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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reengineering New York Public Library (NYPL)

After analyzing the NYPL website (, it becomes clear that the Digital Library project is a part of a bigger reengineering initiative that has been in place in NYPL for past few decades. NYPL has realized the importance of refining its business processes by implementing efficient process automation systems. They have done extensive work on analyzing the current library process and work flows to build IT based business process automation systems, mainly the integrated web-portal that automates major activities such as Search, Borrow, Reserve, Renew, Providing one-stop access to the services of Branch and Research Libraries, Supporting collaborative and learning activities with focus on diverse groups (NYPL website, 2007). The basic goal in implementing the Digital Library, as defined in NYPL website, is to act as a “gateway to The Library's rare and unique collections in digitized form, free” – is a newly identified requirement that required a lot of changes in the current process designs as well as building of new process models, for e.g. web based information search and retrieval system that supports efficient way to handle fragile and old works. This is evident in the way that NYPL created a separate web domain for this initiative ( This initiative thus supports Hammer’s first Reengineering Principle – finding innovative way to do business process and getting away from the routine and far less efficient process models . The old process requires physical storage and care of the deteriorating historical collections, less efficient ways of searching through them manually and distributing them for research and knowledge assimilation. In the reengineered system, the whole process is replaced with a web-based process automation system that supports efficient storage, sorting, searching and retrieval.

The Digital Library system is well organized around outcome and not just individual line of tasks. Here, the importance is on establishing an integrated IT solution that focuses on the quality and efficiency of the process to deliver immediate service to the visitor, rather than work trail involved in common library system - This is in accordance with the second principle. The first two principles thus focus on “compressing linear processes or work trails”. The heart of NYPL’s digital library system is a well structured Information Architecture that supports timely processing of information within the system. This Information Architecture is nothing but NYPL’s centralized data-warehouse and the coordination mechanisms that control the validity, integrity and timely flow of relevant information between sub-processes. This integrated Information processing approach thus seems to support the third and fourth rules – i.e. to Incorporate information processing capability into the processes that creates the information and Link decentralized parallel processes by effective information integration. For e.g. the search process for, say “African Personalities”, takes in the input information, performs parallel search across the differing subject areas available in the data-warehouse, links the results and then generates a web page that is formatted subject-wise.

The fifth principle says - Build in decision making points where the work is done in a process. This is again supported by NYPL’s digital Library in many different ways. One good example is where the user has full control to decide on what to search (Photographs) and how to search (search by caption, subject-wise, author-wise etc). The decision made is processed there itself and request is served on the spot. The search in turn can decide on what search method it should use – an indexed search or a heuristic search. The last principle speaks about Capturing Information once and at the source. This is actually made possible by the Centralized data warehouse which is accessed by NYPL’s reengineered business processes to store and share information, thus reducing data redundancy. For example by capturing (scanning, importing and uploading) and storing the old manuscript and its related information in the common data warehouse, any business process, say a normal search & query process or a pay & print process, can access it simultaneously without any contention.

-What additional improvements could be made to further refashion the project to integrate the ideas of process improvement?

Definitely there are areas where we can apply further process improvements such as follows :

1. Integrating with the Research Libraries and Branches so that the subject matter is further categorized.

2. Administration and content management capabilities that enable building of process controls that builds in static and dynamic data pumped to the website.

3. Extensive shopping cart facilities that can sell, resell and negotiate with other popular online stores via web services. This is one of the major sources of ROI for NYPL.

4. User rating capabilities which allows user to provide constructive feedback.

5. Personalized section for the users where they can login and set personalized web pages and customized searches.

It may be noted that any call for process improvement leads to a new reengineering initiative that has a huge cost, time and effort attached to it. NYPL should utilize its established process improvement methodologies to do a cost benefit analysis to make sure that the project is both financially and behaviorally feasible.

1. Hammer M. (1990). "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate". Harvard Business Review.
2. NYPL. (2007) NYPL Website. Retrieved on February 27, 2007.

(c) Deepesh Joseph, 2006

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