Library Automated Materials Handling Consultation for Library Remodel

Mississauga Library (Ontario) is finalizing plans for a remodel of the Central Library. As part of the remodel, the Library would like to introduce automated materials handling.  The Library's courier operation also operates out of the Central Library and the Library sought a thorough analysis of how best to implement materials handling for the Central Library operations as well as Courier operations. 

Library Automated Materials Handling Consultation

Engagement involves working with Multnomah County as they begin rolling out automated material handling technology throughout their system starting with Midland Library as a pilot site. Project includes assisting with the design and configuration of the AMH system at Midland and working with the Library to develop metrics for assessing the initial pilot project. The project also includes developing functional and business requirements for this project. These requirements will be rolled into a larger requirements package for the library system for use during the procurement process over the next few years.

Library Automated Materials Handling (AMH) Consultation

Cambridge Public Library was in the process of renovating two of their branches, Main and the Valente branch.  Lori Ayre was brought in to work with the architects on both projects to help the Library identify ways to improve the materials handling workflows at each of the libraries. In both cases the architect teams were well into the Design Development phase so the options were limited as to what could be done. Materials handling considerations especially when automated materials handling is being considered should happen early (Schematic Design) so as to provide the most affordable options for optimizing workflows.

Library Automated Materials Handling Consultation

The Seattle Public Library purchased a cutting edge automated materials handling system in 2004 when it opened its new main library. While the system continues to function, it has experienced substantial wear and tear of the last 13 years.  The Library decided it was time to explore the automated materials handling marketplace to evaluate whether it was time to replace the system.  

As part of the consultation, Lori Ayre evaluated the cost of ownership of the system over the years and worked with staff to understand what was working well and what wasn't working well. She worked with the SPL team to explore opportunities available from the existing AMH vendor as well as other vendors providing competitive solutions and is assisting the library throughout their evaluation of options.

Library Materials Handling Strategy Analysis

Stark County District Library was pursuing a series of initiatives to minimize redundancy in materials handling practices and reduce the time staff spend in the back office so they can spend more time out in the library engaging with customers in a variety of ways. The Library’s strategic vision included a dramatic reduction of materials handling activities in each branch and the elimination of service desks. Instead of working behind desks, the expectation is that staff will work with patrons side-by-side in the branches and spend more time delivering high-quality programming inside and outside of the library buildings. In order to achieve this vision, the Library explored a “pure central processing” strategy in which material is returned at each library location but only checked in at a central sorter. This workflow would be supported by two times daily delivery service. The expectation is that this approach would result in material check-in within a four hour window, physical delivery turnaround times of no more than 36 hours and a traditional “bookdrop” workflow for patrons. The Library sought consulting assistance to analyze the “pure central processing” strategy and to identify critical elements of a materials handling strategy that would allow the Library to achieve their strategic vision.  

Library Automated Materials Handling (AMH) and RFID Consultation

Engagement with Charlotte Mecklenburg as they plan their transition from barcodes to RFID and from manual processing to automated materials handling.  They Library is in the unusual position of having to renovate one of the branches and will introduce their first automated materials handling system there. In order to plan how best to transition to RFID systemwide and how best to use automated materials handling, Lori Ayre has worked with the Library to evaluate potential vendors.  With Ayre's support, the Library has selected an AMH vendor and will roll-out a longer term plan for implementing RFID in a way that will reduce the workload for Library staff throughout the transition.  The project is ongoing.

Do More With More

My consulting practice seems to go in phases and lately I’ve been in the consortia phase.  It’s a gratifying place to be.  In each case, I see the power that comes from libraries coming together to do something better than any one library could do on its own.  In some cases, it creates opportunities that would be completely beyond a library’s capability due to lack of resources (be they human or financial or both). 

Initiatives that require costly technology or costly technology experts are particularly good projects to handle at the consortial level.  The integrated library system (ILS) is one of those big, complicated, costly technologies that can be leveraged in many ways. There’s the underlying platform (server and operating system), the application (the ILS itself), and there are the people involved in managing the system (ILS Administrator) plus the staff using the system.  Some, or all, of these components can be shared across libraries.

For example, a group of libraries can use the same server and application yet operate as independent libraries.  That’s what a group of libraries in Northern California is doing.  They are each part of a shared Koha system hosted by a service provider.  Each library administers its own system and has its own patron records and collection. But they save a lot of money by sharing that platform and that vendor contract, and by not having to manage the operating system and deal with backups and software updates.

Case Studies Demonstrating RFID, Self-Check and Materials Handling Best Practices

One of my clients requested that I put together some case studies that would demonstrate Best Practices for implementing RFID, self-check, and automated materials handling. I was able to put together two excellent examples of how to do it right. 

Johnson County Case Study

This case study was written based on a document prepared by JCL staff after their RFID implementation. It was their own evaluation of the process so it includes a description of things they did right and what they could have done better.  It provides great information on how to plan and manage the implementation and includes useful and impressive outcome metrics.

MidContinent Library System Case Study

This case study was written based on telephone interviews with the staff.  They describe another excellent process for implementing automated materials handling and then RFID and self-check. Even though I recommend implementing RFID before AMH, this process worked well for them and they are now achieving 90% self-check use systemwide.