Library leads the way

Library leads the way

The University of Aberdeen has become one of the first higher education institutes in the country to implement LEAN thinking as one of a package of measures being taken to ensure its library, especially its new £57million library building, is as efficient and green as possible.

Led by a LEAN Kaizen specialist and performance coach, the programme involved bringing together a team of library staff to look in detail at “the journey of a book’’ from customer request to getting it onto a shelf.

With a library of 1.2million books in print format, an additional 500,000 in electronic format and a staff of 150, the process was seen as ideal for the LEAN Kaizen intervention.

Pat Browne, of performance improvement specialists Exceed, has tailored the LEAN Kaizen approach, developed in Japan to improve company efficiency, for initiatives with a number of public and private sector organisations. The approach emphasises workforce involvement and helps staff to optimise efficiency resulting in better services for customers. 

Around 8,500 books are purchased annually and the project started by bringing together a team of 11 staff from different parts of the university library to find ways of identifying and cutting out duplication and waste, using technology more effectively and speeding up the book purchasing and processing processes. By dividing the programme into two processes, from request to order and receipt to getting it onto the shelf, the team focused on those areas they could have greatest impact on.

Pat said: “The process of moving to the new library was the perfect opportunity to introduce a new way of thinking that is simpler, faster, greener, cheaper and better.  This was about the University supporting its staff by allowing them to use their time more effectively to deal more with students and activities that benefit the university.’’

Chris Banks, University Librarian and Director of Library and Historic Collections, said “We are building a stunning library and wanted to look at how we can work as efficiently within it as possible. The Kaizen approach has helped us think not only about current processing activities but also been very useful in planning for the operation in the new building.  There are nine floors and we felt that there was no point in people and books going up and down in lifts as they go through processing when they do not need to. So as part of the planning process for the new building we have moved offices around and have taken other steps, including our LEAN Kaizen project, to minimise book miles. Reducing lift journeys, etc, is reducing our carbon footprint even more in what is a very environmentally friendly building.’’   

“The programme concentrated on what we would call fast-moving text books, ones ordered by lecturers for teaching programmes.  As a direct result of the project, we have freed up the equivalent of four staff who can now devote their time to cataloguing our ancient and rare book collections and helping to build our institutional repository. A university’s reputation is built on its research and a university library’s reputation is built on its collection. This work will help us immensely in building that reputation and the standing of the university as a whole.’’

End results included staff savings across different departments of close to 150 hours per week which they could now use to improve services to students and staff, for example. In addition, cashable savings of around £7,500 or 200 books per year were  identified. 

“Pat ensured the initiative was set up for success and introduced the team to  LEAN thinking with the context of a Kaizen Blitz, she kept the team focused and they are hungry for more now they can see how the process can benefit the department and themselves as individuals.’’

Robin Armstrong Viner, who led the library LEAN Kaizen project team, said: “It was brilliant because it was those of us involved in making new material available who got to decide how the process should be improved and the team was very enthusiastic with fantastic ideas. We were able to implement some of them the next week. Others will take longer, but all will have a positive impact on the service we offer.’’    

Pat was Performance Improvement leader at Aberdeenshire Council and drove the LEAN Kaizen programme which resulted in the European Excellence Award in 2006 for delivering continuous improvement in the public sector.

She has worked on two further LEAN Kaizen projects with the University recently – one focusing on utilities and how meter reading and bill-processing could be made more efficient that resulted in huge staff time savings, and another which is ongoing on processing tuition fees.

AberdeenUniversity’s iconic new library will provide facilities for the institution’s 14,000 student community, replacing the existing library built when the University had only 5,000 students on campus. The new library will also be a showcase for a 200,000 strong collection of historic books and over 4,000 manuscript and archival collections. Building work is underway and it is scheduled to open to students, local communities and other visitors in autumn 2011.