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Retrospective Subversion

So as is the case with any new job, I inherited some unfinished business. One piece of business that’s hard to ignore is that over 30,000 records have yet to be converted to the online catalog. They are in the card catalog, which for you non-library folk, means that they are essentially hidden from sight.

(I think it’s over 30,000. I believe we know this through yardstick measurements. Then again, I’m not counting those temp records.)

For my non-library friends, at this point you can skip this post as I’ll be writing in Biblish.

My library friends keep asking, “Whaddya gonna do? Ya gonna recon that stuff or not? How ya gonna do it? Ya gonna bite the bullet?”

Well, I’m in assessment mode.

The recon approach for about seven years was to add 2,000 records per year (beginning in 2001), bumped up to 5,000 records for 2009-2010. This was based on using OCLC CatExpress.

There was also an ongoing project where some student workers added “brief records”–and the catalog has over 6,000 of these. I halted the brief-record project. (I am fine with adding on-the-fly brief records when we circ–which we will begin doing as of spring semester, after we’ve implemented a new training program for student workers. However, this was a project where we were adding records class by class, and the effort that went into that could be diverted elsewhere.)

What I am doing for sure, and as soon as possible, is moving us to OCLC Full Membership (using a clever budget reallocation trick based on mirrors and scarves). This is not because I adore everything the Big O stands for (such as making CatExpress, the tool for the poorest of libraries, so inflexible — go over your annual subscription, they charge you; go under, you lose the records), but primarily, at this stage, because we cannot get there from here without lifting the ceiling on how many records we can add.

I want to stay here five to seven years and see this library become a vibrant, attractive learning commons, but crawling along at this rate (which of course includes new additions!) will continue to be a drag on our forward momentum. We need to get this job done.

(WorldCat is also the de facto global bibliographic catalog of record. The only truly efficient method for a small independent library to resource-share is to use WorldCat. But that is a discussion for another day.)

The going rate for recon by outside sources, whether you use a company or bring in a cataloger, appears to be about a dollar a record. I will be doing more pricing, but I doubt that will go much lower. And I might add, I really hate the idea of spending that much money when we have so much need elsewhere.

Needless to say the library has weeded (a lot!), and will weed some more, and more again. We have a print-reference weeding that will happen over winter break. However, those books aren’t even included in the estimate of work to be done… we’re just moving the cruft out of a much-needed area for quiet study (which will also expand the space available for group study). Also, weeding takes time… recon takes time… and we have many, many things we can be doing.

We have also used student workers for some recon work (properly supervised and all that), and we’ve had good success with this approach. I’m still costing out this activity (it’s bundled in with other things they do) but I think we’re at least talking 50 cents per record.We can possibly increase the student workforce, but as we all know, even if there were an infinite number of students, at some point the cost of managing student workforces begins to overwhelm the effort itself.

Of course, there’s the grant approach. With all the things this library could be asking to fund, I really hate the idea of applying for a grant for recon work… if there are such grants any more. I could do it, but it sticks in my craw.

I’m also trying to tweak our workflows so we have more time for cataloging. We can nibble around the edges here–buying records for new acquisitions, buying preprocessed books, leaning more on faculty recommendations than selection, etc.–but that’s not a magic cure.

One approach would be to stop all recon altogether–to just let the print stuff sit there and keep weeding it until it (like its journal index counterparts) became obsolete; many of these materials were acquired in the library’s Mesozoic Era, and their value withers as time flies. Our traditional circ, as with the circ at all academic libraries, is on the decline, while our electronic usage is rising up and up and up. In the past year we did as many if not more “circs” from ebrary alone than we did for print materials (and that’s not our only ebook collection!). And we “own” far more e-resources, and they’re more available, and they also serve our entire community, not just those for whom physical access to our facility is convenient.

(Yes, yes, I love traditional library books. The way they smell… all dusty and moldy… and the way they feel… greasy and dirty from a thousand hands… and the way they take up so much square footage in a tiny facility, and how they feel when a particularly large unused encyclopedia falls on my instep. I revere books!)

The no-recon approach would be more easily assessed this spring, when our student workers get new, improved training in on-the-fly brief records, so we can measure how much the non-cataloged books circulate. An OCLC rep said, “If you add these books, then others can find and use them!” Well… yes… but I’ve seen what we’ve dug out from the Augean stables, science-wise, and we may not want anyone using this stuff.

It will also be easier to measure when we’re resource-sharing via WorldCat… “does the reconned stuff benefit our peers” is a good reports-style question.

Perhaps we gear up and recon a lot — and then measure and decide.

So that’s where I am. I never imagined myself at this point in my career pondering a huge recon job. It’s like worrying about the boning in my corset, or whether the farrier got paid. But that’s what makes libraries so darn interesting–you never know what massive problem lurks behind Door Number 3. 😉

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