New Techniques in Library Technical Services at the Appalachian College Association

Anne Chase and Tony Krug


The Appalachian College Association (ACA) is a nonprofit consortium of 36 private, two-and four-year liberal arts colleges and universities spread across the central Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Collectively, these institutions serve more than 39,000 students. The central library, now called the William G. Bowen Central Library of Appalachia (BCLA), is a division of ACA. BCLA partners with ACA member institutions to make it economically possible to provide ACA students, faculty, and staff with information resources and services to support teaching, learning, and scholarship.

In November 2003, ACA received a $100,000 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to help ACA libraries explore ways to improve work processes and expand services. The program is called New Techniques in Library Technical Services (New TiLTS). At the ACA Annual Meeting for Library Administration in October 2003, Anne Chase, New TiLTS program manager, introduced the program as it had been proposed to CLIR, noting that it had the following strategies and goals:

Goal 1. All participating libraries will reduce the staff time needed for acquisitions, cataloging, or processing activities.
Goal 2. Some libraries will expand services through an internal restructuring that deploys staff more effectively.
Goal 3. Some libraries will share staff expertise with other ACA libraries to acquire, catalog, or process library resources more effectively.
Goal 4. Some libraries will outsource certain aspects of technical services to provide more staff time for working with faculty and students.

The project would establish the following strategies to meet the goals:

Strategy 1. Staff members of ACA libraries will be introduced to business-process redesign principles at workshops held throughout the region.
Strategy 2. To encourage the sharing of expertise among ACA libraries, the BCLA will implement a voucher system called Tony Tokens. The BCLA will serve as a clearinghouse by maintaining a list of services on the Tony Token Web site.
Strategy 3. Libraries may apply for funds to support process-improvement projects. Funds may be used for consultants, training, travel, and equipment. Project results will be presented at the ACA Annual Meetings for Technical Services.

During the grant period, ACA libraries were kept apprised of program progress. At the ACA Annual Meeting for Technical Services in May 2004, the New TiLTS steering committee worked with Dianne Schaffer of the BCLA staff to develop an agenda focused on improving technical services processes. Tara Cooper, Union College Librarian, discussed her staff’s experience creating a process map of the college’s technical services operations. Members of the New TiLTS steering committee led breakout groups that gave attendees opportunities to share ideas for improving technical services processes. Several libraries shared the maps of their current processes. At the 2004 and 2005 Annual Meetings for Library Administration, Chase provided updates on the New TiLTS projects and explained the Tony Token program. Directors were encouraged to share their experiences with process improvements. Public services staff members learned about the grant at the 2004 and 2005 ACA Annual Meetings for Public Services, where Chase again provided an overview of the effort and invited staff to participate.

Developing the Strategies

Strategy 1: Process Mapping and Process Improvement for Libraries Workshops
The grant supported seven workshops around the region on process mapping and process improvement for libraries. At these sessions, Martin Ramsay of the CEATH Company introduced participants to techniques for examining and improving workflow. The sessions involved hands-on examples and gave attendees opportunities to work with staff from other libraries. A description of the workshop is provided at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx1.pdf.

During the first part of the workshops, participants stepped outside the comfort of their library roles and into new ones. Working in small groups, they were asked to learn new jobs in a very different environment, namely, a factory that builds cars from LEGO bricks. The assembly line was stopped several times so that productivity could be measured, after which members discussed ways to improve productivity for the next run. By the end of the afternoon, all the groups had redesigned the workflow and improved the productivity of their fictional LEGO factories. Each group explained what it had done to improve workflow, and workshop participants as a whole reflected on their learning experience.

The second half of the workshops focused on library processes. Participants made lists of library processes, identified the customers for these processes, and discussed the importance of measuring activities and of selecting the best methods for taking these measurements. Ramsay introduced the concept of process mapping. The participants divided into groups to practice mapping a particular process, that of buying a pair of shoes. After comparing notes on this experience, they selected several library processes to be mapped and once again formed small groups to prepare process maps. For many, this was a valuable opportunity to talk about process problems in their home libraries.

