Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cataloguing across sites

At one time I worked in an institution that had about five distinct sites at various locations throughout the UK. Each site was responsible for its own resource acquisition, and four were responsible for all their own cataloguing and classification, whilst the fifth only catalogued and classified off-air recordings. It was obvious from early on that some kind of co-operation was desirable, if we were to produce good quality cataloguing, since all the bib records were visible on the same OPAC.


As a bit of background, three institutions joined with the largest of the institutions, while two were set up by the largest of the institutions. One of the joining institutions used the same LMS provider, so merging the two catalogues was quite easy, compared to the other two institutions who used a different LMS provider, so their bib records had to be converted and merged into the other LMS.

As for classification schemes, three of the libraries used Dewey, one used National Library of Medicine and, I regret to say, I can't remember what the other used, but I have a vague recollection it might have been BLISS.

Bringing it all together

In order to achieve some kind of cohesive system, a cross-site cataloguing group was formed, whose constitution included representatives from the cataloguing departments of each of the five sites, supplemented by representatives from other areas from the largest institution who were responsible for off-air recordings. This group met about once every term, to discuss standards, specific issues, etc., and to exchange experience.

Early decisions

Important decisions to be made from the outset included:

  1. Agreeing a minimum standard for bib records. The LMS supplier provided a cataloguing manual that outlined the minimum acceptable core bibliographic record, so this, in conjunction with the BIBCO standards, was used as a basis for discussion and an agreement was reached on what should be included in a basic record, and how a record could be enhanced.

  2. A consideration of the classification schemes in use, and the appropriateness if these. It was agreed that given one of the sites was specifically a nursing library, that NLM was the most appropriate classification scheme to be used at this site, although this did cause some confusion and clashes in the OPAC when copies of titles were held at any of the other libraries too. This was never satisfactorily ironed out, but at least it was possible to limit the OPAC search to just one site. The other site that wasn't using Dewey agreed to re-classify their stock and use the latest edition of Dewey. This proved interesting: the Phoenix schedule in that particular edition of Dewey hadn't yet been used in the largest institution, so when the time came to re-classify at the largest institution, class numbers for titles hald at both libraries could be taken from the re-classified copy at the smaller, specialist institution. There was also some conflict in the use of the Dewey schedules in the libraries that already used Dewey, for example, one used Option A for Law, whie the other used Option B; one library classified primary education in the education section, while the other classified it with the subject, using standard subdivisions. It was agreed that since the usage of the libraries was so different and the users' needs so different, that these adoptions of the classification scheme would continue.

  3. Training needs of staff. Immediate training needs included training in the use of the LMS for staff in those libraries that were using a different system prior to the mergers; familiarisation sessions with the Dewey schedules for those library staff who would be re-classifying; and cataloguing training for those library staff who were new to cataloguing.

The termly meetings

Each meeting of the group was held at a different site, which enabled staff from the various libraries to meet staff doing similar jobs, giving them a face to a name and thus encouraged them to network. It was also useful to see the different acquisition and cataloguing / classification processes in action. This proved to be an eye-opener, especially for those working at the larger sites where the processes were split into small component parts, of which they did one bit, and for those working in the smaller where one person was involved in many of the steps in the process. It also helped to streamline processes, as staff were able to comment on and discuss the way things were done, and come up with improvements.

The format of the mettings followed that of any normal staff meeting, with issued raised, questions answered and information sought. Following the meeting there was often an exchange of experience session, concentrating on an agreed topic of interest. These included, amongst other things:

  • video / off-air recordings cataloguing

  • conference cataloguing

  • use of series tracings (440, 490, 840 in those days)

  • authority control work

  • cataloguing of missing pages / offprint collections

  • art exhibition cataloguing

  • foreign language cataloguing

Whenever possible, these sessions were led by cataloguers involved in such work, rather than by the Chair of the group, and the sessions usually generated lively discussion.

Supplementary systems

In order to help members of the group communicate between meetings, an email group was set up (in the early days we used the predecessor of Yahoo groups) specifically for members of the cross-site cataloguing group. This ensured that all members of the group could be involved in the "conversations". There was also a shared files facility which was used by the group for uploading and storing agendas and minutes of the meetings and filing and retrieving training material, policy documents and other documentation produced in support of the group, for example the statement of minimum standards for bib records, notes from the exchange of experience sessions and any other useful information. The email group and the accompanying shared files were restriced to use only by members of the group, thus ensuring a degree of security and privacy.


Managing a geographically dispersed cataloguing operation could have proved difficult, but the co-operation between the library staff and the support from management of cross-site working, together with advances in technology meant that the system used was quite harmonious.

Apologies for the peculiar line spacings: I cannot get Blogger to do what I want today.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why meetings?

Do meetings have a value?

Someone recently raised the question of meetings; why do we have them, why do we have so many, could a meeting be avoided by using some other method of communication – and so the list goes on! Made me feel a bit guilty having a meeting for the cataloguers whilst this concern was still live – although thankfully the issue wasn’t raised by the cataloguers themselves.

Our team of cataloguers is quite small and so we don’t find it at all difficult to discuss things with each other as and when we need to, as and when issues or concerns, problems or queries actually crop up, so you would be right to ask why we have meetings. The cataloguers work a variety of days / hours so it’s not always possible for every cataloguer to liaise closely with every other cataloguer so it is a legitimate way of catching up with what each of us is doing, especially when we have a variety of projects on the go, and when change is in the air.

We try and have a meeting about once a term and for each meeting we produce an agenda and a set of notes / action points. This ensures that we don’t wander form the point and therefore don’t spend more time than necessary away from the work of cataloguing.

I think the person who raised the question about the value of meetings may not have thought through just what exactly is the purpose of meetings. Sometimes meetings are to inform staff of where we are, other meetings are set up to discuss a specific issue and either make decisions or recommendations, whilst others are for getting a specific group of people together to talk about issues – to name but a few reasons for meetings.

The real value of meetings though is determined by what people get out of them, and this is often directly related to what they put in! Sitting in the corner quietly muttering about this meeting being a waste of yours and everyone else’s time ensures that it really will be a waste of time as you are not engaged in the what's going on. If you talk to your paper on a specific topic you can easily generate conversation and discussion by the meeting attendees and thereby take away with you a lot from the meeting.

Coincidentally, around about this time, Andy posted on the World Needs More Badass Librarians blog about the Five laws of library staff meetings: sticking to these should ensure that your meetings are worth the time spent on them! Brilliant stuff, the five laws being:

1. Ensuring that Meetings are for use(ful purposes)
2. Every staff member, the right meetings
3. Every meeting, the right staff members
4. Save the time of the attendee
5. The meeting is a growing organization

I would add to this the benefit of face-to-face communication which can often save time compared to protracted, often misunderstood email communication.

Of course, I suppose one could apply the same criteria to the value of external meetings / training sessions / briefing sessions etc. stressing the added bonus of a wonderful opportunity to network with a different group of people who will lead you to new ideas, new ways of thinking and new ways of developing. Invaluable.