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Whooo Says

Dear Whooo,

I’m an academic librarian who has also recently worked in a hospital library. I follow your column with interest, and have also taken the Measuring Your Impact class to learn how to value and promote my library services and collection. I’m not quite sure what is happening in our institutional environment, but the approach of demonstrating the librarian’s value to the institution is not working well. Managers and administrators keep talking about Lean principles and Six Sigma but I’m not sure how this translates to demonstrating the worth of my library.


Dear Puzzled,

I’m glad to hear that you are interested in the evaluation portion of your job as well as the more traditional roles of searching, education, and reference. You raise a very good question. I suspect there are others in our region who are confused about the same issue.

Measuring Your Impact is based on the logic model, a tool created by Martin Quigley and most often used to evaluate the effectiveness of a program. The logic model works on the relationship between the elements of your program by determining if we use available resources and implement our program successfully, then we can expect certain outputs and outcomes. Logic models are great tools for program planning and evaluation.

Lean and Six Sigma are different. Both of these are very complex, and will require some extra reading for you to be proficient in their application. I’ll try to give you a nutshell view of both here.

“Lean” is a production practice that focuses on the use of resources to create value for the end customer. Any other use is considered wasteful and a target for elimination. Lean was derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS) and focuses both on tools that identify and eliminate waste and improving the workflow to eliminate unevenness throughout the system.

“Six Sigma” is also a manufacturing application. It was developed by Motorola in 1981 and is a set of strategies, techniques, and tools for process improvement. The reason for using Six Sigma is to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing errors and by standardizing manufacturing and business processes.

Generally, each of these philosophies is implemented separately, although recently some companies (Verizon, GE, IBM and Sandia National Laboratories) have combined the Six Sigma ideas with lean manufacturing to create “Lean Six Sigma.”

With the economic pressures facing health care, many organizations are adopting one or both of these philosophies. Three articles you may want to read for further insight are:

Going Lean in Health Care. IHI Innovation Series white paper. Cambridge, MA: Institute for Healthcare Improvement; 2005. (Available on

Loay Sehwail, Camille DeYong, “Six Sigma in health care”, Leadership in Health Services, 16 (4), pp.1 – 5, 2003.

De Koning, Henk, etal. Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare. Journal for Healthcare Quality. 28(2): 4-11. March-April, 2006.

The important thing for you, Puzzled, is to identify which philosophies are important in your environment, and structure your planning and evaluation within those frameworks. For instance, if the important focus is to increase efficiency, then you can look at how your services increase the efficiency and success of your users. Or, if the focus is to eliminate waste, you can focus on eliminating any excess from your processes. The key is to align your efforts with what is important in your institution, and to use the language of the institution to define your contribution. It will then be much easier to demonstrate the contribution of your services to the organization as a whole. Please note that you can adapt the logic model process that you are using to plan in the Lean or Six Sigma philosophy. Also, if your organization is implementing either of these philosophies and is offering training on how to use them, be sure to take advantage of that training.

Your question has really opened up a large discussion, Puzzled. I hope you will search out resources to help you within your institution as well as doing some extra reading on your own. Change in management philosophy often requires a major adjustment in your thinking; making that change will keep you in alignment with your administration and able to be agile in your planning and evaluation.



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