As a part of the workshop evaluation, participants were asked to identify specific library processes that they wanted to improve when they returned home. The top five responses were technical services, student utilization, book processing, acquisitions and ordering, and cataloging.

Strategy 2: Tony Token Program
Many ACA libraries are small. Their staffs do not have the time or expertise to develop, implement, and deliver new services. Collectively, however, they have a wide range of knowledge and experience to share. Libraries were encouraged to widen the pool of expertise by training their staff in new areas. To this end, the BCLA staff worked with the New TiLTS steering committee to develop the Tony Token program. Tony Tokens are vouchers that one participating ACA library can exchange for services from another other participating library. A Tony Token is valued at 30 minutes. Each library sets the charge for its services and designates a service coordinator who negotiates the service details and charges.

To get the program started, the New TiLTS steering committee created several quick ways for libraries to earn Tony Tokens. Each library that sent staff to the Process Mapping and Progress Improvement for Libraries Workshop received 25 Tony Tokens. Libraries earned 25 tokens for submitting a list of services for the program, and each library involved in a New TiLTS project received 50 tokens upon submission of its final report. A handout describing the program and available services has been distributed at every ACA annual meeting for the past two years. An example is provided at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx2.pdf. Dianne Schaefer created a page for the BCLA Web site (http://alice.acaweb.org/New_TiLTS/TonyTokens.html), which gives details about the program and names of contact persons.

In the first 18 months of the program, libraries earned more than 1,200 Tony Tokens; however, only a few libraries used the tokens to acquire services from another ACA library. Of those that did, one library provided the consulting services of a college archivist to assist a library that was beginning to plan an archive, and another library tapped a library’s cataloging expertise for nonprint items. Despite the rather slow start, the BCLA Library Technical Services Committee believes that the program has potential, and it is encouraging libraries to look to one another for assistance.

Strategy 3: New TiLTS Projects
At the Process Mapping and Process Improvement for Libraries Workshops, libraries were encouraged to undertake a project and share the results. The New TiLTS grants provided funding to assist with these projects. Funding was also available to develop a service center that might support several libraries. In all, the New TiLTS steering committee approved 10 proposals involving 18 libraries. In several cases, multiple libraries worked together to improve workflow or to develop expertise that they could share. The following section summarizes each of the 10 projects.

New TiLTS Projects

Improving Student Worker Retention in Technical Services: A Crafts Shop Model at Warren Wilson College
Warren Wilson College is a work college that requires all its students to be employed on one of more than 100 campus work crews, one of which is centered at the library. The library must compete with other work crews, some of which offer students opportunities to work outdoors, perform physical activity, interact socially, or complement career goals. Student turnover rates in the technical services department, as well as the other areas of the library, were high, approaching 100 percent each year, or even each semester. The typical student worker regarded the detail-oriented, repetitive work as tedious and unsatisfying. This situation presented tremendous challenges, for it obliged the technical services staff to invest in repeated training of student workers.

With a New TiLTS grant, the technical services department designed a program to address the issues of high turnover, low skill level, low commitment, and job fragmentation by creating a productive, learning-oriented environment. By moving away from an assembly-line approach and toward a craft shop model, they developed a crew that was more skilled and more committed.

In the craft shop model, each worker is responsible for an item from the time it is received from a vendor to the time it is ready for patron use. Each item is marked with a color-coded flag as it proceeds through the process on specially marked book trucks; each student is assigned a specific corresponding color. When the item is ready, the student initials the bar code and stamps the date due slip with a message that reads, “Prepared by (name).” The librarians perform quality control checks at various points and offer feedback to the student workers. By increasing accountability, ownership, and pride, the craft shop model has produced higher-quality work, enhanced worker satisfaction, and improved student worker retention rates. One of the most surprising findings was that a smaller student crew produced as much work as larger ones had, and that the quality of the work was consistently higher than it had previously been.

Warren Wilson College Library’s final report is available at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx3.pdf.

Using a Consultant to Improve Technical Services Workflow at Bethany College and Wheeling Jesuit University
The Bethany College and Wheeling Jesuit University (WJU) libraries, both in West Virginia, use the Sirsi library system. Both libraries recently switched to OCLC’s Connexion service for cataloging. For these reasons, the libraries collaborated to review their technical services workflow. With help from a consultant they identified three goals for their New TiLTS project: reduce the time from when a request is placed to the time the item requested is on the shelf, reduce redundancy, and reduce costs and staff time.

