Glossary of Technical Services Terms

From: Joan M. Reitz, Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science, by permission for quotation of up to twenty definitions, with attribution.

technical services (TS)

Library operations concerned with the acquisition, organization (bibliographic control), physical processing, and maintenance of library collections, as opposed to the delivery of public services. Technical processing is performed behind the scenes, usually in a technical services department. See also: Association for Library Collections and Technical Services.


The process of selecting, ordering, and receiving materials for library or archival collections by purchase, exchange, or gift, which may include budget ing and negotiating with outside agencies, such as publishers, dealers, and vendors, to obtain resources to meet the needs of the institution's clientele in the most economical and expeditious manner.

Also refers to the department within a library responsible for selecting, ordering, and receiving new materials and for maintaining accurate records of such transactions, usually managed by an acquisitions librarian. In small libraries, the acquisitions librarian may also be responsible for collection development, but in most public and academic libraries, this responsibility is shared by all the librarians who have an active interest in collection building, usually on the basis of expertise and subject specialization. For a more detailed description of the responsibilities entailed in acquisitions, please see the entry by Liz Chapman in the International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science (Routledge, 2003). AcqWeb is an  online resource for acquisitions and collection development librarians. Compare with accession. See also: Acquisitions Section.


A librarian primarily responsible for preparing bibliographic records to represent the items acquired by a library, including bibliographic description, subject analysis, and classification . Also refers to the librarian responsible for supervising a cataloging department. British spelling is cataloguer. Synonymous with catalog librarian. See also: Association for Library Collections and Technical Services and Cataloger's Desktop.


The process of creating entries for a catalog. In libraries, this usually includes bibliographic description, subject analysis, assignment of classification notation, and activities involved in physically preparing the item for the shelf, tasks usually performed under the supervision of a librarian trained as a cataloger. British spelling is cataloguing. See also: cataloging agency, Cataloging and Classification Section, cataloging-in-publication, centralized cataloging, cooperative cataloging, copy cataloging, descriptive cataloging, encoding level, and recataloging.

administrative metadata

Data about an information resource primarily intended to facilitate its management, for example, information about how and when a document or digital object was created, the person or entity responsible for controlling access to and archiving its content, any restrictions on access or use, and any control or processing activities performed in relation to it. Compare with descriptive metadata and structural metadata. The concept of administrative metadata is subdivided into:

  • Rights metadata - facilitates management of legal rights in a resource (copyright, licenses, permissions, etc.)
  • Preservation metadata - facilitates management of processes involved in ensuring the long-term survival and usability of a resource
  • Technical metadata - documents the creation and characteristics of digital files

descriptive metadata

Data about an information resource that is intended to facilitate its discovery, identification, and selection. Descriptive metadata is also used to bring together all the versions of a work in a process called collocation, and for acquisition purposes. When viewed as metadata, traditional library cataloging is descriptive, as are such schemes as the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set and the Visual Resources Association (VRA) Core. Descriptive metadata is also used for evaluation, both narrative (reviews, etc.) and formal (content ratings); for linkage (relationships between a resource and other things); and for usability. Compare with administrative metadata and structural metadata.

digital preservation

The process of maintaining, in a condition suitable for use, materials produced in digital formats, including preservation of the bit stream and the continued ability to render or display the content represented by the bit stream. The task is compounded by the fact that some digital storage media deteriorate quickly ("bit rot"), and the digital object is inextricably entwined with its access environment (software and hardware), which is evolving in a continuous cycle of innovation and obsolescence. Also refers to the practice of digitizing materials originally produced in nondigital formats (print, film, etc.) to prevent permanent loss due to deterioration of the physical medium. Click here to learn about the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, a collaborative initiative of the Library of Congress. The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) was established in 2001 to address the challenges of preserving digital resources in the UK. Synonymous with e-preservation and electronic preservation. See also: digital archive, LOCKSS, National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, and preservation metadata.

film preservation

The fact that nitrate and acetate base films decay under normal environmental conditions has created a preservation imperative of a magnitude matched only by the use of acid paper in printing. Ideally, motion picture preservation involves the creation of surrogates for public use and one or more film masters that can be used to create new copies without subjecting the original source to further wear and tear. Masters are usually copied on film and access copies on videotape, DVD, or some other digital medium. If the original is in poor condition, restoration may be required. Whenever possible, preservationists use carefully documented measures that are reversible and do not damage the original. Because film preservation is an expensive, time-consuming process, cold and dry storage is often used to retard deterioration while copying is prioritized to be accomplished over an extended period. Click here to learn more about film preservation courtesy of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) also provides online information, including the Film Preservation Guide. See also the Film Preservation Handbook provided by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.


Prolonging the existence of library and archival materials by maintaining them in a condition suitable for use, either in their original format or in a form more durable, through retention under proper environmental conditions or actions taken after a book or collection has been damaged to prevent further deterioration. Former Yale University conservator Jane Greenfield lists the factors affecting the condition of books as light, temperature, relative humidity, pollution, inherent vice, biological attack, human error (including improper storage and handling), deliberate mutilation, and disasters (The Care of Fine Books, Nick Lyons Books, 1988).

Single sheets may be encapsulated or laminated for protection. Materials printed on acid paper may be deacidified if their value warrants the expense; however, when the original has deteriorated beyond the point of salvation, reformatting may be necessary. Publications with soiled or foxed leaves are sometimes washed in rebinding. Materials infected with mildew or mold may require fumigation. Insects and larvae can be eliminated by freezing the infested item. Rare books and manuscripts are usually stored in a darkened room, with temperature and humidity strictly controlled.

