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TL v62n2: Transforming Technical Services
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Transforming Technical Services: Are You Ready to Go "Shelf-Ready?"

Sarah Shippy Copeland, Cleveland State Community College

Emily Krug, Somerset Community College


Originally presented at the 2012 Tennessee Library Association conference. 



This presentation will introduce fellow librarians to the nuts and bolts of “shelf-ready acquisitions.”  Many librarians across Tennessee have expressed interest in this process but are unsure how to apply it within their libraries.  Therefore, we will present two cases – Sarah Copeland will discuss SRA at a community college library, and Emily Krug will discuss SRA at a public library – in order to illustrate possible applications. 

We also have some good news in response to the general apprehension about implementing “shelf-ready” processes: it is our belief that shelf-ready acquisitions should not be regarded as a means of outsourcing or otherwise reducing staff.  Rather, it is a means of freeing your most valuable asset – your staff – so that they might better serve your library’s users.

What is SRA?

Shelf-ready acquisitions is a means of streamlining the cataloging and physical processing of items for your collection.  It is also a means of improving access to your collection and saving time, thus getting your items to your users faster and easier.  It is really one term for a combination of services.  Think of it as a buffet, where you can pick and choose which services you want to receive.

Your first question about shelf-ready acquisitions is most likely “what types of services are available?”  Answer: this is a set of custom services that you design à la carte.  It is possible to design a system where books are taken out of the box in receiving, their barcodes linked to the respective item records, and then sent directly into circulation with no further processing required. Most libraries, however, choose to purchase just a selection of “shelf-ready” services.  In our Prezi, we have included examples of common services, as well as excerpts from a common vendor’s lengthy form that you complete in order to get started. Remember: most of these services (including MARC copy) can be highly customized to suit your local needs.  From font size to placement, even complex elements like pocket labels can be ordered to reflect your library’s current physical processing standards. 

Case 1: Cleveland State Community College Library

CSCC Library implemented shelf-ready acquisitions three years ago as part of a staff reorganization.  The library purchases three services to streamline processing: mylar covers and spine labels from book vendors, and MARC copy through WorldCat Cataloging Partners.  This process has worked very well and resulted in increasing the efficiency of acquiring new materials.  We have dramatically reduced time spent on routine cataloging, which has freed staff for reference, digital initiatives, and arranging and describing the college archives.  Moreover, we have improved the visual appeal of our book collection.

In this section of the Prezi, you will see several photographs of new books.  The first photograph shows how the books look when they are unpacked: tight, neat mylar covers protecting the book jackets and legible spine labels. We purchase mylar covers and spine labels because we find that our vendors provide a consistently high quality product; we have not always been so lucky when the work was performed in-house.

A student assistant completes the physical processing upon receipt by adding a date due slip, ownership stamps, and a barcode. (These elements are shown in the second photograph.)  Although CSCC Library could order all of our physical processing through the book vendors, we have chosen to keep the easier tasks in-house so that we have regular work for work-study students assigned to the library.  The wages of student assistants are not paid out of the library’s budget, therefore it is cheaper overall for students to perform these basic processing tasks in-house.  At Cleveland State, reserving these tasks for students does not delay the overall time it takes new acquisitions to enter circulation.

As noted above, CSCC Library obtains MARC records through OCLC’s WorldCat Cataloging Partners.  We order only full-level cataloging from either the Library of Congress (DLC) or the British Library (UKM).  These records are accepted with minimal upgrading.  From our perspective, the most important step is to confirm that the call number in the record matches exactly with the call number on book’s spine label.

As a result of implementing shelf-ready acquisitions, CSCC Library has reduced staff hours spent on copy cataloging and processing tasks by 90%.  In turn this new workflow has allowed me, the library’s cataloger, to take on many new work responsibilities, including acquisitions, an average of 8 hours/week at the reference desk, arranging and describing the college archives, and the development and administration of our digital archive of local historical sources.  I also have the time now to serve as a back-up instruction librarian.  By selecting just a few shelf-ready options, CSCC Library freed staff time for essential services that are easier to justify to administrators. 

