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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > October 2017

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Vol. 37 No. 8 — October 2017

How to Manage Libtech Innovation With Wardley Value Chain Mapping
by Brett Williams

Once you’ve created a value chain map, you can start using it to derive insights about the current state of your libtech systems and to plan future projects.
Wardley value chain mapping is a simple and effective technology planning tool developed by the British entrepreneur Simon Wardley. On his blog Bits or Pieces (, Wardley has an extensive archive of case studies and analyses of value chain mapping focused on innovation for large corporate clients. Value chain mapping is effective across a variety of organizations and hits a sweet spot in IT strategy planning. It is not overly complicated and does not require extensive training to understand. 

I discovered Wardley value chain mapping while reflecting on the progress of some IT decisions that I made as the systems librarian for College of the North Atlantic–Qatar. I was trying to compare a number of options that we had for replacing our ILS, and I found it difficult to communicate to library management and the IT department the fundamental differences in workload that each system required.

First, I used value chain mapping to understand the state of the systems that I was in charge of. This orientation phase of creating a map gave a summary view of the processes, systems, and decisions that had already been made. Second, I used the existing value chain maps that I created as a decision-making tool to prioritize my limited time, attention, and resources for future projects. Third, I used value chain maps as a teaching tool with team members to gain a common understanding of what library systems do and how they fit within the broader IT landscape.

The Template

One of the attractions of using value chain mapping in decision making is the simplicity of the tool. Based on Wardley’s examples and maps on Bits or Pieces, I developed a simplified template that I use to create my maps. I do most of my mapping work in Google Slides (, but I have also used print maps for sketching and evaluating processes (

My template based on Wardley’s processes has two axes. The vertical axis goes from visible to invisible: Visible systems are those that are directly visible to your end user, while invisible ones are hidden from your end user.

Horizontally, the map is divided up into four categories:

  • Genesis  systems are systems that are a completely new and novel idea. The basic concepts of what goes into a genesis system have never been developed before and will need to be developed from scratch. Genesis systems offer the most control, but require the most labor and resources for upkeep. The invention and creation of the MARC standards would be an example of a genesis product.
  • Custom-built  systems are made up of existing software and systems, but are put together in a new and novel way. They need fewer resources and work for upkeep, but often require coordination and offer a high level of control. As of 2017, the proposed FOLIO library services platform is an example of a custom-built system.
  • Product/rental  systems are made up of existing software and systems, but assembled and sold as a complete package. Product/rental systems require fewer resources, but offer much less control over services and operations. Most ILSs and other software sold to libraries and hosted on local systems are product/rental systems.
  • Commodity/utility  systems are services sold to libraries on an ongoing basis with no local hosting. These systems offer the lowest cost and the least control. Examples include SaaS platforms such as LibGuides or BiblioCommons.

Wardley offers additional examples and details of his mapping techniques on Bits or Pieces, and there are some paid commercial offerings that allow the easy creation of maps. Atlas mapping is one of the simplest to use (

How to Create a Value Chain Map

Wardley value chain maps start with the user. I place the marker for the user above the lines of the chart. Then, I work step-by-step through the process of a user accomplishing a specific task. In Figure 1, I tell a story of how the user finds material in the library. For this example, I’m using a generic library with a locally hosted website (such as Drupal or Joomla!), a locally hosted ILS (such as Horizon or Millennium), a SaaS discovery layer (such as EBSCO Discovery Service or Summon), a link resolver (such as 360 Link or SFX), an authentication service (such as a VPN, EZproxy, or Shibboleth), and library databases (such as ProQuest or EBSCOhost).

In the example, the user is looking for material on a subject of interest. He or she is directed to either the website or the libguide. For searching, the user is directed to the discovery layer, which directs him or her to the ILS, leading to the book.

From the user’s perspective, the most visible parts of this interaction are the libguide and the website. But as the user continues to search for a book on the subject, he or she encounters additional aspects of the library’s systems.

You can make a map more valuable by adding alternate types of materials that are relevant to the user’s topic. In Figure 1, the user is shown accessing only a book, while in Figure 2 (on page 10), the user discovers both a book and an article via the discovery layer. For the article, the user is directed through the link resolver, an authentication portal, and then to the database for the individual article.

Analyzing a Value Chain Map

There is no value judgment applied to the placement of any library system or service along a value chain map. It is a snapshot based on an individual’s perception of how systems interact with each other.

