International Conference on Libraries 2017

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.