Make It Snappy, CML! I’m Waiting For A Copy Of Dan Brown’s Origin!

So far this year, I’ve summarized over 100 research reports, initiated more than 100 contacts with fellow researchers, and answered close to 75 reference questions. Can you tell I’m one of those librarians who likes to keep track of statistics?

I thought I was dedicated to data, but it’s nothing like the amazing analytics and process efficiencies that I saw in action at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Operations Center.

This Gahanna-based hub of bibliophilic action was the third summer tour destination offered by the Central Ohio Chapter, Association for Information Science and Technology. Laura Simonds, CML’s collection services manager, led a behind-the-scenes tour of how materials move through the library system and get on the shelves of its 23 locations.

The system’s departments for information technology, transportation, school delivery, lobby stop and homebound services are housed here. We focused on the collections services happening here, which include processing, cataloging, selection and acquisition of library materials.

First stop: Processing. Here, pallets of boxes of new books are unloaded and stacked very precisely — face down, for efficiency’s sake — on boards. How many times the book is touched during this process matters; over time, a few seconds can really add up in how quickly items move through this systematic process. How to build a stack is very important because the boards have to be solidly stacked to move down the line without experiencing a calamity like shifting or falling over.

The boards are placed on two lines — one for fresh replacement copies of worn books already in the system, and one for copies of new items that have not been cataloged into the system. A work slip placed in the book tells how many copies were purchased, the number of holds on the item, the destination location, and the collection to which the book is being added.

Tent cards placed on top of various stacks show the date the item went on the line, which keeps the line moving in date order.

Second stop: Cataloging. The “fewer titles, more copies” mantra helps with efficiency. For copies of soon-to-be-released popular titles, the goal is to have them processed, cataloged and on the hold shelf at branches on the day of the book’s release.

Third stop: Labeling. Here, barcodes, “New” stickers, and labels indicating the home branch of the book are placed on the back of the item. The top of the book is also edge-stamped to read “Columbus Metropolitan Library.” Here’s a fun fact. Only magazines, compact discs and reference books are returned to the location that has been assigned as its home; everything else “floats” throughout the system. That means that if you return a checked-out item to another location in the system, the item will stay at that location if there are no holds on it. That keeps the collection at a branch refreshed.

Fourth stop: Styling. This fancy name refers to what other stickers get put on the spine, like “Mystery” or “Romance.”

Fifth stop: Jacketing. Studies showed that the center could not jacket books cheaper and faster in-house, so most often, a print vendor puts mylar book jackets on the books before they are shipped here for processing.

Sixth stop: Distribution. Items with holds on them are sorted first, followed by transfers to another location. Colorful sheets resembling Gantt charts indicate where books should go. On the shelves underneath, there’s a box for every Columbus Metropolitan Library location and Central Library Consortium partner. Ergonomic studies have helped efficiency in this area as well.

There are even standards for how to build one of these boxes correctly. After all, since the box is filled with new materials, it should be attractive. I peeked inside the box labeled “OWL,” for the Old Worthington Library, home branch for this Power Patron.

Final stop: Transportation. Five drivers drive five routes including all system libraries six nights a week, picking up and delivering 48,000 of those blue boxes to branches each month. And this all happens after the libraries have closed. A logistics specialist runs this department; he proudly announced that his drivers circle the globe five times a year while driving their routes.

There are standards for how fast these whizzes work. To track turnaround time, productivity is measured at every station with initials and dates. Records are kept on how many items leave the department each day. In the labeling department, the standard is having labels applied to 240 books an hour. Each cataloger has a goal of cataloging 40 items per day. About 2,000 titles a month are cataloged, depending on the kind of material. Sorters handle 10,500 to 11,500 items each month.

Organization, design and workflow have reduced processing times. In 2003, the average turnaround time for processing materials was 17 days, with 50 staff. This year, eliminating steps and streamlining efficiencies have resulted in an astounding 48-hour turnaround time, with 30 staff; 24 hours for magazines. Last year, staff at the operations center processed 460,000 items.

For more on the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Operations Center, watch this segment from WOSU’s “Broad and High.” When you see books being thrown in a bin, don’t worry; lean principles to create more value with fewer resources were applied to sorting, so that doesn’t happen anymore.

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