May 2011 Archives
As Head of Cataloging at the University of Texas at Austin, Jee Davis has been forced to react to many pressures on her department, such as declining budgets, next-generation/user-centered catalogs, increasing digital resources and non-MARC metadata, and outsourcing. Adjusting to these pressures requires collaboration, cooperation, communication..... and change.
While change can be scary and difficult, Jee laid out a path for successful change to attendees of OCLC's Good Practices for Great Outcomes: Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference event in San Marcos, Texas, in partnership with the library of Texas State University.
She revealed her Five Magic Words for successful change.
- Prioritize: what are your library's priorities, what do your local users want, why do we do what we do now, and what should we do differently?
- Balance, as in the balance between perfect and practical metadata, and between doing things in-house and outsourcing.
- Train, from the core (MARC, AACR2, FRBR, FRAD, etc.), the routine (cataloging processes), and the special (for unique items and projects).
- Be Positive/ Open (this one especially resonated with attendees), by building trust, providing positive and open communication, giving recognition and credit, encouraging staff to take responsibility, and being approachable.
- Document. Document local policies, procedures, and workflows, and make them openly available.
Jee's talk capped a program of practical good practices and innovative efficiencies to foster cataloging efficiencies that make a difference.
On May 5th at the University of Texas at Dallas Library's beautiful McDermott Suite, cataloging staff from across north Texas gathered at OCLC's Good Practices for Great Outcomes: Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference event. As we settled into our seats and began to enjoy Stefanie Wittenbach's keynote presentation, "Extreme Makeover: Reengineering Technical Services for the 21st Century", Stefanie paused and asked us:
"Will you change seats?"
We didn't really want to change seats. First, there was the simple hassle of the change: we would have to pick up our stuff, get up, and find a new seat. We might no longer be next to our friends; we might no longer have the same view that'd we'd grown accustomed to. We were comfortable where we were.
But we pretty quickly picked up on Stefanie's change metaphor and thought about how to apply it to technical services. Many of us couldn't tell you exactly why we'd chosen the seat we did. It was open, or it was the first one available. The choice was generally not the result of any detailed planning. Likewise, Stefanie challenged each if us to consider each action we took at work - each item we touched, each keystroke we entered, each record we looked at - and explain exactly why we did that action. If the answer is "I don't know" or "That's the way we do it", then it might be time to look more closely. It might be time to change seats.
Stefanie's perspective is perfect for analyzing such workflows, as she is building library services from the ground up for the brand new Texas A&M - San Antonio campus. No one is even in a seat yet; in fact, her seats aren't even set up.
And how is she setting up seats for 21st century technical services? She is inspired by universal principles, such as those expounded in the recent University of California System Libraries Next Generation Technical Services Initiative:
- speed processing throughout technical services
- eliminate redundant work
- focus cataloging and metadata description on unique resources
- define success as the user's ability to easily find and use relevant content.
Stefanie and the other excellent presenters detailed specific actions to accommodate these goals. She instructed us to find people in your organization to accept key roles in change:
- the change leader who takes on overall project management and communication;
- the change junkie who seeks out new ideas and thinking;
- the eager beaver who is ready to try new things as suggested by the leader and the junkie;
- the scribe, who documents the changes;
- and the teacher, who shows the rest of the staff how to implement the change.
By filling those roles, we can all change seats, and we can all find cataloging efficiencies that make a difference.
At the Tuesday
29 March iteration of "Good Practices for Great Outcomes: Cataloging
Efficiencies that Make a Difference" at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in San
Jose, librarians in small-group discussions tackled the tough questions in tech
- How should I go about changing the workflow in my department?
- Who needs what skills?
- What IT/systems skills do we need to be effective metadata managers in the 21st century?
- What do users want, and what does that mean for me?
- And finally, ultimately, and for the very last time, what is good enough cataloging?
The discussions of our good
practices coalesced around three themes: communication, collaboration and
- Communication: In revising a workflow, managers need to solicit input from all staff. Conversely, managers should be open to learning a bit more about what their staff do, and crucially, should be knowledgeable about operations in other departments. And of course, regular communication with our users helps us maintain our focus on enhancing access to our collections, and keeps the debate about "good enough" cataloging alive.
- Collaboration: Within the library, we all need to take the time to comprehensively document our procedures, and keep them current and accessible. Beyond the library, we need to develop effective working partnerships with our vendors; documenting procedures and requirements is likewise key here. Among libraries, we should build our consortial activities to maximize our buying power, and, as catalogers, to make best use of our expertise and effort.
- Cross-training: Skills development came up in almost all the group discussions: from staying up-to-date on cataloging new formats, to making sure someone in tech services has a solid understanding of the library's automation system. Skills transfer among staff is no mean feat in many cases, and one group advises us to "start small" when it comes to cross-training, and take it from there.
A common premise across all these themes was the need to reformulate our notion of cataloging quality in order to secure our relevance in the library. One of our participants pulled a great quote from Roy Tennant's keynote, which says it all:
"Quality begins with user needs and ends with user perceptions".
Thanks to everyone who contributed their experience, expertise and willingness to learn to this inspiring day!
The Big Lebowski and beer. If you want to know what they have to do with managing change in technical services, you'll have to watch Karen Schneider's closing remarks at OCLC's Good Practices for Great Outcomes" event on Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference (held March 29th at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library of San Jose Public and San Jose State). Regardless of references, a recurring theme of the event was the call to manage change.
For it's a 21st century cataloger's lament: "My budget has been slashed. I've lost multiple positions in technical services. I'm under pressure to catalog exponentially faster, and with fewer resources. My users seem to want items before I can even acquire them, much less finish cataloging them. Oh, and some of my staff doesn't want to change at all!"
