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Open Session Focuses on Technical Services Planning

open session group shot  

Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Management Marilyn Wood, center, addresses staff during an open session that focused on the planning for Technical Services.


March 3, 2011 – Planning for centralization of technical services, the future of print serials, and the new Borrow Direct program were among the topics of discussion during a recent open session with Marilyn Wood, Associate Librarian for Collection Management. Held February 10 in the Lamont Forum Room, the session is one of several meetings sponsored by the HCL Joint Council designed to give staff a chance to learn about and discuss the library’s ongoing planning efforts. After giving an overview of Collection Management, Wood described the planning for Technical Services that is currently underway and answered questions from staff.

The Technical Services Centralization Planning & Implementation Council was formed last year following the recognition that technical services activities must evolve to address a changing landscape. Scholarly behaviors, user expectations and technology have changed. A heavier focus is being considered on cataloging specialized materials, unique titles, and hidden collections. Recommendations from the Provost’s Library Task Force also called for more centralized Technical Services processes across libraries. The Council was charged to develop recommendations on centralizing technical services for four HCL libraries - Cabot Science, Tozzer, Loeb Music and Harvard-Yenching - at 625 Mass. Ave. Recommendations will be submitted to the Associates for their consideration before the end of the fiscal year. While other library units - such as Area Studies – are not included in this initial planning effort, they may be examined in the future, Wood said.

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At the start of the Council’s process in September, members held two open sessions for library staff, and offered tours of 625 Mass. Ave. to highlight the work that takes place there. Two surveys, one for library directors and the other for staff performing technical services functions, were also distributed so that the Council could begin to learn about the technical services processes and systems already in place at the four libraries.

On-site meetings with staff members from each of the four libraries were held in November to provide a forum for staff to ask questions and voice concerns, and to give Council members a chance to learn more about the needs of the local library community.

“That work helped us to define some of the critical issues and important needs that we needed to focus on going forward,” Wood said.

At the same time, Wood said, the libraries were also mindful of the recommendations included in the report of the Harvard Library Task Force, which called upon the libraries “to do a better job at knitting together Harvard’s complex and fragmented library infrastructure in order to improve services and maximize the resources available to its users. We cannot afford to replicate administrative systems and processes many times over... administrative services that will be markedly strengthened by centralization include many information technology functions, most preservation functions and certain significant technical services, such as acquisitions and cataloging.”

With the Taskforce report as a guide, the Council outlined a number of objectives, Wood said, including:

  • centralizing Technical Services policy administration and staffing while providing proactive services to users and their local needs.
  • streamlining and consolidating redundant workflows.
  • shifting staff resources to activities with the highest impact and value to library users.
  • taking advantage of automated processes.
  • maximizing staff skills and language expertise.
  • reducing physical handling of materials.
  • standardizing Technical Services practices and policies across HCL.
  • reducing customized processing routines.
  • increasing reliance on collaborative work with peer institutions.
  • expanding and adopting creative uses of technology.
  • actively working toward identifying and exposing hidden collections.

The in-depth analysis got underway in December with the creation of seven working groups which examined a host of technical services functions - including acquisitions methods, binding and shelf preparation, interaction with Collection Development units, collection management functions like Harvard Depository transfers, withdrawals and special projects, patron requests, serials management and special collections.

“Several working groups are wrapping up their reports,” Wood said. “Once those reports are complete, the Council will review them, and make their recommendations.”

“We don’t yet know how these interdependent pieces will fit into the larger Harvard Library structure. The work of the Council is, ultimately, about analyzing the local processes and local needs of our libraries, and determining how we can best meet the needs of our patrons,” Wood said. “Given the transition that is happening now with Harvard’s libraries, there may be questions about whether we should continue with this work, but Harvard Library Executive Director Helen Shenton has confirmed that this type of analysis and review is exactly what we should be doing right now.”

Following her comments, Wood opened the floor to questions.

A transcript of the questions and responses will be posted on the staff intranet later this week.