefficiencies and/or identified opportunities discovered in previous learning objectives
  • Define a literature search that would enhance this process and explain the importance of doing such a search
  • Define the process of cost-benefit analysis and why it would be necessary in this process
  • Summary of recommendations to include the problem or issue, the solution and cost benefit to the department

Procedure review

Objective: Review circulation procedures and corresponding ILS procedures.

Methodology: Interview and survey circulation staff to identify and evaluate all written procedures corresponding to circulation job tasks. (Encourage the use of sharepoint tools for bonus goal of increasing staff comfort with and use of technology.) Form small action team to identify areas where procedures are missing or in need of updating. Team to write summary of review and recommendations for further action to be submitted to Circulation Manager.
Post to circulation team discussion blog, also make print copy of the following to be included with assigned procedures:
“LA II’s: Please look over this attached document and let me know of any job tasks I omitted.
Then search sharepoint for procedures corresponding to your task (you may also look at and copy procedures from the new binder). For each task you may have a circulation procedure, a millennium procedure, and in some cases an administrative rule. Others may have nothing at all.
“Please consider the following questions for each assigned procedure:
“Is what is written consistent with actual current practices? Is there a reason for the procedure?
Does it serve the patron? Does the procedure include clear step-by-step instructions?
Do you have ideas or suggestions for a better way? Include them.
Attach your answers to the questions to the procedure and turn it in to me OR post it to the circulation discussion blog by Friday, January 24th.”
Ask LA I’s to review their procedures and fill any gaps. LA I’s responded with complete definition of tasks, including rewrite of opening and closing procedures. Team member took additional steps of designing charts of shelving carts and step-by-step instructions for correct use of security cases.

Deliverables:
• Exhaustive list of circulation job tasks.
• Collection of satisfactory procedures. List of procedures in need of updating.
• List of tasks in need of corresponding procedures.

Timeline:
Present project assignments at Circulation Staff meeting: 1/7/09
Input from circulation staff due: 1/24/09
Form team and set up meeting times: 2/4/09
(Team) Review job task list for completeness: week of 2/9/09
(Team) Identify additional areas in need of written procedures: week of 2/9/09
(Team) Review staff input: week of 2/15/09
(Team) Brainstorm results: week of 2/15/09
(Team) Assemble deliverables: week of 2/22/09
(Team) Summary and Recommendations to manager before March 4th meeting

Results:

  • Staff perceives need for well-organized and complete written procedures.
  • Staff successfully reviewed assigned procedures for completeness.
  • Staff rewrote opening and closing procedures.
  • Staff constructed diagrams of properly assembled shelving carts.
  • Staff made step-by-step instructions for casing AV.
  • Team projects postponed by manager due to competing time-sensitive projects. Teams to be revisited in the spring.

Process Study

To begin my iterative and staff-directed study, I designed a survey to ascertain staff perceptions of which tasks warranted review. The survey asked several questions supplied by the manager and supervisor to gauge staff acceptance of several changes under consideration. The questions relating to my workflow interest included:

  • What, as a department, are we doing well?
  • What, as a department, are our weaknesses?
  • Is there anything we do that you think is not worth the effort required?
  • Is there anything we should we be doing that we aren’t?
  • Which process is the least efficient? How could it be improved?

Literature Review

Overview and historical background

  • Avery, E. F., Dahlin, T. C., & Carver, D. A. (2001). Staff development: A practical guide. Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Carver, D.A. (1992). From circulation to access services: The shift in academic library organization. New York: Haworth Press.
  • Charters, W. W. (1928). An analysis of librarian’s duties in regard to circulation work.
  • Mitchell, W. B. (1992). Access: The Key to Public Service. COLLECTION MANAGEMENT. 17 (1/2), 1.

Workload Studies

  • Hernon, P., & Altman, E. (1998). Assessing service quality: Satisfying the expectations of library customers. Chicago: American Library Association.
  • Sapp, G. (1992). Access services in libraries: New solutions for collection management. New York: Haworth Press.

Task analysis studies

  • Taber, T. D., & Alliger, G. M. (1995). A Task-Level Assessment of Job Satisfaction. JOURNAL OF ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR. 16 (2), 101.

Integrated Library System (Millennium from III) Statistics

Results

Objective:

  • Identify inefficiencies and suggest ways to optimize circulation output through use of workflow analysis study and review of circulation procedures.

Methodology:

  • With the guidance of the circulation manager and supervisor, I utilized circulation staff to compile a list of all circulation tasks and to identify and evaluate the corresponding written procedures. Evaluative criteria:
    • Is what is written consistent with actual current practices?
    • Is there a reason for the procedure? (Do we need to do it?)
    • Does it serve the patron?
    • Does the procedure include clear step-by-step instructions?
    • Do you have ideas or suggestions for a better way?

