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 ends when details of that item have been entered into the electronic catalogue, and the book, for example, has been ‘processed’ (book plate added, security strip inserted, etc.) and ultimately placed in the right space on the right shelf.

The Lean Team facilitated a five-day rapid improvement event. The project team consisted of all of the Cataloguing Team staff (some of who were familiar with the acquisitions process) and the two book processing staff. A significant amount of data had been gathered prior to the event and this showed volumes 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.

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

  • It could take four months for a purchased book to reach the shelf from receipt at the University
  • Books that were purchased, at the request of staff or students, were not prioritised for cataloguing ahead of donated books and 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 six-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


‘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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  • Existing cataloguing and book processing technical processes re-confirmed
  • Analysis of processes and times showed additional staff needed to eliminate backlog (temporary staff member’s contract extended for four months)
  • The entire backlog eliminated within four months
  • New workflow procedures with consistent processes were put in place
  • Continuous improvement (of 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