Thursday 12 August 2021

Spotlight on Lean Library Futures, Lean Library, a SAGE Publishing Company

 - Shortlisted for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing 2021

This year, the judges have selected a shortlist of six for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing. Each finalist will be invited to showcase their innovation to industry peers at the ALPSP Awards session on Wednesday 15 September at the opening of the ALPSP Virtual Conference & Awards 2021. The winners will be announced on the final day of the Conference on Friday 17 September

In this series, we learn more about each of the finalists. 

Tell us about your organization

Founded in 2016, Lean Library is a browser extension for libraries that brings their collection and services into user workflows. We do this by integrating with the library’s holdings, authentication systems, patron services and publisher content. From our early beginnings streamlining remote access, to our latest developments embedding library search, support and content into sites like Google Scholar and Wikipedia, we have always kept the library at the heart of what we do, with an overriding mission to increase the library’s visibility and impact in the university. Over 140 libraries subscribe to Lean Library, including Cambridge, Harvard and Melbourne, and over 200,000 patrons use the extension every month.

What is the project/product that you submitted for the Awards?

Whether as a physical building or a digital infrastructure, the library has often been seen as a destination for its patrons – as somewhere they have to come to. As patron behaviours and expectations change, accelerated by the shift to remote working in the pandemic, there is an appetite amongst both patrons and librarians to bring the library, and all of its valuable services and resources, directly to the patron. Lean Library Futures is a new product from Lean Library designed to help achieve this. It is principally an application for the library that can sit on the patron’s desktop, deploying relevant library support or resources wherever and whenever they need them. 

Tell us a little about how it works and the team behind it

Lean Library has always been built upon the understanding that interoperability is at the heart of the digital library. Over the last few years our product and technology teams have built an infrastructure to scalably ingest a wide range of APIs and data files, whether directly from the library or via third-party technology providers and publishers.  Lean Library Futures uses this infrastructure to integrate library services and resources directly into our browser extension. Examples include library chat tools, discovery services, Sharepoint, Confluence, publisher databases and more. We are then able to deploy these library services and resources via the browser extension on websites determined by the library.

There are two ways these services and resources can be deployed ‘in the workflow’ (i.e. on any relevant website the user is working in). The first is via automated pop-up. This does not require the user to trigger any action and appears by default. The second is via a trigger from the user. This is achieved by the user accessing a discrete app for their library which appears on any website where the library may have relevant services or resources (it does not appear on other websites). We call this app ‘the Workflow Librarian’. It is branded with the library’s logo and, when clicked, it expands to provide a menu of options for the user. When the user clicks the relevant option, it will trigger the delivery of that library service or resource. The library decides which of these two options to use for each service or resource, and it can even configure them to work in tandem. For example, the library can configure a library service to appear as a pop-up ‘by default’ the first time a user comes across a relevant site, but thereafter only via the Workflow Librarian. In this way we balance awareness and onboarding with user experience, knowing that the patron will always welcome helpful and convenient support from their library, but on their terms. 

The below example (see Figure 1) illustrates our integration with ExLibris Primo. In this example, the user has clicked the Workflow Librarian, expanded the menu to see library services on offer and selected Library Search. Having scraped the search term the library user has entered into Google Scholar (‘global citizenship’), and used this to query the ExLibris Primo API for the library in question, Lean Library Futures then returns the top search results from that library’s instance of Primo – overlaid onto the webpage.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Ex Libris Primo embedded on Google Scholar 

In what ways do you think it demonstrates innovation?

The potential benefits of embedding library services and resources into patron workflows have been known and promoted for several years. For libraries, it’s as fundamental as maintaining ‘mission relevance’, reaffirming that the central mission of the library is not buildings or collections but serving their patrons to achieve their learning goals and research impact (Evans and Schonfeld, 2020). For patrons, studies have shown that point-of-need, customized library support can reduce cognitive load and accelerate learning and discovery (Little, 2010). Lean Library Futures achieves this by taking library services and resources into user workflows for the first time. (As far as we know, there is no other browser extension which embeds the library into user workflows to this extent, since most focus only on specific elements such as access or referencing.) We believe it is the library which can best serve and support patrons to achieve their goals - with Lean Library Futures we’re giving them the means to do so more effectively. Our initial pilots have also shown that embedding library services and resources at the point of need increases both discoverability and usage. One such pilot, with Utah State University, showed a 450% increase in LibGuides usage after integration with the Lean Library browser extension and deployment at the point of need. If we can extend this to other library services and resources, we believe we can support libraries to improve learning outcomes and accelerate research. We see our role as helping to enable libraries, library service providers and publishers to maximise their reach and impact.

What are your plans for the future?

We have launched a number of significant integrations this year, including with Springshare’s LibGuides and LibChat, EBSCO’s Discovery Service, ExLibris’ Primo, scite’s citation context and many more, including our publisher content integrations. We intend to continue this focus on integrating with the services and resources libraries want to see embedded in user workflows. Examples include expanding our integrations with library chat tools, including chatbots, to increase instantaneous librarian-patron communication at the point of need. We also want to expand our publisher partnerships to surface expert material when patrons are searching relevant terms on sites like Google or Wikipedia. To achieve this, we are focusing on publisher outreach but also the design of an easy-to-use integration schema, akin to what LTI has achieved for LMS integrations. We have a dedicated resource page for publishers and library service providers and are always eager to hear from interested parties at In addition, we also want to work with libraries on building out the productivity tools our browser extension offers library patrons. This would include supporting students and researchers with reading, writing and other common workflow tasks.

For further information, please visit: 

Visit the ALPSP Annual Conference 2021 website for more details and to book your place. 
The ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing 2021 are sponsored by HighWire

About the author

Matthew Hayes is Managing Director of Lean Library. He has held leadership roles in both start-ups and established research information organizations, including Publons, Taylor & Francis and Springer Nature. Matthew studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and has continued his research interests alongside his career: he is currently completing a PhD in Global Education at the Institute of Education, UCL. 

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