I am currently Head of Bookstacks at the University of Chicago. I like to tell people that what I really do is line operations management. My challenge is to manage forty-plus staff and students to accurately and efficiently maintain five million-plus books. I began using business process management tools in 2003, starting with process mapping to speed up turnaround for re-shelving. Most recently I have been applying lean manufacturing principles to improve not just daily work processes, but to involve all staff in defining how we can best meet the userâ€™s needs. The critical starting point for lean is to ask how the customer defines value. Libraries are very good at counting and measuring what we do, while not always good at asking if what we do adds value to the user.
In the academic community, this method of applied problem solving is known as action research. Action research differs from standard social science methods by involving participants in the research process. Part of creating cultures of assessment in our libraries is through involvement of library staff at all levels in diagnosing and planning improvement. By involving library staff as a community, they become more amenable and committed to assessment, and to change. Without action, assessment is wasted.