In preparation for the consultant’s visit, technical services staff visited each other’s library to review the workflow and setup. The visits gave staff the opportunity to discuss similarities and differences and to begin thinking about streamlining processes. The improved communication between the two libraries was also an important benefit.

The consultant, Sandy McIntyre from OHIONET, spent a day at each library. She observed processes, interviewed staff, and gathered data necessary to complete the workflow review. In preparing her final report, she was asked to identify similarities and differences between the two libraries, identify key processes, and recommend improvements. She was also asked to create a workflow map for each library and to make recommendations for staff training. As a result of the workflow analysis, McIntyre identified processes that should be eliminated or modified to improve efficiency (see https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx4.pdf.).

The WJU library, after reviewing the consultant’s report, revised its technical services workflow and can now process items in significantly less time than before. WJU closed its shelf list, thereby eliminating the staff time once devoted to creating, editing, and filing the shelf list card for each new item and reducing staff time when materials are withdrawn. Streamlining the processing of materials simplified the instructions for student workers, which helped reduce time needed to handle each item. The WJU technical services staff also set several goals to improve operations. These goals included training more students to process books and processing all items within five business days. WJU is also investigating the use of OCLC’s PromptCat. Finally, WJU is committed to using the Sirsi System to generate cataloging statistics. Although this will require time to set up, the effort will pay off when it eliminates the need for staff members to count new titles manually.

Improving Technical Services Workflow: Technical Services and Circulation Working Together at Bluefield College
Bluefield College Library’s technical services department has only one staff member, a librarian. This person formerly was responsible for all phases of acquisitions and cataloging as well as for much of the processing of materials. The workflow was hampered by the fact that the technical services office was in the basement of the library, while all other departments were located upstairs. The building has no elevator; materials were moved from floor to floor with lifts. New materials often made three trips between the basement and the first floor before they were finally added to the collection.

An analysis of the department’s workflow identified changes that, combined with other work patterns in the library, would increase productivity by redeploying work cycles1 from other staff in the library to assist the lone technical services department staff person. The changes required additional equipment, which was purchased with New TiLTS funds. The old and new workflows are shown at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx5.pdf.

Under the new workflow, the librarian receives the materials and enters the preliminary cataloging information into the online system, functions formerly performed by the technical services staff position. The assistant director completes the call number and verifies location codes, assuming more aspects of the workload formerly placed on the technical services position. The circulation supervisor completes the cataloging process by creating the item records and overseeing the processing of materials by student workers. This restructuring reduces the workload on the technical services department. The materials no longer return to the technical services department for processing, and the circulation staff members have work to keep them productive at times when work at the desk is slow. With these work cycles reassigned across other positions in the library, the technical services librarian now has time to pay invoices, maintain library materials accounts, and deal promptly with database-maintenance tasks.

Reviewing Essential Library Functions at Lee University
Like many academic libraries, William G. Squires Library at Lee University is expanding its services. It is enhancing its bibliographic instruction program, helping faculty integrate technology into their teaching, and managing an expanding collection of electronic resources. Like many academic libraries today, Squires Library is obliged to provide these additional services without an increase in staff.

The library requested a New TiLTS grant to engage a library consultant and to fund a department head retreat to discuss the consultant’s recommendations. Debra Morrissey from Mount Holyoke College was hired to review the essential functions of Squires Library with the goal of identifying procedures that could be modified to achieve greater efficiency, to bring processes in line with current best practices, and to save money.

