International Conference on Libraries 2017

Video Transcript

Hello and greetings from Colorado Springs, Colorado in the United States. Thank-you for this incredible honor and privilege to speak with you today at the 2017 International Conference on Libraries. My name is Jeremy Nelson and I am an academic librarian at Colorado College and I am co-founder and CTO of a semantic web start-up company, I am also the author of Becoming a Lean Library published in 2016 by Chandos Publishing. I have been applying and experimenting with Lean Start-up concepts and principles within my local library and through larger projects with other academic libraries, library consortium, public libraries, museums and even the Library of Congress.


This talk is divided into multiple and related topics centering around lean ideas and their applications. First, we will briefly cover the history of "lean" with it's start in the manufacturing sector in Japan and then later to more technology products in Silicon Valley with Lean Startup movement. We'll go over the conceptual differences between the traditional Push processes in manufacturing and organizational structures into what is a core concept behind lean, building services and products that Pull the requirements directly from intermediate and final customers, or in our case as libraries, our patrons.

After understanding Pull at a high level, we'll switch to a more practical focus as we go over my experiences developing a Catalog Pull Platform based upon Library Linked Data that uses Lean Startup project management techniques. These Lean Startups techniques center around iterative and fast project development loops. Each loop is made up of three parts, a Build phase where a Minimum Viable Product is created or expanded upon, a Measure phase where the MVP is tested with your patrons or staff and a Learn phase that takes what you measured and your experiences to grow you and your library's knowledge and make a decision on what to do next. Your metrics may indicate that the project should be abandoned, that project would start the next BML loop, or the project could pivot due to technology change in library or general computing or personnel changes in your organization. Finally I'll discuss applying lean principles in developing library technology for my local academic library as well as expanding to collaborative projects with other libraries and organizations at regional and national levels.

Before I go further; there is an accompanying website at with the slides from this talks, links to resources, and a video transcript. In this first topic, I will switch over to a screen-cast view.

What is a Lean Library?

A Lean Library is a library that adopts in whole or in part, lean principles, strategies, and techniques by responding to our patrons desires and demands for resources and services with quick, iterative project planning and implementation. In this topic, we will first look at the origins of Lean through Lean Manufacturing followed by Lean Startup management approach to technology products and services. With this rich source of techniques and tools, the library becomes a center of knowledge creation, access, and management as a lean learning library.

Lean Manufacturing and Toyota Production System

Lean Manufacturing originated with the Japanese automobile company Toyota with their initial development and promotion in the 1950s and 1960s of what became known as the Toyota Production System or TPQ. TPQ introduced Kanban and other just-in-time techniques that together minimize waste and size of material inventories when manufacturing products, in the case of Toyota, automobiles. Improvements in mechanical and information efficiency increased the quality of the end product, while reducing costs of the manufacturing and delivering the product to the intermediate or end customer.

Lean Startup

We now move from Lean Manufacturing to Lean Startups.

Lean Startup book cover

Many of the ideas and vocabulary surrounding lean startups originated from Eric Ries's 2011 book, The Lean Startup has become a standard way to communicate about the projects and status of technology in the start-up and general open-source development worlds. For example, in a recent announcement about ArcLight on the Code4Lib library technology email list, it directly refers to to the "ArcLight MVP project team" made up of mostly Stanford University employees. The MVP or minimum viable product, is a core concept we will explore more in the Build-Measure-Learn topic.

Lean Learning Library

Libraries traditional do not produce or manufacture products, although the addition of 3-D printing to public and academic libraries surprisingly puts libraries into more of a manufacturing role. Libraries are becoming publishers of born digital text, audio, and video that is being created by their communities through such technologies as digital repositories, social networks, and web content management systems. More interestingly, is the opportunity for libraries in capturing and preserving many of the data sets that are being created and consumed by the governmental, commercial, and non-profit organizations in our communities.

A core aspiration for applying Lean within your library is more broadly improving the organizational knowledge and through reducing barriers in the information flow from the library's operations and collections to the library's staff and patrons. In this context, a "lean library" is a library that actively monitors the sources of friction patrons may have in discovering and accessing the library's collections and services and then develops services and resources in response to this new information.

