After investigating what other library management technology was out there, we also had to document exactly how we interact with our current system and how we could improve that in the new library management system.

To get a picture of our processes, we gathered a big group of staff who interact with customers daily, so they understand the sort of experiences and journeys that our users take across all facets of the Library.

We spoke with one of the Customer Services Team, Liev Cherry, about the process mapping project.

How did you end up getting involved in the process mapping?

I think the reason was that I represented the weekend team – the bulk of the people in the process mapping team work through the week so they wanted someone who would know what happens at the weekend. I’ve also been here a lot less time than some, so I think (well, I hope) that I was able to give a bit of a fresh take on some of the things we do.

There was about 16 of us, and some managers too – people from each site and from all different teams and all different levels. We spent two days together mapping seven different areas of processes that we use in customer services. These included loans, renewals and returns (which was the big one) overdues and invoices, holds and requests, store requests, charges, external members and offline circulation.

How exactly do you map a process?

We did it by talking through the user journey for each of the key areas and sticking every step to the wall using post-it notes. We spent two full days looking at each process one-by-one – identifying where the process starts and who initiates it, then what the next steps are. We’d look at what currently happens or what happens manually. Sometimes this was difficult because some things happening in the system also represent something physical happening as well.

It was all about separating what the machine does and what we as staff do and then tracing the process journey and who needs to communicate with who at which point. We identified pinch points, which is where processes can get delayed, where things don’t work and where things can go wrong. We thought about what questions we might get asked and what decisions customers had to make to identify directions a process can go off in. The eye-opener for me is that everything takes a lot more steps than you think it does.

It was good to take a step back and look at what you do every day that has become intuitive – almost like muscle memory. The current system is quite idiosyncratic so there are a few ways that individuals do things quite differently – we looked at what we all did in common and how we could standardise the way we do things.

How many post-its?!

They were hundreds and hundreds – in all sorts of cool colours. I’d never seen a teal post-it before! I wanted to steal some but they all got used up! We covered entire walls with them while mapping the processes – Hazel (our Customer Services Team Leader) then had the arduous job of tidying up the process maps and having them digitised and printed onto these huge A1 sheets.

Image: the process mapping project room

What processes were highlighted as ready for change?

The process mapping project let us break everything down to the tiniest detail. We could see that there were some extra steps in the process – there was a lot of identifying where we could take fewer steps to do something. Or where customers could do things without needing our help.

More like self-service?

More empowering people to use our resources themselves rather than automation.

For example, some people do all of their renewing online, but there are a lot that still do it through us within the physical Library. It’s a huge contact driver for library users – not just questions around whether we can renew their books but a lot of people panicking because they can’t renew their books generally because one of them is very overdue. So we identified that if we have rolling renewal periods it would remove the need for people to do that. So now no-one will have to renew their books because we’ll do that automatically for them.

Another things we looked at was the massive variations in loan periods for different users – we have a few different user categories so it wasn’t always clear to customers how long they would be entitled to keep a book. When we looked at the processes, there’s actually a lot of different timings to consider as it is not standardised. So when we coupled this with the possibility of automatic renewals, it brought up the possibility of standardising loan periods for everybody.

Were there any concerns about changing the standard loan period?

We spend a lot of time explaining recalls to users who are surprised when a book they have is requested, because they thought they had it for two weeks or three months or whatever it is, when in reality they were only guaranteed it for a week.

In that sense, the timeframes in the new system haven’t changed – everyone is guaranteed a book for seven days and they must return it if it is requested. But I do think it will make things a lot more clear and easy to understand.

Currently, the bulk of students get three days to return a requested item, where as some students such as part time students – as well as those studying through the Lifelong Learning centre, researchers, disabled students, etc – get seven days. So we’re actually standardising it and bringing the number up for most people. No one will get any less time.

Of course, if anyone does have any issues returning something in the time given, they can still get in touch to discuss it and we will try to help.

You can explore what’s next on the Library website and view the other blogs in this series right here on the blog.