Jeffrey and Patrick addressed a common problem in academic libraries: staff sizes are decreasing, but the workload is not. One solution is batch processing and outsourcing. Staff positions are precious; GVSU, a small public liberal arts university in western Michigan with about 24,000 students, added only 2 faculty positions to the entire university in the past year.
Technical services work remains the same or is increasing. There is a new focus for all libraries; although print monograph purchasing has decreased other types of materials, such as e-books, require technical processing. Traditional staff roles have been redefined to be more relevant in today’s new environment. The GVSU Libraries have committed to exploring any opportunity to outsource or streamline workflows.
GVSU has about 60,000 full text journals. Using vendor-supported MARC records and assuming 5 minutes to process each title, it would take 714 workdays (about 3 years) to copy catalog them all and test the links, which is clearly impossible with today’s staff. It is therefore important to work smarter, not harder. Besides the original records, there are 7,000 to 10,000 records needing to be updated each month. One staff member taking 3 minutes to process 7,000 records would take about 10 weeks. Thus, it became a high priority for GVSU to negotiate with vendors to supply pre-processed records. However, many records were of poor quality and required in-house cataloging. One might think that buying “shelf-ready” books would solve these problems, but the problem with that is that about 5 to 10% of the books have incomplete records and must be manually processed. Even with these difficulties, GVSU is able to handle the new records with only one cataloger if the records are pre-processed. Electronic invoicing greatly speeds up the processing.
GVSW has a new library building and was required by the administration to move books that had been in an off-site weeding storage facility back into the new building. The move was required to be done in a short time, so all records in the storage facility became discard candidates. Librarians had to give a reason to keep candidate items, which was a very time consuming process. OCLC’s Bibliographic Batchload process was used to remove the discarded items from the catalog.
The new library uses an automated storage and retrieval system, in which books are given arbitrary numbers and are arranged randomly by height and are automatically retrieved by the system. The library staff was given 5 weeks to load 188,000 volumes into the system. To meet the time deadline, a program to create a database was written to store all the information on each bin of books. Using the program, the system was loaded in 2 weeks. Cost savings over manually organizing the books for the upload were estimated to be about $100,000.
We want to be the best at everything, but we must sometimes be satisfied with being “good enough”. You must ask what can you do with your existing resources? What will the benefits be to the user? What is the ROI? We are not just proving the collections are being used. Are we using our staff hours in the best way? Time is money, so decide you must decide whether you can or cannot afford something.
It is surprising what a vendor may throw in to close a deal. So negotiate with them. Although automating something can be more accurate than a person doing a boring task, sometimes the human touch is needed. Will a process save time? An automated system may take longer to develop than doing the process manually. Shifting time can be as valuable as saving time.
What will you do with the staff time you have saved? Keep up with existing work and do tasks that keep getting put off. Does it add value for your users? Technical services are often far removed from them; don’t get focused on the task and miss the reason for doing it.
Don Hawkins blogs about conferences for Information Today and Against The Grain. He also maintains the Conference Calendar on the Information Today website and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, published by Information Today in 2013, and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits, published by Information Today in 2016. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked in the information industry for over 45 years.