Why We Should Color-Code for Maximum Library Efficiency

A Case Study of Musselman Library, Bluffton University, Bluffton OH.


“I don’t like boring work, and neither do student staff members.” Said Audra Oglesbee, Former* Manager of the Student workers. Boring is how the previous process would be considered, long, tedious, and unorganized, would all work too. After color-coding tasks and combining similar jobs, workers found the once boring tasks something worth the time doing. The efficiency of the student workers has gone up and processes run more smoothly now and here’s why we should do the same.

*Audra Retired in early 2022 from Musselman Library, after this original case study was made.

About the Organization

Built in 1930 as a gift from C.H. Musselman and his wife Emma Musselman Library serves as the campus library for Bluffton University. This library houses more than 160,000 volumes and includes the university archives and Mennonite Historical Collection. The library itself is staffed by three Faculty members: Formerly Audra Oglesbee, Carrie Phillips, and Kathleen Aufderhaar. Student staff takes care of the everyday chores such as Patron-oriented circulation (Pcirc), Collection care, shelving, and cleaning. The 13-student staff and 4 student supervisors are vital to for the library’s function.

The Challenges

The original of collection care process Audra describes takes several components. These different tasks were previously done by different workers at different times, and even days. Worker A could get something done on Tuesday, but Worker B might not get to it until Thursday, which meant worker C could not do anything until then. It was needlessly complex. Students had to stand in front of a book, read the call number, make sure it is in order, check the book for any damage, and then move on to the next book. If the book was not in call number order, the student would then pull it to have a different student shelf later.

Students were not assigned what carts to shelf; they could just shelve whichever ones they chose. If a student found one cart too exhaustive or a floor too complicated, they could just skip shelving that particular shelving cart. This could lead to books piling up and carts overflowing. As a result, students could spend up to half an hour doing shelving duties and make minimal progress.

Collection care did not exist. What is now referred to as collection care was originally split into three parts. Stack reading- making sure the books are in call-number order, shelving, and condition checking were all separate tasks, done by different people. For a student to even begin stack reading, they had to check in at one office, go to a different office, and grab a folder with a paper in it. Then, the student would have to check to make sure all the materials were in the folder and that the pencil they needed was actually sharpened and in their folder. More than once a pencil would be lost in the mix. Then the student would report to whatever floor they were assigned to. If the student worker found a problem with one of the books, then they would have to hand-fill an individual sheet of paper with the call number, issue, initials, and date. Once they were done, they had to return to the office to put the folder away, and then check out at the first office. Rinse and repeat for the other tasks as well. There was very little flow, organization, and efficiency


The library already felt crowded, with half of the 3rd-floor workspace taken up by unnecessary amounts of books. Step one was cleaning things out and shifting the shelves. Many books in the library contained out-of-date or disproven information. Some books were no longer needed, as they were not checked out as much. Those got withdrawn. What books were left were shifted to other floors. This opened 3rd for a student study and workspace. While this didn’t have a large effect on collection care as a process, it created one less floor to check.

Yellow tags were added to show when a book was mis-shelved continuing an earlier process of color-coding Audra created years earlier to show when a book had been recently shelved using pink tags.   These are both shown in figure 1.

The Orignal Collection Care Tags

The library also upgraded to a laptop for collection care. The laptop cart makes it that a student can have the spreadsheet with their assigned section up, plus the library catalog to see if an item was checked out which students report appreciating. Within the spreadsheet, there were 4 sections off to the side. These included Checked out, missing by ALO, Damaged, and Located other. These were preceded by sections for Y/N (if the book was there) which stacks it was in, the call number, copy, volume, title and then author.

Due to limitation issues, the cart was moved from Audra’s office to a supply closet, which keeps the flow of workers out of the way. Audra states “Using a laptop is easier, and less wasteful. Same with the reusable laminated tags/markers kept in a holder on the cart. The cart provides a shelf to place returns, and the top shelf can be a work area.” Audra had later added more color-coded strips, based on the color-coding of the spreadsheet.

The Added Color Coded Tags

The Results        

These changes achieved efficient work between workers and staff. Since all areas of collection care are assigned to one or two student workers, the process becomes very organized. The excel chart takes away human error in sightline reading. If two students are working on the same area in excel, one student can just pick up where the previous student stopped. Student supervisors oversee some of the processes and it allows Audra to focus on missing or damaged items to get either returns or replacement materials faster than before. Audra had recently shared this with colleagues in an OPAL circ meeting. The colleagues thought the new process would be an excellent idea. Processes that flow allow students to see what goes on next. Having the catalog open while looking at the excel chart emphasized the importance of how shelved items need to match the catalog status. If the status on the spreadsheet did not match the status online the entire library operation would not run smoothly.

It is frustrating to both patrons and staff, students, and the like, to expect a book to be on a shelf only to find that it’s not. Using the excel charts to double check the status- and the color coding to make sorting easier, helps not waste another person’s time in locating a book. Color-coding improved operations and created efficiencies.