Technical Services Workflow Redesign: What’s In It For Me?

Program Description: Technical Services Workflow Redesign: What’s In It For Me? – 10/20/08 – 11:00 – 12:30

Is your Technical Services staff overwhelmed by new work while also trying to catch up with old work? Making changes to your workflow can free up staff time that can be redirected to exciting new challenges. Margaret Lourie, Senior Consultant for Technical Services at NELINET, offers an
overview of techniques for evaluating workflow and suggestions for changes to make workflow more efficient. The program is jointly sponsored by the Academic Libraries Section (ALS) and

Impressions –

This session was standing room only, which surprised me. It gives me hope that so many people are concerned with what is happening in and to tech services. There were a few other folks there that had the same experience of being a one person show at their library and none of Margaret Lourie’s suggestions were irrelevant to us. Anyone can trim the fat in their workflow and try new tactics to start revitalizing their tech services department to be future thinking. We simply need to reappropriate our energies away from repetitive tasks to more creative and/or neglected one.
She’s not necessarily telling us what we don’t know, but giving us talking points to demonstrate the importance of making change. Margaret’s slides are available on the NELA website.

Session notes –

Things have changed around us, even from last year, so doing things the way we did them 10 years ago before everything was digital is inefficient and a disservice to the user. How do we stay viable when users are not using the tools we built for them? User expectation are different, they don’t care about the bibliographic description as we have grown it. I think this is because we don’t tell them about it, or show them how it makes their research better, we should work to meet user expectations, but not at the expense of quality for them.

The tools are changing. Metadata standards are breeding like rabbits, plus our tools like AACR2 are being replaced by things like RDA and nobody knows anything about the trajectory or the end results. The tools we use, like the ILS, are changing, so the future of MARC is uncertain. NexGen catalogs and OSS, etc. Services are available now that never used to be, like shelf ready processing, and this can free us up for other projects that used to be used for processing and copy cataloging.

Too much to do, too much to know. How in the world do we know what to do now when there is no clear vision of the future.

The goal is to save staff time on old stuff and apply it to new, user oriented projects. Using tools like shelf-ready cataloging to free up catalogers for special collections cataloging and research and desk time. What are the right things to do for the library, not just trying to do everything right.

You have to take risks and it’s okay if things don’t work out. We are very failure phobic. Get away from it at all levels because we’ve become stale without a healthy sense of risk taking. Failure is a way of learning. Change is stressful and having a holistic approach to helping others accept change will make the whole process easier. Change will happen with or without me, and I can always learn to do something new well in addition to what I already do well.

Time is finite in the library, everything you do takes time, and you have to assess whether that time is being best spent on the thing, or if it is taking away from something else where the result would be more relevant and immediate. Eliminate or change something that is no longer relevant.

Get materials out fast! Be on it. Google has made the expectation instant…so if we want them to use us, we have to prove to them that we are immediately valuable. Discovery…finding new ways to bring users to the material. Capitalize on that value inherent in librarianship that is us as a bridge between the user and the info.

Workflow from selection to shelf – know all the steps involved as component parts and optimize them individually. Also, where are the holes? How can you fill them. Who are you as tech services and what is your workflow in the continuum of the whole library workflow. Where does your part start, how does it lead into something else.

Look at vendors and what they can do, if you have good relationships but they don’t offer these other services and you want them, you have to tell them. They need to know that their competitors do this stuff and that you want to. Give them the opportunity to step up and take it on and evolve with you.

Make full use of your ILS…learn to use these things that are meant to help you be more efficient. Invest in that training. It’s silly to pay so much money for this stuff and not know how to use it. Dare to imagine new ways to do things are don’t be afraid to ask for it.

“Just in time” instead of “Just in case” – instead of focusing on having things just in case someone may want it, get them what they need when they need it. Evaluate the whole process through this lens, and figure out if you really need to do it anymore.

Automate or eliminate manual processes. Take advantage of new technologies that have been made by people like to fit a need. These tools were not pulled from the ether; someone really thought this would make your life easier…probably many people like you, so take that into consideration when evaluating a new service.

Moving toward a commons way of thinking about the department, flexible staff, working in and around other departments to create the best experience and materials for the user. Realignment and reassessment of staff is huge, and a huge issue especially in union situations, and creating more flexible job descriptions will make it easier to evolve the department.

Standards – it’s not about getting rid of standards; it’s about trimming not creating systems and standards for the exception. The more you can mainstream the process, the less time you spend agonizing over exceptions and wasting time.

Think seriously about automating/outsourcing some of the monotonous stuff, like book processing, and free yourself and staff up to do that original, unique collection, or do more user services, or get to those back burner projects.

Define goals, identify leaders, have a vision and commitment. Get going on it…move boldy forward.

All state libraries and OCLC and NELINET have consultants who can help.

Q & A

Q – Are there any suggestions for things like book repairs versus book replacement?

A – It may be cheaper to buy another copy than repair. Staff labor is the highest cost the library has, so evaluate what the cheaper option is and run with it. Do a cost estimate to see what they really are.