Setting the scene

The cataloguing process, for the purposes of this project, starts when a book or DVD is delivered to the Cataloguing Team for their action. The process is complete after details of that item have been entered into the electronic catalogue, the item has been ‘processed’ (for example, books have a book plate added, security strip inserted, etc.) and it has been placed in the right space on the right shelf.

There were a number of issues surrounding the original cataloguing process. At the time of the project:

  • Once received by the university, it could take four months for a purchased book to reach the shelf
  • The cataloguing of books that were purchased at the request of staff or students was not prioritised over that of donated or rarely borrowed, older book stock that needed to be catalogued fully on return
  • The relatively recently created Department of Film Studies was ordering an increasing number of DVDs
  • It could take between six and 24 months for a DVD to reach the shelf after purchase
  • DVD cataloguing resource was limited to one staff member who had other cataloguing responsibilities
  • A projected increase in spend (10% per annum over the then next 5 years) meant that the then current process was inadequate and needed to be improved



  • Eliminate the backlog of uncatalogued books and DVDs
  • Reduce catalogued-to-shelved process times to prevent future backlogs
  • Ensure consistency of processes


What we did

The Lean Team facilitated a five-day rapid improvement event with the project team (all of the Cataloguing Team staff, some of who were familiar with the acquisitions process, and the two book processing staff). Prior to the event,  the project team gathered data on the volume of books and DVDs received, peak times, and average time to catalogue a book with, and without, interruptions. With interruptions, on average, two books could be catalogued per hour, without interruptions the figure was three books per hour.



‘Buffer Bash’ 

The Cataloguing Team preferred the term ‘Buffer’ to describe the backlog of books and DVDs that needed to be catalogued. To keep a track of progress in eliminating the buffer, the team created a ‘Buffer Bash’ thermometer which was updated daily from data recorded on their visual management board.

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As a result of the work done during the Rapid Improvement Event:

  • Existing cataloguing and book processing technical processes were re-confirmed
  • Analysis of processes and times showed additional staff were needed to eliminate backlog (temporary staff member’s contract extended for four months)
  • The entire backlog was eliminated within four months
  • New workflow procedures with consistent processes were put in place
  • Continuous improvement (of their existing Lean process of daily planning, plus prioritising inputs)


Quantitative Benefits
  • Book-to-shelf time from receipt at Acquisitions was reduced to two working days
  • DVD-to-shelf time from receipt at Acquisitions was reduced to two working days


Qualitative Benefits
  • Shelves freed for use elsewhere
  • More natural light entering work areas
  • Dramatically increased teamwork within the cataloguing team
  • Significantly improved service to students and other Library users


“The Lean process was very useful as a team building exercise.” – Library Cataloguing Team Member

“Coffee and biscuits!” – The entire Cataloguing Team