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TL v59n2: Opening a New Umbrella: Technical Services Merger and Consolidation at the UTC Library
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 2



Opening a New Umbrella:

Technical Services Merger and Consolidation

at the UTC Library


Michael Bell, Assistant Dean and Head of Materials Processing
Valarie Adams, Cataloging and Authorities Coordinator

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

TLA 2009 Conference Program Abstract: Customer Service for technical services means delivering library materials with speed and accuracy. UTC has improved performance in both areas by merging Acquisitions and Cataloging departments.

Powerpoint Presentation (pdf)

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is primarily an undergraduate institution with some graduate programs and three doctoral programs.

Current student FTE or full time equivalent is 8,149 and Faculty FTE is 466. There are 16 library faculty and 14 staff positions.  The Library Materials Expenditure for 2007-2008 was $1,311,632. (One million, three hundred eleven thousand, six hundred thirty-two dollars.)

When this process began in the fall of 2007, the Library technical services consisted of two separate departments, Acquisitions and Cataloging, with each department having one faculty and two staff members.

The Acquisitions Department was responsible for coordinating all collection development, ordering and receiving, invoice processing, subscription ordering, cancelling, and licensing.

The Cataloging Department was responsible for all copy and original cataloging, physical processing, catalog authority, bindery, and receiving and claiming of print and microform subscriptions.

The issues forcing a reexamination of technical services by the Library administration are not uncommon.

  • Flat budgets meant we had fewer books & AV items being ordered and cataloged as well as fewer print subscriptions being received.
  • Migration from print to online journals meant fewer print issues to check-in and track for claiming.
  • Split responsibility for subscriptions created administrative difficulties, confusion.
  • Work-flow concerns over down-time and lack of back-up for routine functions.

The Library was seeing diminished and evolving workloads for all these staff members, and it was often the case that staff in one department was busy when staff in the other department was not.  It was recognized that this situation would only grow worse as we received less print material, moved toward pre-processing of approval and firm orders, and implemented greater automation of our processes.  On the other hand, the decrease in staff in both departments meant a loss of back-up.  When one staff member was out, processes came to a halt.  This resulted in delays in getting materials to our patrons.  We needed to find ways to increase cross-training of staff, eliminate down-time, and accelerate delivery of materials to our patrons.

In the summer of 2007 the Library Dean and her Assistant Dean (the Head of Acquisitions) began discussions about the possibilities and implications of cross-training the staff of the two departments.  At some point it was acknowledged that to make this work, it would be necessary to merge the departments into a single administrative unit so as to standardize expectations and establish a single management workflow approach to operations.  Subsequent literature reviews and work flow analysis of the two departments confirmed this view.  A target date for the transition was initially set for Spring 2008.  However, the pending retirement of one staff member from Cataloging and the belief that the new department could function with only three staff members allowed the Library Administration to accelerate the process and move ahead with the merger in Fall 2007.

The result was a series of meetings followed by more meetings, initially involving the Dean and the heads of Acquisitions and Cataloging.  This was followed by the two department heads holding a series of joint meetings with the staffs of the two departments.

A review of other libraries which had already made similar changes moved us to abandon the name Technical Processing, as it seemed inappropriate for the activities taking place in the department.  We decided on the name Materials Processing, which we thought was inclusive and more appropriate. Literature searches on the subject of library technical services mergers were distributed to the effected staff members (see Bibliography). This was mainly intended to show them that what we were proposing was not anything new. Others had done it and survived.

Detailed descriptions of existing job responsibilities in both departments (including those of the departing staff member) were drawn up and reviewed. Cross-training schedules were established and implemented. Input was sought from staff members regarding preferences for new job assignments and that was taken into account when we started making new assignments. Assignments were made and review mechanisms were put in place for initially checking output and quality checks. Regular meetings took place within the department (both department-wide and individual) to ensure communication, review progress, and address problems as they arose.

The physical rearrangement of what had been the separate work areas was planned and implemented to bring the staff and department together. A work-flow document was designed which accompanies every physical item purchased and received from point of arrival in Materials Processing to its delivery to Access Services for shelving.  This mechanism tracks how long it takes for materials to work through the system.

The results of these efforts fall into two broad categories.