Case 2: Johnson City Public Library

One of the biggest disadvantages of shelf-ready acquisitions is the lack of quality control on the physical processing of items.  While most vendors do an excellent job of providing quality physical processing, problems sometimes occur.

In spring of 2010, the Johnson City Public Library received several items from their primary vendor that were of very low quality physical processing.  At the time, shelf-ready acquisitions arrived with hard plastic covers applied to paperback books, mylar jacket covers on hardback books, spine labels, and ownership labels in the front and back of books.  JCPL received a large number of books with crooked labels, some of which were placed at obtuse angles from the edges of the books.  The most frustrating problem, however, was the covering on paperback books.  When the covers were applied to these books, they were too large for the books.  Books were placed in a guillotine to trim the covering; however, the alignment of the guillotine was incorrect.  When books arrived at JCPL, it was obvious that the books themselves had been trimmed.  In a few cases, some of the text of the book had been cut off.  It was determined that this was a processing error and not a publishing error because some items had ownership labels that were cut off, as well.  These labels had been applied by the vendor.  Our Prezi includes some pictures of what I would call the worst of the worst items received during this period.

Fortunately, the customer service representative for this vendor was just as outraged as the JCPL staff by the arrival of these poorly processed books, and she took steps to ensure higher quality processing was received in the future.

When dealing with bad shelf-ready acquisitions, the following tips are useful.

  1. Get to know your customer service: A good relationship with your customer service representative will help make dealing with problems easier.  The customer service representative’s goal will be to keep you as a client, and he or she will likely do whatever needs to be done to keep that relationship going.
  2. Be specific: When you inform your customer service representative of problems, be as specific as possible so there is no miscommunication.
  3. Take pictures: Taking pictures of problem items provides proof that things are incorrect.
  4. Stay positive: Even though it is frustrating to deal with bad shelf-ready acquisitions, a positive attitude will make it easier to handle the situation.

The good news about SRA is that even when problems arise, it is not the end of the world.  Remember: a good vendor does not want to lose your business and will work with you to resolve issues quickly and effectively.  Despite the bad experience I had with SRA for a few months, I would still recommend these services for public libraries.

Which types of libraries could benefit from SRA?
We have discussed how SRA has worked (and not worked) in a community college library and a public library.  Based on our experiences, we brainstormed a few examples of how other types of libraries might benefit from SRA.

  1. School libraries: Often, school libraries have only one person on staff, and that person has to do everything, from cataloging and processing to running the circulation desk to answering reference questions and more. SRA would free up time from the technical services aspects of a school librarian’s job so that more time can be focused on serving the needs of the students.
  2. Health science libraries: In a library where current information is key, receiving items already processed cuts down on the amount of time needed to get the information to those who need it quickly. 
  3. Special libraries: Some special libraries have needs similar to the two examples already mentioned.  A special library with a small staff could free personnel for high-value activities -- such as research, outreach, and special projects -- by ordering their print acquisitions shelf-ready.  Depending on the library’s focus, they may benefit from the decreased time it takes for an item to go from acquisition to circulation.  Special libraries may also be in a good position to take advantage of some of the custom cataloging options, which include enhancing subject access using diverse thesauri.

We are ready to go “shelf-ready”!  Now what?
Start by contacting your book vendor to find out which services they offer and how much they cost.  Be sure to mention any consortia to which your library belongs (e.g., Tenn-Share) to see if you qualify for discounts on services.  We recommend starting small: try just one or two services to see how it will work for your library.  Remember that setting up SRA is an iterative process.  There will be many conversations with your vendor(s) while setting up SRA.  Your vendor will send you a small test batch of books, then you will work together to refine the process from there.

Please note that your library will still require a staff member who is an expert in resource description.  For quality control purposes, your cataloger or other description expert will need to at least spot check classification, subject headings, appropriate use of MARC, and so on.  Your catalog is only as useful as the information you put into it!

There will be occasional snafus, just as you would expect with your on-site staff.  Nevertheless, shelf-ready acquisitions may be just what your library needs in order to start providing that new service your users are demanding.



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