Ingram Blog

3 Ways to Save Money on Library Cataloging and Processing

Tricia Racke Bengel, MLS, Sales & Services Manager, Ingram Library Services
Between collection development and checking a book out, a lot happens.  And, just like everything else, someone has to decide how those things happen in your library.  Perhaps the decision was made over 20 years ago, and no one remembers why.

What if we challenged our current processes annually to rethink and evolve constantly?

Despite how it happens, we can agree that every library must:

  • load a bibliographic record into their ILS.
  • organize the book so that it gets shelved in a manner that both patrons and staff can find it.
  • perform a lot or a little of physical processing so that it is protected for repeated use, has identifying information for reshelving, and lets patrons easily recognize that this is a library book.

Hopefully, your library is one that reconsiders the cataloging and processing of library materials more often than every twenty years. Think about how differently the library worked twenty years ago—if you are doing things the same as then, you may be doing a lot of work that doesn’t have the return on investment it once had. 

 Find out how many additional books you could buy with a simplified setup.


The Discovery Layer

Think about it. The Discovery Layer, as we know it today, did not exist twenty years ago.  We were still using glorified card catalogs. Shelving was still mostly 80 inches tall, and we weren’t merchandising our collections with a bookstore model nearly so often as we do now.

The modern-day Discovery Layer has changed things dramatically. If you want proof, run some statistics and see. How often do your patrons subject search or use Boolean operators and structured query language? Those of us who went to library school probably did so because we loved learning that stuff – Venn diagrams, OCLC search term language, and crafting precise strategies for deep diving into databases and catalogs.

Unfortunately for us, I would wager that your patrons do not resort to these types of searches more than once in a blue moon. I also would place bets that your staff does not do so either. 

If you are still spending a lot of time deleting headings and restructuring subject tags, is that effort making any difference?

A Quick Quiz

  1. Are you checking how your patrons find materials?
  2. Does your technical services staff know how your public services staff explain the library’s setup?
  3. Have your cataloging and processing staff stepped out of the book rooms to observe and use the library as a patron?

If you answer negatively to any of these questions, you may need to audit your practices.

In addition to having your Technical Services staff out of sync with how other staff and patrons use the collection, I don’t know a single librarian that isn’t worried about his/her upcoming budget. Most government entities will be looking to stretch dollars more than ever because of all the unplanned expenses related to COVID-19.  To make your material dollars go further, it’s time to scrutinize every penny spent on cataloging and processing so that those extra pennies can buy materials.

 Are you spending too much on cataloging and processing?


3 Technical Services Challenges and Solutions

We all face them. Let’s discuss solutions to overcome them.

  1. Books are turning over more quickly than ever in our jam-packed libraries – do you need inside spine tape or label protectors on books that will be weeded in a few years? If your books are in great shape when weeding because you process them to withstand 20 years of rough handling, you may want to rethink that high-level processing. Doing so will allow you to allocate extra dollars towards buying materials for your collection.
  2. If you’re spending a great deal of money paying your book vendor or your library staff to customize your bibliographic records, you may want to work with your public services and ILS staff to determine the need for doing so. Have your senior public services staff show your cataloging staff how they train the public to find materials. You may be surprised at just how basic their instructions are because the enhanced catalogs of today are so robust.
  3. If your library is merchandising your materials, or if they’ve enhanced the signage in the library so that patrons can enjoyably browse the shelves and find things—you may want to rethink the need for elaborate stickering and spine labels. Encourage your technical services staff to wander around the library and browse for materials by series, author, and subject area. You may be surprised at how easy it is to locate materials through visual browsing because of signage and book displays. Also, talk to your shelvers. We often process materials for the aid of the shelvers, never making sure they use all of the stickers we offer.

As a lifelong technical services librarian and cataloger, I understand the value of the bibliographic record. 

But, more than anything, I also understand that our patrons care about the collection itself more than how it’s packaged. 

We all want to buy more books, so spending some of those scarce public dollars (maybe unnecessarily) on excess cataloging and processing should be reconsidered. 

Whether your library does the cataloging and processing or pays a vendor to, now is the time to re-evaluate.

Let Us Help You Simplify

First, we’ll compare the cost of what you’re currently doing to the price of a simplified setup. Then we’ll calculate the number of additional books you could purchase with those saved budget dollars.  Saving pennies on each book’s cataloging and processing will quickly add up. 

Next, let’s think through different scenarios.

Maybe now is the time to start a Lucky Day or Browsing Only collection. We’ll work with you on minimal processing and cataloging required for these items to be on the shelves quickly and inexpensively. 

By implementing these types of efficient methods, your trained cataloging staff will have more time to focus on the “special projects” backlog.  We all know every cataloging office has a pile of “special projects” they have wanted to do for years—and have simply not had the resources.

Finally, and most importantly, in a time when every public or private dollar spent on materials will be scrutinized, let’s work together to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely. 

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