[Part of a series of posts encouraging libraries to “Expect More” from their technologies and to squeeze all the value they deserve from every technology they implement.]
Is your Automated Materials Handling system embraced as a valued staff member— one that “doesn’t take breaks or call in sick” — or is it given a wide berth as a temperamental tyrant? The success of an AMH begins with thoughtful design of the system and extends through process re-engineering. Without these two critical considerations, libraries will waste money on an AMH that patrons won’t use with deficiencies that frustrate the staff.
1.) For the biggest bang for the AMH buck, design new libraries with an exterior 24/7 drive-up drop that feeds materials onto the AMH. If patrons can drop off materials as they drive into library parking, they can enter the building unencumbered by book bags and with materials already checked in. Staff will celebrate not having to unload exterior book drops, check drops over holiday weekends, or deal with mountains of returns after closed days.
2.) For an equally big bang, add secondary book drops inside the library that are connected directly to the AMH. The more the AMH handles from multiple sources every hour of every day, the greater its return on investment.
3.) Design the patron AMH experience for speed and simplicity. If the patron must navigate a screen, insert materials one at a time, stand and wait for responses, or have rejected materials spewed back at them, why would they repeat the experience?
4.) Shift the paradigm of handling all check-ins equally to prioritizing hold requests. An AMH efficiently traps holds—but can’t move them to hold shelves for pick-up. Schedule shelving holds for pick-up as the first priority for every shift and every job title.
5.) Act immediately to diagnose perceived or actual unreliability of AMH check-in. If patrons insist on check-in receipts because the AMH isn’t trusted or if incidences of “claimed returned” materials increase, then test for equipment problems and press the AMH vendor for resolution.
6.) Design the AMH with a staff induction point that doesn’t require staff to check in each item manually on the AMH — why would they? The AMH should do the work to check in materials, reset security tags, and sort appropriately. Better still, use an automated “unloader” to move materials from bins onto the AMH without staff handling them.
7.) Carefully consider how hold requests will be handled on the AMH. Will trapped holds stack in a designated bin carefully enough to match easily with printed hold slips? Or will staff have to check in all holds again manually — seriously defeating labor savings by adding more time to the check-in process?
8.) Observe staff working around the AMH for any unnecessary handling, bending or lifting. Workplace injuries should be reduced, not caused, by the presence of an AMH.
9.) Train and assign staff (or a third party) for regular preventive maintenance of the AMH. Just like a car, an ounce of prevention…
10.) Reduce staffing assigned to check-in tasks and shift or re-allocate the labor elsewhere.
Careful design and deliberate process changes will net a big payoff in increased patron adoption and staff job satisfaction.
For more information from Gretchen Freeman about how your library can improve results through Automated Materials Handling, email email@example.com