Creating a value chain map allows you to orient yourself to the current state of your connected library systems and how they serve your specified end user. Once you’ve done this, you can apply one basic principle to understand where general trends will go in the future: Competition and experience drive all systems from genesis to commodity.

Wardley expresses this vital concept: “All the components … are evolving from left to right due to supply and demand competition. As they evolve their characteristics change from an uncharted domain (the uncertain, rare and constantly changing) becoming more industrialised (the known, the common, the stable)” (

You will see this principle in action across all library systems over time. As an example, take the evolution of library records (see Figure 3). In the 19th century, card catalogs were rare and entirely customized, often made up of individual handwritten cards. Typed cards replaced handwritten cards in the early 20th century. From there, Library of Congress’ pre-printed cards dominated the creation of library metadata up through the 1960s. The standardization of MARC in the 1970s and the incorporation of OCLC have created the current system in which most library metadata is loaded directly into the catalog using a scripted, automated process.

Using Your Value Chain Map

Once you’ve created a value chain map, you can start using it to derive insights about the current state of your libtech systems and to plan future projects.

Looking for duplication — Here is one easy example (see Figure 4). From a basic user’s viewpoint, there seems to be little difference between the OPAC functions of an ILS and the functions of the discovery layer. Both of these tools are used to find library materials, but they are supported in different ways. An OPAC is a part of the ILS software package supported and hosted on campus, while discovery layers are sold as a SaaS and hosted on external servers.

In my professional experience with the Virtua ILS and the Summon discovery layer, my strategic and budgetary planning already accounted for the different ways that Virtua and Summon were purchased and implemented. However, I was working at an overseas branch campus with students who were learning English as a foreign language (EFL) and preparing for entry into western-style tertiary education systems. I worked with the EFL faculty members to make a list of words that were built into the curriculum around academic research. Then I made a specific branding decision to focus on the OPAC functions of Virtua as the place to find books while branding the Summon product as the place to find articles.

This was a technical duplication of search functions, but the decisions around web design were made with an eye to the strategic priority of integrating our library web design with the curriculum of our largest set of users.

Evaluating new initiatives — Here’s another example of how a value chain map can be useful as a tool to evaluate new technology products within the library (see Figure 5). One of the most important and influential decisions that a systems librarian will make is the implementation of a new ILS. With a completed value chain map, you can easily track your existing knowledge of where your options fall in comparison to your existing software. In Figure 5, I’ve mapped out a few of the options I’d be considering for a small to midsize academic community college library. This provides you with an easy visual and an organization tool for when you talk to your library director about the workload requirements and services offered by each vendor

I usually indicate these kinds of options by using a different set of shapes or different colors to clearly identify options. Most of the maps I create in this style are simply sketches on top of an existing value chain map that I keep printed copies of.

Gaining common understanding — Because the Wardley value chain map is a clear and concise snapshot of the software that your library is using, I have copies of my maps available in a folder at planning meetings. When new software is proposed, I can quickly sketch out its impact on our existing systems. It provides me with a concrete way to talk about impacts on my workload and clearly communicate how new software will duplicate existing tools or require additional support.

One technique that I have used is to provide a quick primer for library staffers on how to create a value chain map. In the primer, I describe the categories as follows: 

Genesis =  Never been done before

Custom-built =  Nobody else has it

Product/rental =  Buy it and build it like  LEGOS.

Commodity/utility =  Buy it and use it.

With this quick introduction, I ask them to draw a value chain map in 10 minutes, describing how they understand the library software that they use fits on a value chain map. I collect and collate the resulting maps. I’ve gained insights using this method on how library staff members view the way our library software operates, how they view the tools they use, and where additional help, web design improvements, or training is needed. Because value chain maps center around user experience, they allow you to capture perceptions and the physical location of the software.


Wardley value chain mapping is a particularly powerful tool for orienting where your library systems are, using an easy-to-understand template. It gives you options for evaluating your existing systems, identifying where new systems will fit within existing systems, and gaining a common understanding among library staffers on how the systems they use interact with each other. 


Figure 1: A basic value chain map
Figure 2: Adding to a value chain map
Figure 3: How cataloging evolves from genesis to commodity over time
Figure 4: Analyzing a value chain map
Figure 5: Evaluating new initiatives with a value chain map

Brett Williams ( is the research analyst responsible for library systems at the Ontario Medical Association. Previously, he worked as the GIS/data librarian at the University of Toronto and as the systems librarian at the College of the North Atlantic–Qatar. Williams has 10 years of experience bridging the gap between library systems and library users. When he’s not in the library, he spends his time hiking and skateboarding with his family.