The lament was answered, however, by speakers and participants alike. For instance, Armanda Barone (UC Berkeley) outlined many of the principles behind effecting such change: automating metadata creation; enriching metadata selectively; leveraging collaboration; and rebuilding workflows to focus on expert tasks. Lai-Ying Hsuing of UC Santa Cruz further elaborated with details such as: increase IT skills of tech services staff; cross train and collaborate among tech services units; keep staff challenged and empowered to make changes; adjust priorities for "good enough" records. Finally, Sally Lancaster of the Alameda County Library looked to batch processes centered around using "upstream" vendor records, such as in the WorldCat Cataloging Partners Program, to free local expertise to focus on unique local needs and materials.
The speakers did a wonderful job of providing attendees with both inspiration and concrete actions to return to their libraries and create cataloging efficiencies that make a difference. And just as the Lebowski's Dude abides, so does cataloging in the 21st century!
"Good Practices for Great Outcomes: Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference" drew 117 tech services librarians from across southern California to the Huntington Library on 23 March. Participants had high expectations for exchanging ideas and learning from each other. They came to learn about:
"...how others are managing cataloging workflows with very small staff sizes."
"...what other libraries are doing: challenges they are facing, solutions they are implementing."
"... a new way of framing issues."
"...strategies for addressing backlogs."
"...one new process in cataloging that will help me do it 'faster better cheaper'."
The hoped-for efficiencies were as diverse as the libraries represented: from research universities, school and public libraries, to corporations, cultural heritage institutions and every kind of learning community in between.
Participants split into multiple discussion groups to tackle their most pressing issues. The most popular topic was about how to go about redesigning workflows in tech services. Five discussion groups addressed this topic, and came away with some common thoughts:
- Communications are crucial; have strategic initiative discussions, allow venting and get buy-in
- Set objectives and review how other libraries do things
- Take a close look at technology on-hand
- Undertake a procedures audit and comprehensively revise written policies and procedures
- Consider skills development for affected staff, with attention to new tasks they may become responsible for
Evaluations and subsequent comments confirm that participants found both the presentations and roundtable discussions very helpful. Read about the presentations on this blog, or watch recordings; see also the discussion groups' transcribed and summarized flipcharts. "I can't remember the last time I came away from a program feeling so fired up and brimming with new ideas!" wrote one participant. Others were equally enthusiastic, and many offered us useful suggestions that we can integrate into the program as we bring it to more regions across the US.
On March 23, keynote speaker Roy Tennant looked out at 117 catalogers, administrators, and technical services staff from around the Los Angeles area gathered at the beautiful Huntington Library, and his eye immediately caught sight of a button on the shirt of an attendee. He read it out loud for all to hear:
"Cataloging is a Public Service."
The phrase immediately resonated with members. But like other areas of the library, cataloging is experiencing fundamental change. Roy described the progression of contemporary users' search for information as "The Hierarchy of Desire," after Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" suggesting that the modern user craves immediate access over all else, and that 21st century metadata must meet this need.
For libraries and technical services in particular, reacting to a hierarchy of desire requires real changes for cataloging as a public service. Add in our extreme resource pressures -- budget crunches and staffing cuts -- and the need to find new cataloging efficiencies becomes doubly important.
The event looked to four local speakers to show us methods and strategies for effecting real, impactful improvements in (efficient) cataloging as a public service:
Helen Heinrich, Cataloging Coordinator at Cal State Northridge, shared some factors in resistance to change, including staff job insecurity, lack of trust, and "coasters" (those who have done their jobs the same way for many years). Helen found a wealth of new cataloging efficiency initiatives including: eliminating duplicate processes, "one touch" handling, adjusting quality standards (abandoning perfectionism) and instituting a culture of trust for one's colleagues.
Caltech's Laura Smart shifted her library's culture from "outside-in" to "inside-out" in order to focus cataloging expertise on exposing unique, local materials.
UCLA's Sharon Benamou worked with selectors to reassess how "full" their users needed a catalog record to be, and leveraged technology to automate and streamline processes.
Holly Tomren of UC-Irvine summarized many key trends, among them: be driven by the user, use batch processes, eliminate redundant work, use "good enough" records, cooperate with other libraries, and use reactive (patron driven) catalog maintenance.
By the end of the day, speakers and participants left with numerous strategies to create 21st century metadata, gain efficiencies in their workflows, and maximize the value of cataloging as a public service.
The panel discussion during our "Cataloging Efficiencies that Make a Difference" events has proved to be a popular segment, and provides a chance for participants to hear from area colleagues. The panel and Q&A format were recently voted as the top format with another library group I work with on a regular basis, reinforcing the idea that this is the learning model enjoyed by many librarians.
At the recent "Good Practices for Great Outcomes" event at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, panelist Debbi Dinkins (Stetson University) challenged her colleagues to "Let it go!" Put into context, Debbi outlined the challenges in cataloging ebooks. Faced with thousands of ebooks to catalog and a history of cataloging perfection, it had come time to "let it go!" The "good enough" records meant less stress for staff, and surprisingly didn't stop patrons from finding and borrowing ebooks in record numbers.
"Let it go!" became the day's mantra, transforming cataloging backlogs in the participants' minds from a heavy weight to a manageable workload. Faced with staff reductions and huge backlogs, participants came to the meeting with feelings of being overwhelmed. Throughout the day networking opportunities brought solidarity to the group, and the "good enough" philosophy was embraced by many. You could almost hear the sigh of relief!
Despite challenging times in Florida, we were all impressed with the continuing commitment to serve users, identify improvements and most importantly, a genuine interest in learning from each other.