Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Perplexed Librarian - Part Two

Five years ago I wrote a series of short articles submitted to Publib asking a series of questions trying to gain a better understanding of the state and direction of the Library world. Some of the logistical and system information is dated. My email has changed. However, my questions are still valid and I'm still seeking answers to these questions.

This is the second article in the series. GFW

August 2, 2004

In part one I wondered how decisions are being made in the selection of material for the large public library I work for in Sacramento, California. All of the evidence points toward Management deciding that we are to mimic a chain of retail book stores. Their first step was to shift the responsibility for the selection of materials to professional and para-professional buyers and away from the specific branches and Librarians who work with their public. If you are going to reduce the number of people selecting material to a team of buyers, then the next logical step is to actually buy and process materials like a retail outlet used by customers. Management wants to outsource the work of the Collection development (CDV) and Technical Services (TEC) Departments. They propose hiring a consultant to examine the workload with the vision of down-sizing or eliminating altogether these two departments. If they hold true to form, they have already decided to outsource the work and simply need a document that states the value of doing so. This document will cost thousands of dollars.

Let me briefly describe our CDV and TEC Departments. CDV buys materials selected and TEC processes the materials received for the branches and the main library. CDV also looks for materials the selectors may have missed, compiles lists of special purchases, talks to the selectors and branches about the needs and wants of the Library, evaluates patron recommendations, cares for the serials collection, the electronic resources collection, and
much more. TEC catalogs materials purchased, donated, and found. Then TEC processes, stamps, labels, barcodes, etc. the material for each branch and sees that the material is delivered. Because the people who work in CDV and TEC work for the Library they take special care and look out for the needs of the branches.

Outsourcing CDV and TEC would remove from the hands of library workers the process described above. The intrinsic relationship between CDV and TEC would be severed and the branches would receive only a prepackaged product selected by the buyers. A Contractor, removed from the Library, would purchase, track, receive, reimburse, catalog, process and deliver the product to the outlet. If the product is wrong, unnecessary, unwanted, processed incorrectly, or there is any other problem, the Library has no other recourse than sending it back to the Contractor. There will be no personal interaction between the Contractor and the outlets. Management is already depleting the human resources of the Library and is moving toward outsourcing as soon as possible.

Is outsourcing and eliminating the work done by professionals and para-professionals in CDV and TEC desirable and more efficient? How will outsourcing change the level and types of service libraries already have?
Will service improve? Will patrons expectations of libraries change? Will libraries as we know them cease to exist, replaced by something like an information/entertainment outlet?

Am I asking the wrong questions?

Gerald F. Ward

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