    I set up a sharepoint workspace for the procedure review to facilitate the comfort level of the staff with the use of this technology. (Most staff prefer working on paper.) Procedure review teams will work on assigned “families” of procedures; filling gaps, updating procedures, re-writing when necessary.

  • Presented goals and objectives for iterative and staff-directed study at January 7th circulation staff meeting. I asked each circulation team member to thoughtfully answer a sharepoint survey with their ideas and opinions on many aspects of our department, including the following:
    • What, as a department, are we doing well?
    • What, as a department, are our weaknesses?
    • Is there anything we do that you think is not worth the effort required?
    • Is there anything we should we be doing that we aren’t?
    • Which process is the least efficient? How could it be improved?
  • Workflow diagrams constructed and reviewed with circulation manager

Results:

  • Written procedures
    • Staff perceives need for well-organized and complete written procedures.
    • Preliminary list of circulation job tasks completed.
    • Staff successfully reviewed assigned procedures for completeness.
    • Staff rewrote opening and closing Library Assistant I procedures.
    • Staff constructed diagrams of properly assembled shelving carts.
    • Staff made step-by-step instructions for casing AV.
    • Procedure Review Team projects postponed by manager due to competing time-sensitive projects.
      Teams to be revisited in the spring.
  • Staff-directed study: Team members were eager to share their thoughts about opportunities for improvement. I presented the results of the surveys to the circulation team at our February 4th meeting. The focus of my presentation was on tasks, procedures, and workflow.
    • Staff opinion held that our procedures regarding holds were overly labor-intensive. From number and type of holds allowed, to number of daily paging lists, to clearing the holdshelf, this was seen as our most problematic area.
    • Gressco security cases were seen by staff as a waste of staff time and shelf space.
    • AV inspection and dealing with AV returned with missing discs was also seen as an unproductive use of staff time.
    • Most people were happy with our current method of informally managing work tasks: rotating through tasks and positions, with many mentioning the need for flexibility in meeting variable needs. About half felt we should try more formal work/position assignments.
    • Other than lack of space, people were satisfied with the current set-up of the workroom, though the papercutter is still seen as problematic.
    • The new cart order is well liked but needs some further rearrangement to accommodate space for putting carts in order (with chairs).
    • The phone tree is problematic. Mixed reviews of new circulation phone configuration. Line 2 to be answered by full-time staff? Longer phone cord at back station?
    • Interruptions cause of mistakes in workroom (6) also faulty equipment.
    • Staff was split on whether or not customer service interruptions were problematic, but most people thought more separation of production-type and customer service tasks would be beneficial.
    • People felt mostly positive about the LA I desk hours, would feel better if LA I’s were brought or kept up to speed on changes in procedures and trained more fully on the phone. The suggestion was made that LA II’s should give equivalent time to shelving to compensate for desk hours.
  • Workflow diagrams: Workflow diagram review confirms that our current procedure for fulfilling holds is inefficient in terms of number of times any item must be handled. (The current system requires each item be handled five times. If the item is not picked up by the patron it will be handled at least twice more.) Charting the physical route of the hold-fulfillment process on the circulation room floorplan is also revealed to be inefficient, as it requires holdslips to be carried across the room to the paper cutter and back).

Remaining to do:

  • Form small action team to identify areas where procedures are missing or in need of updating. Team to write summary of review and recommendations for further action to be submitted to Circulation Manager.
  • Ask for input from staff throughout the district on circulation department’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Ultimately, collect periodic surveys of library users on how we could better serve them.
  • Use input from key personnel from other departments to diagram flow of library materials throughout the district in order to identify opportunities to streamline materials handling and make operations more seamless.
  • Diagram circulation AV inspection/check-in workflow procedures.