A broader term than conservation, preservation includes managerial and financial considerations, including storage and accommodation provisions, staffing, and policy decisions, as well as the techniques and methods of maintaining materials in optimal condition. Click here to learn more about preservation at the Library of Congress and here to read the Preservation Policy of the American Library Association. Preservation Leaflets are available online from the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), which also offers Preservation 101: An Internet Course on Paper Preservation. The Preservation Advisory Centre of the British Library also provides online booklets on a variety of preservation topics. See also Bach to Baseball Cards, an online exhibition of 200 years of creative preservation at the Library of Congress. See also: digital preservation, film preservation, Preservation and Reformatting Section, and Regional Alliance for Preservation.


Physical or chemical intervention to ensure the survival of manuscripts, books, and other documents, for example, the storage of materials under controlled environmental conditions or the treatment of mildew-infected paper with a chemical inhibitor. Non-invasive techniques are preferred as a means of preserving items in their original condition. In a more general sense, any measures taken to protect archival or library collections from damage or deterioration, including initial examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care supported by research. Current ethical standards require respect for the historical integrity of the item. A person educated, trained, and experienced in such procedures is a conservator. Click here connect to CoOL (Conservation OnLine): Resources for Conservation Professionals, a project of the Preservation Department of the Stanford University Libraries. See also: conservation binding, conservation center, and conservation survey.

preservation binding

Rebinding of a book or other bound item in poor condition, to prevent further deterioration and to ensure the long-term survival of its content. Items originally printed on acid paper or in fragile condition may require photocopying. Preservation binding is done with acid- and lignin-free materials, with little or no intent to replicate the physical appearance of the original binding. To learn more about the process, see Bookbinding: A Tutorial by Douglas W. Jones of the University of Iowa in cooperation with the Center for the Book.

archival collection

A body of archival material formed by or around a person, family, group, corporate body, or subject, either from a common source as a natural product of activity or function, or gathered purposefully or artificially without regard for original provenance (Archives, Personal Papers, and Manuscripts, Society of American Archivists, 1989). An archival collection may contain manuscript materials, correspondence, memoranda, maps or charts, drawings, pamphlets, broadsides, tear sheets from periodicals, newspaper clippings, photographs, motion pictures, sound recordings, computer files, etc.

collection assessment

The systematic evaluation of the quality of a library collection to determine the extent to which it meets the library's service goals and objectives and the information needs of its clientele. Deficiencies are addressed through collection development. Synonymous with collection evaluation.

collection development

The process of planning and building a useful and balanced collection of library materials over a period of years, based on an ongoing assessment of the information needs of the library's clientele, analysis of usage statistics, and demographic projections, normally constrained by budgetary limitations. Collection development includes the formulation of selection criteria, planning for resource sharing, and replacement of lost and damaged items, as well as routine selection and deselection decisions.

Large libraries and library systems may use an approval plan or blanket order plan to develop their collections. In small- and medium-sized libraries, collection development responsibilities are normally shared by all the librarians, based on their interests and subject specializations, usually under the overall guidance of a written collection development policy. Compare with collection management. See also: Collection Development and Evaluation Section, Collection Management and Development Section, and collaborative collection development.

collection maintenance

Measures taken on a routine basis or as needed to preserve the materials in a library collection in usable condition, including mending, repair, binding, rebinding, and reformatting, usually the responsibility of the technical processing and serials departments.


Literally, "data about data." Structured information describing information resources/objects for a variety of purposes. Although AACR2/MARC cataloging is formally metadata, the term is generally used in the library community for nontraditional schemes such as the Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, the VRA Core Categories, and the Encoded Archival Description (EAD). Metadata has been categorized as descriptive, structural, and administrative. Descriptive metadata facilitates indexing, discovery, identification, and selection. Structural metadata describes the internal structure of complex information resources.

Administrative metadata aids in the management of resources and may include rights management metadata, preservation metadata, and technical metadata describing the physical characteristics of a resource. For an introduction to metadata, please see Priscilla Caplan's Metadata Fundamentals for All Librarians (American Library Association, 2003). Also spelled meta-data. See also: Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard and Metadata Object Description Schema.

electronic resources management (ERM)

Systems developed to assist librarians in the control of licensed third-party resources published electronically (databases, e-books, e-journals, etc.), including license management, renewal, legal use, access management, and collection development. In 2001, a small group of academic librarians began to create metadata specifications for managing electronic subscriptions and their associated titles. The group was later asked by the Digital Library Federation (DLF) to deliver formal specifications for vendors, as a replacement for various homegrown systems. Innovative Interfaces Inc. was the first library automation vendor to market an ERM software module based on the DLF specifications, and other vendors have followed suit. Compare with digital asset management.

digital asset management

Systems designed to organize and display digital content produced in a variety of media types. The content is usually locally owned and controlled, rather than licensed from a third party. Most of the digital asset management (DAM) systems offered by the leading library automation vendors use standards other than the MARC record, such as XML, the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standards (METS), and JPEG2000. The rapid pace of archival and special collections digitization projects has created the need for DAM systems. Synonymous with digital object management. Compare with electronic resources management.

Data curation is the active and ongoing management of data through its lifecycle of interest and usefulness to scholarship, science, and education. Data curation enables data discovery and retrieval, maintains data quality, adds value, and provides for re-use over time through activities including authentication, archiving, management, preservation, and representation.

…specialization that prepares students to plan and manage data curation systems, create and maintain data collections, and to evaluate and apply data and metadata standards for varied uses across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences.
Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

So, what do data librarians really do? Along with actually curating and archiving data sets and assigning metadata to data elements, data librarians may teach students data management fundamentals and assist researchers with the National Science Foundation (NSF) data management planning.

Reference Note

1. Elaine R.Martin, "What Do Data Services Librarians Do?" Journal of eScience Librarianship 1, no. 3 (2012): Article 3.