Lean Lessons

Kelly Bennett —  June 12, 2013 — 3 Comments

leanlibraryI am just entering the world of Lean, which promises to cut waste, processing time and improve customer service. I first got excited about bringing these concepts to my library when I heard my fellow blogger, Kevin King, and some of his KPL colleagues speak about how they used lean concepts to shape up their interlibrary loan process and processing room. Just this week, I started reading Lean Library Management by John Huber and my excitement has only increased! Here’s some early lessons that I’ve learned from the book and KPL’s presentation.

1. Your library is a business and therefore, in competition with other, for-profit businesses.

Libraries are in direct competition with all kinds of places. From Amazon and Barnes & Noble to the local community center and Starbucks. We offer services that all of these businesses offer as well, and you’d better believe they want people to use theirs instead. Just because our services are free, doesn’t, by any means, mean people will automatically choose libraries.

Here’s a perfect, and personal example. For years, I paid $23.00 a month for Audible, a fantastic digital audiobook service, even though I had access to Overdrive through my library, which is free. Why? Because I found Audible to be more convenient in all the ways that mattered to me. Since then, Overdrive has become easier to use, and my budget has decreased, so I’m using it instead. But the lesson here is, free doesn’t always make up for all sins. Figure out who you’re really competing against and compare your customer service, wait times and programming to those businesses. How can you match or beat them? You’d be surprised how well you can compete if you look at it this way.

2. Becoming leaner removes barriers between you and your customers.

I’m not really sure why I had never thought of this myself, but when I read it in one of Huber’s opening chapters, it was such an “aha” moment for me. A lot of people, especially those with ties to the auto industry (which is a lot of people in Metro Detroit, where I’m writing from) get worried when they hear terms like “lean,” “kaizen” or “5S”. In for-profit businesses, eliminating waste can often lead to downsizing. This is not the goal, though. The goal is to remove any non-value-added steps in a process that stand between you and your customers. In libraries, this means your staff will have more time to give patrons high quality service, and to creatively think and to develop out of the box ideas to make service even better. Let’s say one of your technical services people is able to cut the time they spend processing by two hours per week. Now you as a manager have the opportunity to give this person a project that engages their mind instead of just their hands. That leads me to my last point.

3. People like to work at their highest level at least some of the time.

So, this previously mentioned technical services person, maybe they’re really good at creating displays, or harbor a secret passion for books about quantum physics. Do you think they enjoy doing rote tasks all day? Probably not. Freeing them up to do more challenging, and ultimately more rewarding (for both them and the library’s patrons) work will make everyone happier in the end. Don’t let rank stop you from giving people higher level tasks that they show an aptitude for. If you take this tack when you’re introducing a new culture for change, you’re also likely to see more excited faces than you are wary ones.

I’ve got a long way to go before I implement lean processes in my library, so I’d love to hear your lean library stories! Hit me up in the comments!

Kelly Bennett


Kelly Bennett has worked in libraries for nearly half of her life. She is the Head of Circulation at Ferndale Public Library, where she also purchases music, curates a local music collection and runs a monthly rock concert series, First Stop Friday. She has presented on her music programming at the Michigan Library Association annual conference and at Public Library Association's national conference. Follow her @stomper4x4 and check out her blog http://780s.blogspot.com/ for more information about her concert series and music collection.

3 responses to Lean Lessons


    Kelly, this is John Huber, author of Lean Library Management. Loved your comments, now that you have drank the Lean Kool-aid, you are one of us. Welcome!


    As a newbie library worker who loves to organize for maximum utilization and for ergonomic use I was delighted to discover someone with experience validating the needs I instinctively saw.

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