Recommendations

  • Floating Collections: I strongly recommend the going to a floating collection system. Currently, though all materials are shared throughout the district, every library item has a “home” library. If my son wants to read Andy Riley’s Book of Bunny Suicides, he places a hold and the book is pulled off the shelf in Redmond and couriered to the Bend library for him to pick up. Under the current system after he reads and returns the book to the Bend branch it will be returned on the courier to Redmond. With a floating collection there is no return trip. The Book of Bunny Suicides would be found on the shelves of the Bend library until a hold was placed from another branch, or it was otherwise returned to another branch. A floating collection allows for reduced workload (and cost) without any reduction in services. It’s exactly the kind of change we need.
    • Hennepin county experienced an eighty percent reduction in reshelving deliveries after implementing floating collections (Wentling, 2004, pg 13).
    • Gwinnett County Public Library in Lawrenceville, GA found the number of items checked in reduced by 10.3% after implementing floating collections (Franklin, 2005 pg 16).
    • Jefferson County Public Library in Colorado, decreased the total volume of all material moving between its branches by 67 percent. Managers estimate the change saved the circulation department twenty hours per week of staff time in each library. Staff also benefits from fewer materials handling related injuries (Cress, 2004)
    • Many benefits exist outside the circulation workflow arena:
      • Collection is user-selected, since holds trigger what ends up on the shelf of any given library.
      • Collection is spared wear and tear from courier transport.
      • Fewer items may be needed for purchase, since the entire collection is truly shared between branches. Collection development librarians no longer find it necessary to buy a copy of each title for each branch.
      • Provides for increased serendipitous interaction between patrons and materials by varying items housed in each branch.
      • A patron who misses a hold will likely find the item on the shelf of his/her branch. (Circulation staff experience sharp annoyance when patrons come in asking to re-place a hold the day after it has been pulled from the holdshelf and sent back to its home branch. Under the Floating Collection model we’d instead have a happy patron and happy staff.)
      • Materials spend less time in transit, so are more available to patrons.
      • Cost and labor-saving benefits to Facilities (courier) Department.
  • Holds: Holds are a valuable service for our patrons, and one they appreciate. Bend Circulation staff feel pleased to provide this service, but are increasingly challenged to do so. Some limits to our generous reserve policy may be necessary (and circulation staff has often debated the best way to impose limits). Many would like to implement a charge for holds which are not picked up within the seven day period allotted. Unfortunately, imperfections within our hold-notification system and the system by which patrons may “freeze” a hold make this untenable. Others would like to charge for each hold, but patrons would surely not see this as enriching their lives. I believe that the hold system is generally well-used by patrons and just needs a little tweaking to discourage its frivolous use. I suggest a system where patrons are permitted a reasonable number of free holds per month (say, thirty) after which they are charged a small fee for each additional hold. Most patrons would never encounter the fee. Those who did would have the choice of occasionally doing their own footwork or contributing to our cost for providing the service.
    • Fill only one paging list a day (before opening), thereby making circulation staff more available for shelving and customer service tasks throughout the day.
    • Streamline the hold-fulfillment process by utilizing a mobile PC, scanner, and printer to make items hold-ready (found, scanned, labeled, ordered) in a single step.
  • AV inspection/security: Providing security cases and inspecting AV items for completeness were rated by circulation staff as the second and third most problematic tasks in terms of time-consumption. The fact that our gressco cases also consume precious space on library shelves and the circulation workroom, while providing only faux-security, make them even less loved. I am counting the days until disc technology becomes obsolete and allows library staff to concentrate on books, while music and movies are exclusively within the realm of the digital download. In the meantime, there are a number of intriguing alternatives for library disc management.
    • ATM-style Mediabank dispensers provide security as well as automated check-out and check-in. Plus they won’t allow a patron to return an empty case! (Ellis, M. 2008)
    • RFID could ensure complete returns and check-in AV automatically as it came in through the bookdrop.
    • Separation of space could also be a solution. A staffed AV collection room could provide patrons with customer service while securing our collection.
    • DPL’s Ten-Year Services Delivery Systems Plan (Miller, 2007) details AV security options which offer additional benefits to the library. Miller lists the vendors for each option. Costs range from $5,000 to $95,000.
  • Circulation services integrated throughout the district: Pressure could be reduced on circulation staff and workroom if circulation work were integrated throughout the district.
    • Circ station in mailroom staffed and operational would streamline current flow of materials in-transit from one branch to another. Currently items travelling from, say, Sisters to LaPine are brought to the circulation workroom where they are handled needlessly by circulation staff and then returned to the mailroom before being loaded back on the van.
    • A mobile circulation station, vehicle, and staff (outreach and facilities combines) could increase efficiency and services between schools and branches. Consider use of staff from all levels and departments to deliver materials in tandem with existing need for travel (duties, meetings, etc). Library could consider use of hybrid energy vehicle for use by staff performing mixed functions. Would open up many opportunities for increased services, streamlined operations, and potentially decreased costs, especially if used to replace linx school Millennium modules.
    • Equip an OPAC terminal (or a few) in the Bend Reference Department with scanner and receipt printer for optional use by patrons as self-check station(s) upstairs.
    • Make it convenient for patrons to register for a library card online at the circulation desk. Many people dislike filling out the paper form, and it is inefficient use of staff-time, and an opportunity for errors, to re-type everything into the computer as they write it on the form.
  • Suggested areas for further study
    • District wide phone tree is problematic for Bend circulation department and disliked by many patrons. I suggest looking at a rotating “operator” position, to be shared by district staff and volunteers.
    • Incorporate a “welcome desk” in the library lobby, as has been discussed for many years. Consider making a “partner’s desk where two people work at all open hours (rotating staff and volunteers) welcoming, orienting, and directing our users, and acting as said phone operator for the general library number.
    • Circulation phone configuration is improved in the workroom area. A further improvement would be to route circulation’s line two to the desks of the full-time people, rather than line one. Line one is virtually always answered by the person at circulation station 3, 4, or 2. If the second line rings there is frequently no one available in the workroom area to answer it, and it is not accessible to the full-time staff’s phones. With this proposed configuration the phone would be answered by full-time staff at their desks as a matter of course.
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