In preparation for her campus visit, Morrissey reviewed procedural manuals, minutes, reports, work statistics, SOLINET charges, and budget information. During her two-day visit, she studied workflow, observed committee functions, and talked with key library personnel as well as the university’s vice president for academic affairs. Her recommendations included the following:

  • Focus the workflow in technical processing in Voyager to reduce the number of times materials are searched in OCLC and to limit how long materials stay on the backlog shelves before cataloging is completed.
  • Revise the process for applying Library of Congress call numbers to materials by printing labels from the Voyager system and eliminating the shelf list.
  • Eliminate the marking of books with the call number, OCLC number, and date.
  • Shift responsibility for student supervision and the final revision of catalog records from the technical processing librarian to the technical processing support person.
  • Move away from the paper-intensive materials ordering process in favor of a Web-based order form, allowing selectors and patrons to search the book vendors’ databases and transmit their orders directly to the library and using system-generated reports to follow up on outstanding orders.
  • Develop a training program for selected staff in basic reference skills so they can staff the reference desk during slower times of the day.
  • Move responsibility for processing outgoing mail to interlibrary loan staff to centralize these processes.

Library leaders held a retreat to consider the recommendations. Laura Kaufman from Bryan College Library facilitated the retreat. The group felt that most of the consultant’s recommendations should be implemented, in some cases with adaptations. If the recommendations can be fully implemented, Squires Library could recoup one full salaried position, allowing funds to be redirected to acquiring additional resources or improving services.

Streamlining the Management of Overdue Materials at Montreat College
The Montreat College Library used a New TiLTS grant to streamline the management of overdue library materials. The library staff mapped the process and identified several changes that improved it substantially, benefiting both staff and students needing access to the overdue materials.

To accomplish these improvements, library staff members identified several activities that needed to occur: (1) train the circulation staff to make full use of technology; (2) reallocate responsibilities to give the circulation staff more ownership of the process and eliminate unnecessary use of professional staff time; (3) implement a consistent and systematic schedule for notifying students of overdue materials; (4) provide adequate resources for reshelving books; and (5) create a procedures manual for handling overdue materials.

As a result of these systems changes, the process of handling overdue materials became far less labor-intensive, particularly at the end of semesters, when workload had been especially high. More books were returned on time. The library reduced the total number of overdue materials and of students with overdue materials. It also reduced the cost of the process and improved access to the collection.

The project exceeded its goals. A 50 percent reduction in overdue materials was realized in some areas and as much as 80 percent in others. Staff time required to process overdue materials was reduced, and turnaround time for shelving books was shortened. Other results are summarized at https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx7.pdf.

Improving Shelving Procedures at Bryan College
Many library patrons and staff alike are frustrated by the material that is “available” according to the catalog, but not easily located on the shelves. In many cases, the missing items have simply been misshelved. Library staff must spend time locating the missing items and notifying the patron needing the materials.

The Bryan College Library used process mapping to identify problems with its shelving procedures (see https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx8.pdf). The library staff revised its shelving process, identified best practices, and used New TiLTS funds to purchase book trucks. Training was improved with the use of Dewey Easy, a computer-training program. The students enjoyed the program’s interactivity and the immediate feedback it provided. Other improvements included training all circulation desk student workers to shelve, having student workers select a particular subject area for regular shelf reading, and providing book trucks where patrons could place materials for reshelving. The changes reduced by 81 percent the number of items reported as missing and increased shelving speed.

Improving Preservation in Libraries with Limited Resources
Three West Virginia libraries (West Virginia Wesleyan College, Ohio Valley College, and Wheeling Jesuit University) did not have enclosures to protect fragile or deteriorating rare books and documents. While libraries can order custom boxes, best practice involves making an enclosure after assessing the item to determine the best type of enclosure material and construction. West Virginia has no preservationist who can prepare such enclosures, and libraries are understandably reluctant to send rare materials out of state. Thus, rare books were at risk of continued degradation.

Using New TiLTS funds, six staff members from the three libraries arranged a workshop with Jill Deiss of Cattail Run Bookbindery. The workshop topic was selection criteria for preservation in libraries with limited resources. Participants received hands-on training in making enclosures and learned techniques for paper repair in preparation for enclosure. The workshop also covered heat-set paper repair, Mylar encapsulation, L-folders, tuxedo boxes, and phase boxes. Workshop participants learned what overriding issues (e.g., space and time) they would need to address before they could routinely make preservation enclosures.

Kathy Parker, West Virginia Wesleyan College, created guidelines for creating preservation enclosures that workshop participants and their colleagues could use in their libraries (see https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx9.pdf). She also presented a preservation workshop at the 2005 ACA Annual Meeting for Technical Services.

