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Tech Services Workflow Efficiency Interest Group at Midwinter

ALCTS  Tech Services Workflow Efficiency Interest Group Report

 The 2011 Midwinter session, Outsourcing Practices in Technical Services, was held Monday, January 10, 2011, 1:30pm – 3:30 pm.

Inspiration for the Midwinter session stemmed from the controversial decision to privatize the entire operations for the public library system in Santa Clarita, CA. Though the city is relatively healthy the decision was seen as a long-term strategy for cost savings.  An article about this decision was featured in the New York Times several months ago. It can be found here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/business/27libraries.html

As far as the outsourcing spectrum goes, most libraries don't fall anywhere near this range. However, it made us consider the many scenarios in which technical services work is currently being outsourced. While not a new trend, the outsourcing of technical services work is an increasingly ubiquitous presence in library operations and the management of resources. Many libraries are contracting out to vendors or external organizations as a solution to budget limitations, shrinking staff levels, and shifting priorities. Common areas of outsourcing include cataloging, digitization, and selection. Today, we refer to services like shelf-ready, patron-driven acquisitions, and the Google Books project.

Our panelists were:

Judy Garrison
Head of Electronic Acquisitions & Serials Control, University of Texas, San Antonio
Ann Miller
Head, Metadata Services, Digital Projects, & Acquisitions, University of Oregon
Lynette Schurdevin
Library Administrator, Thomas Branigan Public Library (New Mexico)

The panel shared aspects of their library’s outsourcing profile with around 65 Interest Group members. Work currently being outsourced by their institutions included making materials shelf-ready, MARC records, local content digitization projects, selection/acquisitions workflows. Motivations for outsourcing workflows included cost savings, improved efficiency rates, and staffing shortages. Some of the most notable benefits included faster turnaround between selection and the shelf, coverage for staffing shortages, and pilots for new initiatives. These ultimately produced tangible benefits for the library system, staff, and users. Assessment of outsourced services was conducted in a variety of ways: usage statistics for patron-driven acquisitions, turnaround rate comparisons, backlog reductions, usage of local content.

One panelist stated that her library could be doing more forms of outsourcing, but wasn’t rushing headlong into it for now. Another commented that she foresees the continued use of a vendor for cataloging and selection because it has freed up staff to work more directly with users. None of the panelists viewed the outsourcing of services as degradation to the professionalism of the field, but as a way to embrace new and developing philosophies and practices.