Consequences: The Good

  • All staff members assumed new job responsibilities and became as cross-trained as was feasible.  This is good in and of itself.
  • Thanks to the cross-training, down-time is significantly reduced as is the potential for processing backlog, as work no longer comes to a halt because the ordering clerk is out or the copy cataloger is out.
  • All staff members have a greater understanding of our ordering and processing procedures.  This should lead to greater efficiencies in performance.
  • In theory, processing time should be reduced as a result of cross-training.  The results are still under review.
  • We have simplified and unified control over serials. Check-in, claiming, shelving, discarding and binding are now under one department.
  • The entire process for ordering, receipt, and processing of materials is under single administrative control.

Consequences: The Bad

  • Morale took a dip.  Staff members were unhappy with taking on more work.  We are still struggling with getting them to accept that the new duties are part of their work, not “extra work” that can be done only if their “real” work permits.
  • The merger created an initially awkward working relationship.  The former head of Cataloging now had a new supervisor, and it took a little time for both faculty members to adjust to a new working relationship.
  • All members of the new department had to adjust to changing priorities, expectations, and management style.
  • Surprisingly, despite these staffs having worked side-by-side for years, there was initial resentment on both sides toward the other regarding the merger.  All staff members seemed to resent becoming part of the larger community.

What we learned from this process:

  • No matter how much you think you have communicated, it’s not enough.  Always communicate more than you think is necessary and use every means available to you to do so.
  • Regardless of how well you justify and lay out the rationale for change, it is still unwelcome.  But, in presenting the staff with the rationale behind what is happening and asking for their input into managing the process you diminish the opportunity for them to complain.
  • It takes time to integrate two formerly separate groups of people regardless of how closely they have worked in the past.  That said, old dogs can learn new tricks, and peaceful coexistence is possible.  You just have to work at it.
  • Be prepared to change plans as circumstances require.  Flexibility and patience are essential.
  • The learning curve is greater than you anticipate.  Make training an ongoing and routine part of your department’s regimen.
  • Ask for input.  Listen if you get any.
  • Be prepared to push people into doing what needs to be done.  Just because someone is now trained in how to do something does not mean they will be willing to step forward and do something that needs doing.  This lack of initiative has been one of the greatest difficulties encountered in making this merger successful.  Bottom line: you can’t train initiative.

Have we been successful?  We are leaner, more responsive and less prone to peaks and valleys in our work-flow.  Responsibilities have been streamlined, forced into fewer hands, and are now supervised by one manager, who can oversee the entire process from ordering to shelving.

What next?  In the short-term future we anticipate immediate impact on our department from the following:

  • Our recent serials cancellations will result in significant reduction in workload for all staff members, requiring more drastic adjustments to staff duties.
  • With the success of the approval plan pre-processing we plan to have our supplier provide the same for our firm orders, further reducing staff activities.
  • Cost-cutting measures resulting from budget reductions will result in less time spent in physically processing materials, which should speed up turnaround and lessen workloads.

In the longer term, we anticipate further change resulting from:

  • The potential for purchasing shelf-ready materials creates huge opportunities for redesigned workflows and reassignment of responsibilities. This needs to be factored into our planning.
  • We plan a time study that will provide the necessary data to understand how staff members are using their time and explain why it takes so long for materials to work their way through processing.
  • We plan to bring in a consultant to provide guidance in implementing more automation into our workflow which should reduce processing time and again change job requirements.
  • In two years we move into a new, larger building with a whole new set of staffing needs.  With little hope of significant increases in budget or staff, the entire structure of library staffing will evolve to meet those new demands.


Anderson, R. (2008, November). What I learned at the reorganization. Presented at Charleston Conference, Charleston, SC.

Branton, A., Green, C.,  & Martin, M. (2006). Technical services: General overview of its organization and functions.  Mississippi Libraries, 70(2), 22-25.

Calhoun, K. (2003). Technology, productivity and change in library technical services. Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services, 27, 281-289.

Fenner, A. (2005). Fast times in technical services: Challenges and opportunities. Southeastern Librarian, 53(3), 30-37.

Hatcher, M. (2006). On the shelf in 48 hours. Library Journal, 131(15), 30-31.

King, S., Metcalf, M., & Larkin, M. (2007). Tackling the reorganization chart.  Serial Librarian 52, 311-316.

Wells, K. (2004). Hard times in technical services: How do academic libraries manage? A survey. Technical Services Quarterly 21(4),17-30.


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