In the next topic screen-cast, we will and compare and contrast Push processes verses Pull based approaches favored by lean manufactures and lean startups.

Pull verses Push

What makes Lean different is the basic understanding about the consumer demand for a product or service and how to respond accordingly.

Traditional "Push" Organization

With it's origins in early modern industrial companies (The Ford Motor Company being the exemplar of this early type of organization) Push is about the ability of large corporations and organizations to accurately predict and mold demand of customers and then organize their operations around those predictions in order to sell those products.

Here is a highly stylized automotive manufacturing assembly line to illustrate the traditional Push-based factory:

Pull and Lean

Pull identifies and responds to needs and demands for an organization's products and services by "pulling" directly from the customers and potential customers. In a reversal of Push, the Lean organization starts with the end customer and using Kanban scheduling system for later steps in the assembly line to signal an early step for material. Nothing is manufactured or produced unless a Red Kanban Card is indicated by the next step in the assembly line.

We now use the same three steps in the Push example to show how Pull processes are different.

Build-Measure-Learn Project Management

Drawing upon the AGLE software development life-cycles and from Lean Manufacturing processes, Eric Ries, the originator of the Lean Startup management movement, proposed a new model for fast, iterative technological development of software products and services in what he calls a BML loop, short for three project phases Build - Measure - Learn.


The start of a technology project for a new library service or resource starts in Build phase, where taking the requirements driven by three main sources of pull; People, Institutions, and what I believe is becoming increasing important, algorithmic sources of pull.


People Pull Source


Organizations or Institutions Pull Source


Algorithms Pull Source

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

From these requirements, a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is built for initial use by your sources of pull by creating one or more testable hypotheses that you think the project will improve or change. The purpose of an MVP is to only build the least amount of functionality and user interface design to meet but not exceed these requirements and hypothesis and to generate usage statistics and impressions by the people and institutions that are the sources of pull for the project.

A library MVP should deliver an improvement in the resource access or service by patrons or in the operational work-flow for managing the resource or service by the library's staff. As your patrons and staff use the MVP, you move into the second Measure phase of the BML loop.


The next step in the loop is Measure, identifying key metrics from which you prepare for the final step in the project development lifecycle. These metrics and measurements allow you to test the hypotheses generated in the Build phase.

One method of doing this is using A/B testing of User Interface elements where you randomly give half of your users one version of the user interface, and a variant of the user interface to the other half. You then measure to then see what design preforms better to test your hypotheses that you created in the Build phase.

One area that you may not think of using the BML Loop is in the evaluation of commercial library systems, services, or products. As the Build portion is typically completed (likely through a push process) by the vendor, you can usually schedule a trial period that you can then turn into a Measure phase where you gather usage statistics and impressions by sources of pull before moving the Learn phase.

Look out for Vanity Metrics

When deciding what metrics or measures to track, be careful of Vanity metrics that's value seems to indicate improvement but the underlying process has not changed in the direction you would like from hypotheses. For example, don't confuse click rates on an instruction web resource to indicate learning of the topic, especially if the average time being spent on the webpage is measured in seconds but would count as a click.

In the Measure phase, capturing and acknowledging the participation of your end users of the software service or resource is important for the evaluation that starts here but continues in full force in the final phase of BML Loop, the Learn phase.


Taking the key metrics and measurements gathered in the previous step, the Learn phase involves analyzing these results and then making one of the following decisions based on the values of the actionable metrics.

  1. Continue

    If the results of the actionable metrics are positive and validate your hypotheses, the decision to continue the project is made and then you prepare for the next Build-Measure-Learn loop.

  2. Pivot

    A pivot occurs in a project when the actionable metrics indicate the current project is not meeting the predictions of the hypotheses of the Build phase. However, the actionable metrics suggest that if the project changed focus or technology called a pivot in the Lean Startup vocabulary, that the project could serve a new or related purpose.

  3. Terminate

    The other action that occurs when either the actionable metrics suggest the project is failing, either the measurements do not support the hypotheses or other external forces, like technology change or administrative decisions, then the project will cease.

