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10 Ways to Improve Results: Circulation Processes

August 17, 2023

It’s not easy for those of us working in libraries to examine our daily routines with fresh eyes. Many circulation processes, in particular, are ingrained routines with hundreds of daily repetitions. Process improvement is about analyzing what works, what doesn’t, and how long it takes. And there’s gold waiting to be discovered— the gold of staff freed up for more patron-interactive services. What are some of the circulation processes that might be costing more time and effort than they should?

1. How many times is an item handled during the check-in process?

Even without an AMH, check-in should occur with one scan or read—and in batches of 4-5 items at a time using RFID.

2. Are materials being shelved that haven’t been properly checked in?

Move check-in to the backroom and not at the desk where staff can be interrupted or materials mixed up. The goal is to eliminate "Claim Returned" incidences.

3. Is the majority of in-house checkout (at least 80%) done through self-checkout?

If not, why not? Are there too few stations? Are they poorly placed or out of order? Is the interface difficult or slow? If a patron is blocked or confused, can staff assist quickly?

4. Are too many staff members at the circulation desk filling their time with materials handling tasks?

If self-checkout is working properly, most staff should be assigned to handle materials in the backroom for greater efficiency and accuracy. Place a wireless call button on the circulation desk to summon more staff to the desk for help as needed.

5. When are delivery bins checked in?

They should be the lowest priority after book drop check-in and pulling/routing holds. Consider checking in delivery bins on a sorter when the system is least used by patrons (before opening, after closing) for greater efficiency. Remember that materials in delivery bins are in a suspended status (“Transit”) unlike other priority check-ins.

6. Are two slips printed for transit holds? 

Print a single slip with the "Transit To" destination at the top of the slip. On arrival at the pickup location, reorient the slip to display patron code or name.

7. Are hold slips rubber-banded on each item?

Slips should be inserted into books leaving the bands or tape for DVD cases if necessary. If a slip sometimes goes missing during delivery, it can be easily reprinted. Don’t let the “rare” exception force an “always” rule.

8. Is a hold slip printed when the item is checked in on a sorter?

With an attached receipt printer, holds can be slipped and moved directly to a shelving cart. There should be no reason for a second check-in simply to print a hold slip.

9. Have you considered printing hold slips on a different colored printer paper each week (or day)?

Pulling expired holds becomes a simple matter of pulling by color of slip rather than by expiration date.

10. For RFID libraries, does staff search for missing materials multiple times with printed reports or pull lists?

Change the item status to “Trace/Missing” immediately and use a handheld wand to scan the collection frequently to locate these exceptions with far less staff time invested.

While staff may argue that some of these habits take just a few seconds per item, those seconds add up to hundreds of hours of staff time handling thousands of items. Examine each circulation task for the opportunities to reduce handling, eliminate duplication and squeeze every ounce of value from your existing technologies.

If you have questions for Gretchen or you would like to connect, please feel free to reach out to us!

Tech Logic connects libraries with their communities through dynamic, innovative, and efficient workflow technologies—delivering unparalleled service and outstanding patron experience. Since 1997, we have worked exclusively with libraries to develop solutions that empower library patrons and staff.