Applying Lean Manufacturing to University Libraries

Nancy Kress is the Head of Bookstacks at the University of Chicago. Nancy says in her libraryassessment.info posting on November 5, 2006:
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.
With that many books going in and out it certainly sounds like a Lean distribution opportunity. Then she goes on to say:
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 user’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.
How many among us are really “good at asking if what we do adds value to the user”? Not so many.
Actually I have been very well served by libraries over the years and think they do a pretty good job of delivering value to the customer. Applying some Lean thinking and kaizen to libraries is a great idea. Any resources they freed up from kaizen could be re-deployed to teaching people how to read (or motivating literate people to read), thereby increasing demand for their services. Now there’s a Lean business model.
I learned a new term called “action research” from the libraryassessment.info blog. Based on a quick search of definitions, action research seems to be type of applied research that is an experience-based, intentional learning done in schools and classrooms involving teachers, aides, principals, and other school staff who act as researchers to systematically reflect on their teaching or other work, collect data and solve problems.
Action research. I like it. It sounds like kaizen.