e-Forum Wrap-Up

ALCTS e-Forums are two-day, moderated, electronic discussion forums that provide an opportunity for librarians to discuss matters of interest on an ALCTS discussion list. These discussions are free-of-charge and available to anyone who wishes to subscribe to the list.

ALCTS Newsletter Online publishes wrap-ups of e-Forums in each issue. To see the schedule of upcoming forums and to sign up to participate, visit www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/upcoming/e-forum. Previous sessions are archived at www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/past/e-forum.

Role of the Professional in Library Technical Services

October 16–17, 2012

Betsy Appleton, Stephanie Gehring, and Allison Yanos hosted the e-forum, “Role of the Professional in Library Technical Services” on October 16 and 17. The e-forum opened with a discussion about what type of technical services tasks are performed by professional librarians versus those performed by staff at each participant’s library. Common professional-level tasks described included training, writing documentation, developing policies, serving as an expert (answering questions and troubleshooting), project management, original cataloging, administrative/managerial functions (for those who were heads of departments or divisions), managing an ILS, and at some libraries, liaison and reference responsibilities.

The responses, in addition to outlining what tasks were considered professional level, provided a fascinating snapshot of the structure of technical services departments at public, school, academic, and one or two special libraries. A number of respondents were the sole professional librarian in their department or in all of technical services. Participants at mid to large sized libraries often described having multiple professionals in technical services, with the cataloging department seeming to have the highest concentration of librarians. Several posters stated that there were MLS degree holders who were in paraprofessional or staff positions, for a variety of reasons, such as retired librarians returning to part-time work or staff who pursued an MLS degree after being hired. Additionally, at least at one library, some administrators are not classified as librarians, even if the person has a library science degree.

The second and third discussion topics built off of the first topic, as participants described changes in their technical services departments that involved a shift in the level of work done by professionals versus staff (such as adding another MLS position or shifting a particular workflow from a librarian to a paraprofessional) and the multitude of reasons why these changes were enacted. A number of libraries implemented position level changes because the nature of resources being acquired, managed, or cataloged had shifted, such as an increase in e-books and/or digitized materials and a decrease in print materials. Other libraries underwent structural changes when departments or libraries have consolidated or reorganized. Retirements or workflow analysis drove other libraries to change the level of work done by professionals and staff. Some libraries have decided to outsource certain tasks and/or have had to make do with less staff because of budget restrictions.

The first day of the e-forum closed with the topic of how changing technology has impacted the responsibilities of technical services employees. Particular workflows mentioned were e-books and other e-resources, especially in regards to batch loads and licensing, managing large research data sets, and metadata and digital repository workflows, which often require learning new standards and systems. Some of these technological changes have resulted in the hiring of new positions, such as a Metadata Librarian, or in a more gradual shift in a staff member’s responsibilities from print to electronic workflows. One respondent noted that as technology has changed, her library has been able to incorporate more materials into their workflow, but she has found that in order for some technological advancements to work well, technical services staff have needed to come up with creative solutions or perform additional maintenance on the catalog.

The second day’s discussion started with the question of how well a Master in Library Science degree prepares technical services librarians for the jobs they find themselves doing. Many commented on the fact that library school provided them with the ability to see the big picture and make decisions that take many areas of the library into consideration. Almost everyone agreed, though, that nothing can substitute hands-on learning when it comes to cataloging. Several mentioned internships, volunteer opportunities or mentoring programs that they participated in during, or immediately after, library school and talked about how helpful those experiences where when they moved into professional positions.

E-forum participants also discussed training and professional development. Often librarians with faculty status are responsible for their own professional development. Making staff aware of available webinars can often provide access to great training at little or no cost. This is a great way for librarians and staff to stay aware of current trends. Several participants also mentioned that non-professional staff who are doing high level work are those who have been at their library for a number of years and, if they should retire, their libraries will be faced with the decision of either upgrading those positions in order to attract degreed librarians or training current staff who may not presently have the knowledge base or experience required for those responsibilities.

The second day wrapped up by posing the question of how librarians with faculty status find balance between daily tasks and fulfilling tenure requirements. Time management becomes crucial. Several participants mentioned how they look for opportunities to be involved in campus committees and activities which allow them to interact with students and other faculty members. Campus involvement, both on faculty-level committees and at student events, is a wonderful opportunity for technical services librarians to build relationships with those outside their departments and library. Connections that are made in the stands of a football game or at a student-sponsored 5k may lead to a conversation about how your position in the library benefits the teaching faculty in ways they never thought about.

Government Information: Now and in the Future

November 13–14, 2012

Lori Smith, Coordinator of ALA GODORT's Federal Documents Task Force, moderated this e-forum focused on government documents. The first day began with a discussion of the reasons some libraries still choose to collect tangible government publications, even though the full text of so many is now available online.

Some of the reasons given include: for preservation purposes; for the sake of usability; because print copies of legal materials are “official;” and because print still gets used by patrons. A few libraries are actively trying to fill gaps in their tangible collections. However, many Federal Depository Libraries (FDLs) are also weeding historic collections heavily due to space shortages.

Discussion then moved on to digital government documents. Many libraries load bibliographic records into their catalogs with hotlinks leading to online documents. Most get these records from a vendor such as Marcive or OCLC, but some use Z 39.50 to download them directly from the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications (CGP). Some libraries harvest documents and archive digital copies using software and systems such as Teleport, Archive-It, and LOCKSS/LOCKSS-USDOCS. Very few libraries are digitizing tangible documents, and often those are national libraries or large research libraries.

It was revealed during the discussion of cataloging practices that most libraries are getting and using separate records for different formats, but URLs are often being added to records for print copies, and sometimes print holdings are being added to online records as well.

Day two began with a lively discussion about tracking the usage of hotlinks for documents records in the OPAC. Some had never considered whether or not this could be done. Some felt the statistics would be valuable for collection development and to justify the addition of the records to the OPAC, and others felt it wouldn't be worth the time and effort. No one was aware of an ILS package that would provide “circulation” statistics for hotlinks. It was felt that vendors would be unlikely to provide this capability because the usage of other electronic resources is usually tracked and reported by a vendor, so they see no need for the OPAC to do so. The Government Printing Office (GPO) does have a PURL referral tool which can provide FDLs with some usage statistics, and libraries in Louisiana and Colorado have figured out a way to log and track usage of hotlinks by prepending a code to appropriate URLs.

The next topic was staffing and public service. Most patron questions regarding government information seem to be answered by reference librarians, but there is usually a documents specialist who is called upon as needed, and who may staff the reference desk as part of her regular duties. In places, some cataloging functions for documents have been transferred to the cataloging department. Some libraries have kept the same number of documents faculty or staff over the past few years, but others have seen their staffing decrease dramatically.

A list of current awareness resources was posted and a few other sources were noted in a follow-up message.

The future roles of GPO and FDLs were discussed, along with the perceived value of maintaining depository status. It was felt that GPO needs to provide long-term storage for digital documents, and yet, one possible role for FDLs was to store copies of digital documents on local servers to ensure their authenticity and preservation. GPO has just conducted a survey of FDLs as the first step in drafting a Federal Depository Library Program National Plan.