Starting Lean Locally

A common misconception when comes to applying Lean principles and ideas in an organization and in our particular case, libraries, is that in order to start seeing benefits the entire library must adopt all of these ideas by restructure all of its existing departments, and reporting lines. You can start small with Lean in various sub-divisions of the library. In my own experience, library systems and cataloging are good candidates to start transforming into a Lean learning library.

Library Systems and Technology

What tools are available to allow libraries to respond to the specific demands
of their patrons?

Our current catalogs and collections represent more than just physical or digital objects but a rich source of relationships and information that although this is currently and overwhelming encoding as MARC21 or other variants across the world. The theory and practice of lean libraries has driven a very iterative development cycle in my own research and development of the Catalog Pull Platform which is moving towards unlocking and expanding this knowledge in our current library catalogs into the form of Linked Data

Linked Data is about representing information in RDF Triples i.e. subject-predicate-object like BIBFRAME and RDA and MARC can also be reformulated into Linked Data triples as well. Linked data is a way to structure information more consumable and interoperability with other systems.

Colorado College's Electronic Thesis Submission Application

Colorado College Logo

This Lean example draws from my experiences of iteratively developing over the past six years a web application for Colorado College's Seniors. This application allows Senior to self-submit their thesis and any accompanying datasets, audio, or video into Colorado College's digital repository as a permanent, stable intellectual property of both the college and the student. You can see the application at

Every year, we go through a BML loop, starting with improving the existing application during the fall Build phase, which moves into the Measure phase when student's start submitting their theses with the Learn phase in finishing in the spring and summer.

In the latest 2016-2017 academic year, the CCETD app added a new login process that used the campus LDAP servers instead of what we were using before. The second major improvement was to the app's web forms. Instead of configuration files, we now uses RDF graphs to represent the facts about the college and the relationships between departments and faculty that we can leverage in other uses in the library, like enhancing our digital repository and online catalog.

Colorado College's ETD application's open source code repository is available at

Collaborating with Partners

With most libraries operating in a resource and money restrictive environment, libraries can deliver new services and resources and improve existing ones through the application of Lean principles in both formal and informal partnerships. By teaming up with each other and other non-profit and corporate organizations, we maximize and multiple our impact and improve service and resource access across many more communities.

A critical part of the Catalog Pull Platform is BIBCAT, a project originally sponsored by the Library of Congress, that applies Linked Data processes to Library Bibliographic data structured in multiple formats. I am using BIBCAT in two projects that involve multiple types and sizes of organizations.

Alliance Logo

Alliance BIBCAT Project

This project is sponsored by the Library Consortium, Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, with the intention of publishing the consortium's member libraries catalogs as RDF Linked Data for harvesting by search engines.

Using selected MARC records from Colorado College, University of Colorado Boulder, and the most recent partner, SUNY Buffalo were all initially generated from the Alliance's Gold Rush comparison service and the Library of Congress marc2bibframe2 project, these MARC records were converted into BIBFRAME 2.0 RDF and stored in a RDF triplestore. The RDF Linked Library data is published to the web as JSON-LD for indexing by Google, Bing, and other search engines.

We are currently in the Build phase in our second BML Loop for this project with a projected release later this month.

All the computer source code is copyrighted under various open source licenses and is available at

Plains2Peaks Temp Logo DP.LA Regional Service Hub

The Digital Public Library of America is a national non-profit that aggregates digital content from across the United States through a hub system that distributes harvesting to regional libraries, consortium, museums, or other non-profit organizations.

This project is A State Library of Colorado sponsored effort to aggregate the metadata from across different libraries and museums in Colorado and Wyoming and provide a JSON-LD DPLA Map v4 feed to DP.LA to be included in the main DP.LA search portal.

We are currently in the Build phase in the first BML Loop for this project.

All the computer source code is copyrighted under various open source licenses and is available at

Finishing up …

Thank-you for giving me your time and attention today as we briefly went over Lean concepts and applications to libraries.

I personally believe libraries have an increasingly important role as a respected authority regarding the local intellectual and scholarly output of our communities creative works like books, blog posts, social network postings, photos, music, and videos. Through the application of Lean we can now become the authority on local knowledge and the curator of the creativity of the people we service in our communities.

I would be happy to answer any questions sent to my email address

Thank-you and I wish you the best in applying Lean in your library.