Peak training helped us learn to identify where time is wasted in work days in our department. As a result, we learned to apply the principles to just about every aspect of our job. Take for example, our application of Lean principles to a recent remodeling of Denver Public Library’s Western History department.

Denver Public Library’s Western History Department is dedicated to sharing resources and services about African-American History, Western History, Genealogy, and the Conservation Movement in the Rocky Mountain West. The world-class collection includes original papers, books, art works, maps, memorabilia, and more. As the collection grew over the years the archives staff who work on preserving, describing and making these historic materials accessible found themselves squeezed into a very uncomfortable and impractical workspace on the 6th floor of the Central Library. It was cold and uncomfortable because the work area was in the climate-controlled storage area for materials. Staff had to spend valuable work time walking to other areas to access their records and tools.

Here is the archivist work space before the remodeling project:

Before remodel

The file cabinets containing records about the materials in the Western History collection were on the 6th floor where archivists worked but far from workflow needs. Staff had to walk some distance to reach them, through an obstacle of stacks. Archivist Abby Hoverstock figured that the frequent trips to the file cabinets that the eight staff members were taking to look up donor and collection information took at least five minutes each. That’s almost an hour and a half wasted each week!

The preservation lab was also not conveniently located. It was on the 7th floor, requiring an elevator ride from the archivist workspace, and did not contain a sink.  Water had to come from the sink in the staff lounge and there was the possibility of spilling water en route to and from the sink. Mold could grow in the humidification chamber because the supplies needed to clean it out had to be stored far away. Sometimes a small preservation issue was not fixed due to the hassle of getting to and from the lab with supplies. Abby calculated that a trip to the 7th floor to use the preservation lab took about 11 minutes of staff time for traveling on the elevator. If the archivist also needed to set up the lab that added another 21 minutes before they could actually start the preservation work itself. Abby calculated almost 30 hours of valuable staff time was lost each year riding on the elevator to the lab and then setting up the necessary tools. She didn’t even try to calculate the number of items with small issues that didn’t get fixed due to the hassle of getting to and from the lab with supplies.

For the remodel Abby and the Western History archives staff advocated to allocate ample space for the accession file cabinets just steps from the archivists and collection assistants’ new workstations. They also planned for construction of a separate preservation lab work room just steps away from the archivists’ work stations. Those two changes make a significant improvement in workflow in the new archivist work area.

Here is the beautiful and comfortable new work space:

After remodel

The remodel of the archivist space on the 6th floor took into consideration Lean principles to improve workflow, saving time and money for an annual soft cost savings of about $3,100 for staff transportation waste. With the accession files close by, archivists can easily access them multiple times a week to consult donor and collection information. Staff and volunteers can also file important Deeds of Gift and loan paperwork easily into files, resulting in better collection management. The preservation lab with humidifier chamber, microform camera, and encapsulator machine are all now within steps of the archivists and selection assistants. The closer proximity allows for better care of the collection by promoting efficient use of supplies. It mitigates accidents due to water spillage and mold growth. Overall, the whole remodel is a successful improvement both for staff and for the residents of Denver. Western History archivists are now able to preserve more unique and special historical materials about our region’s history and heritage.

Archives staff in new workspace
Archives staff in the new space! Top (left to right): Becky Geller, Martin Leuthauser, Abby Hoverstock, Kellen Cutsforth, Jamie Seemiller, Katie Rudolph. Seated: Roger Dudley, Keli Schmid.

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