Staff members at West Virginia Wesleyan College, Ohio Valley College, and Wheeling Jesuit University Libraries have now been trained to create preservation enclosures for fragile and deteriorating rare books and documents. Through the Tony Token program, they are ready to create enclosures for other ACA libraries.

Expanding System Administration Support for the BCLA Shared Catalog
The BCLA Shared Catalog, based on the Innovative Interfaces Millennium platform, supports 14 libraries. An additional 14 libraries are partial members of the system and use the remote-access features. The need for timely and effective responses to questions and problems is critical for all users of the shared catalog. However, the BCLA has only one full-time staff member, Dianne Schaefer, dedicated to supporting the system.

Using New TiLTS funds, two librarians from participating shared-catalog libraries, Melissa Garrett (Union College) and Debbie Nichols (Maryville College), attended the two-day III System Administration Workshop that Innovative offers for new III System Administrators. At this hands-on session, they studied management information, Web access management, system options and functions, database management and statistics, Web management reports, and Web OPAC administration. Following their training, Garrett and Nicholas received the necessary systems permissions to expand their Millennium systems access/function.

The ACA-CL Shared Catalog e-mail and listserv were established in the fall of 2005. Schaefer, Garrett, and Nicholas all receive and respond to messages. Nicholas is focusing on the cataloging modules (including the headings report), and Garrett is supporting the circulation module (including reserves). Schaefer addresses issues related to the other modules. A response is guaranteed from at least one of the system administrators. The three librarians share routine system-administration tasks.

The expansion of system-administration support for the BCLA Shared Catalog is addressing two important goals: speedier resolution of problems by not having to depend on one person’s availability at any given time; and potential resolution of questions and problems at another level, freeing Schaefer to focus on more complicated concerns. Among these concerns, many members are eager for time to be allowed for the development of new services, including federated searching, link resolution, and electronic resource management that are resident, or could be added, to the system, but not yet implemented.

Sharing System Administration for Endeavor (SAFE) Libraries
The six ACA libraries using the Endeavor integrated library system requested New TiLTS funds to develop a shared depth of library system expertise not attainable individually. The libraries had not been able to fully implement the potential of the Endeavor system because of budget and personnel limitations. Working as a group, the SAFE libraries have now

  • jointly negotiated an annual maintenance fee cap with the vendor;
  • obtained systems-certification training for librarians from two libraries; and
  • obtained advanced reporting training for selected staff members from all six libraries.

In addition, the libraries agreed to plan to

  • design a shared interface that generates custom reports for all six libraries and benchmarking statistics for each with the other five;
  • review system functions to determine which functions can be shared and which will remain under the purview of the local system administrator;
  • review options for integrated resources access (through Endeavor or other vendors) to include federated searching, Link Finder Plus capability, and proxy authentication; and
  • pursue group purchase of additional Endeavor modules to maximize vendor discounts.

A postproject assessment revealed that the SAFE libraries improved their systems expertise and confidence, eliminated postponed or backlogged items for system administrators who had been overtaxed and undertrained, and significantly increased awareness and use of reporting capabilities. They can now afford additional library system software as a result of a cap on annual maintenance contract costs. They will continue to work on leveraging system-administration expertise to benefit all six libraries. Members also plan to work together to provide staff training on the various Endeavor modules and features.

Exploring a Document-Delivery System
ACA libraries are challenged to respond quickly to requests for interlibrary loans (ILLs). Some ACA libraries are not members of OCLC and therefore do not have access to the OCLC ILL services. Other libraries have not been able to implement ARIEL because of a lack of appropriate technology on their campuses. Still others limit their ILL service or are unable to promote ILL as a service because of insufficient staff. Meanwhile, demand for ILLs is taxing staff and budgets at those colleges that do provide the service.

The ILL staffs from Berea College, the University of the South, and West Virginia Wesleyan College met to discuss the possibility of developing a Web-based document-delivery service among interested ACA libraries. The three libraries mapped their ILL processes and assisted each other with identifying ways in which to streamline workflow. They worked together to draft policies and procedures for the BCLA document-delivery system (see https://clir.wordpress.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub139/ACAappx10.pdf).

The goals for this project were to

  • reduce staff time needed to request documents;
  • provide an option for patron-initiated ILL requests;
  • deliver requested documents directly to the patron;
  • create a Web-based ACA library union list of journal holdings, including electronic resources; and
  • create a Web-based document-request form.

Rick Manspeaker from West Virginia Wesleyan College created the prototype Web-based database and article request form. Each participating ACA library’s journal holdings can be easily loaded into the database from an Excel spreadsheet. Using the prototype database, a patron can search for a journal by title or ISSN, determine which library owns the issue in question, and fill out an article-request form. The article request form is e-mailed to the lending library. The lending library then attaches an electronic copy of the document to the article request form and replies to the patron who placed the request.

Unfortunately, this system has not worked as well as planned because some e-mail systems limit the size of messages and attachments. Another method for delivering the electronic copy of the document must be found. If funding continues for New TiLTS projects, the group would like to work with a Web programmer to develop an easy method to post files to a server, create a password for the file, and generate an e-mail message that provides the link and password for the file.

Summary and Analysis

The workshops generated an interest in process redesign and in teaching process mapping techniques. All those who participated are proud of the outcomes. Eighteen of ACA’s 35 colleges were involved in at least one effort, and many were involved in more than one. Some other libraries implemented process redesigns that did not require external funding or cooperation. They are not reflected in these figures and findings; nevertheless, these projects helped ACA reach its goal of documenting an impact on every member library.

The New TiLTS steering committee emphasizes that the work on process redesign has only begun. It hopes that process redesign will be a regular topic of discussion for ACA libraries, and that BCLA annual fees will fund future work of this nature.

Because the workshops consumed the first six months of the grant, libraries had only a year for project development and implementation. Although there was sufficient time to develop and implement some projects and exchanges, more time was needed to complete implementation. Recognizing this need, the steering committee requested and was granted permission to use any remaining grant funds to continue funding New TiLTS projects.

Recognizing the value of process redesign and the resulting redesign projects, the BCLA Library Technical Services Committee will continue to keep these tools before the librarians of the BCLA as a component of the committee’s services and programs into the future.

While some staff members attend workshops, others must stay at home to keep the libraries operating. Many library directors felt they had experience with process design and stayed home so that more of their staff could attend. Although this arrangement made sense, it prevented the library directors from sharing their staff members’ workshop experiences, and staff members had difficulty helping their directors apply what had been learned. This blunted the benefit that might otherwise have accrued from the rush of enthusiasm immediately following the workshops. Continuing exposure of the library directors to process design and mapping techniques would help engrain these strategies into the administrative routine of ACA libraries.

Working together and sharing expertise are part of the Appalachian experience. Such activities intensify librarians’ natural tendency to collaborate. This principle was seen at work in the two exchanges and in half of the 10 projects funded under this program. Yet a presubmission review of the project questioned whether ACA libraries had the time for collaboration on the scale proposed. ACA libraries are open an average of 85 hours per week, using, on average, just three professional librarians and three support staff, with 1.6 full-time equivalents of student help. A large percentage of staff time is committed simply to keeping library facilities open and basic services operational. Thinking through work redesign and collaborating on training or projects require a relatively larger percentage of staff time in smaller institutions than in libraries with larger staffs.

Organizations that have faced many challenges often say that one has “done so much, for so long, with so little, that one now is prepared to do anything with nothing.” ACA libraries might add that when one has to focus excessively on the basics, it is difficult to visualize what opportunities might exist for collaborative work across institutions. Developing a collaborative perspective also takes time.

The CLIR work-restructuring grant awarded to the Appalachian College Association has enjoyed much success initially and promises a great deal more. The librarians of the Appalachian College Association are grateful for the support provided by the Council on Library and Information Resources and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


FOOTNOTES

1The project team defines work cycle as the smallest possible component of a task, akin to a single rpm in a mechancial process. In the library, one work cycle for checking in periodicals might be noting the issue in a computer file and the next might be placing an ownership stamp, each being a crucial step in the task of recording the receipt of a single journal issue.