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Friday, 9 November 2012

The subject librarian in the academic environment ... Jack of all trades and master of ...

By: William Dansoh

The work of the Subject Librarian in the academic environment has evolved in the past three decades.  In addition to the traditional role of the librarian as the keeper of physical books and journals in the library, this is gradually changing and is being replaced by the role of facilitating access to networked information.  Dale et al. (2006) describe the different roles of the subject librarian as follows:

  •      The librarian as subject expert
  •      The librarian as information expert
  •      The librarian as learning facilitator or teacher
  •      The digital librarian

How easy or feasible is it for a subject librarian to play all these roles effectively?  The librarian as a subject expert ideally should have a sound knowledge of the subject she/he supports.  This includes teaching, research and key concepts in the subject.   Where a subject librarian has not studied the subject at first degree level, there are ways of learning about the subject on the job.   The role of an information expert, in my opinion, comes most naturally to subject librarians due to their professional training and experience.   The librarian as a learning facilitator or teacher?  Very few library schools offer training in how to teach information literacy in order to facilitate student learning.  However these skills can also be learnt on the job.  Within the context of continuous professional development, I would describe this as “work in progress”.  The digital librarian manages and organizes all the digital library resources. 
My position is that in the attempt to wear the different “hats” listed above and other “hats” which I have not listed, the professional identity of today’s subject librarian has been difficult to clearly define.  There is no clear answer to the question “what is the work of a subject librarian?”  Ask 2 subject librarians, 2 members of academic staff and 2 students and you may get 6 different answers.   The way forward?

Subject to the availability of funds and human resources, the subject librarian’s job can be specialized with focus on a specific, clearly identifiable aspect of the what needs to be done, for example  instruction/educational/learning librarian; research librarian; digital librarian; systems librarian or metadata librarian to mention a few areas of specialization.   The specialist subject librarian will make a better impact on the teaching, learning and research enterprise of host institution.   Wear too many “hats” and the result is Jack of all trades and master of none!

Dale, P., Holland, M., & Matthews, M. (Eds.). (2006). Subject librarians engaging with the learning and teaching environment. Hampshire: Ashgate.

Monday, 1 October 2012

To “E” or not to “E”, that is the question?

By: Praba Naidoo

What I have always enjoyed most about reading is that a good book keeps me involved and engaged. I relish a great novel that takes me to some far off place or a profound biography that enables me to completely understand the life of the person I am reading about. But most of all the smell of a new book is pleasantly intoxicating and the very act of physically turning the page of a book is in itself the greatest delight.

We all know that technological advances have made our lives easier than ever before. We have embraced these advances and sometimes ponder on what our lives would have been like without them. The idea or decision to move to “E” is worth investigating.

The question about e-books is not whether they will surpass print, but what is the readers’ actual preference? As you know the classic paper/print book is a written or printed work of fiction or nonfiction and is usually on sheets of paper which are bound together within covers. According to Hawkins (2000) an “e-book is the contents of a book made available in an electronic form.”

The examples above are different formats/mediums that enable one to read a book. Now does the format really matter? Or does one format actually enhance your understanding of the subject matter?
What’s the latest buzz around the e-book versus the print book debate? Let us start by looking at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the print book and the e-book.

For one, print books are easily obtainable from various bookstores at our malls and at our universities. Print books can be easily transported and they don’t normally cause significant strain to the eyes. And what about those lovely picture, photo and coffee table books? A coffee table book is intended to sit on a coffee table where guests sit and are entertained, inspiring conservation or alleviating boredom.

Can the Amazon’s kindle, Jinke’s Hanlin reader, or the Sony’s eReader series have the same aesthetic appeal?

Another important factor to bear in mind is that the print books don’t need electricity to work. They can be read anywhere with sufficient light and are perfect travelling     companions for exactly this reason.

E-books also have some useful advantages, and this is after    taking into consideration one already has an e-book reader. 

 They are easily readable and most e-book readers offer zoom functions, font resizing, and built in lighting where external lighting conditions essentially become meaningless and allow you to read whenever and wherever you like.
The great function of an e-book is that they are amazingly portable and you are able to carry multiple books on one device. How exciting it is to be able to carry a copy of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, Melville’s “Moby Dick”, Bessie Head’s “Maru” and a range of your university prescribed set books on this single device?

Taking our environment into account, e-books are most definitely more environmentally friendly, hence allowing us to save our trees. Disposing of an old e-book is simple and   costless, as the reader just deletes it.

Let us now consider the obvious disadvantages of print and e-books.
Print books are bulky and heavy. Carrying our university books around campus can cause tremendous strain on our backs. Packing a range of recreational reading matter when going on holiday can take up much space in our luggage.

The disadvantages of e-books are that they are obviously useless without an e-reader. Then there is that question about battery life to consider. And what about those nasty software bugs in the reader that can cause it to freeze up? You could also lose all of your books if you lose or damage your e-reader.
I am still undecided on what format will actually suit me. Would I prefer to curl up with a screen instead of a print book? What are your thoughts?

Hawkins, D. T. 2000. Electronic books: a major publishing revolution. Online 24(4): 14-28. http://libres.curtin.edu.au/libres12n2/ebooks.htm (Accessed 30 August 2012).

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The murky debate around Shades of Grey - should we buy?

Margaret Bass

For many years, because I am the Literature Librarian and because I have a strong interest, it has been my task to buy fiction firstly for the Pietermaritzburg main library and now, more recently, for the E.G.M. Library at Howard College. You would be right in thinking that this is a simple task as it is guided by clearish library guidelines - but it remains controversial and I often find myself questioning the role of the library in providing leisure reading to its users and more often than not, defending my choices.

According to our guidelines, fiction of 'literary merit' should be bought. This is in itself is fraught and while this is spelt out in some detail - I often find myself defining and defending (to myself and others) what in fact this entails. In addition, we are supposed to be guided by the following:

  • winners of prestigious literary prizes (and those on the short lists)
  • writers attracting positive attention in quality review journals
  • established writers with strong literary reputations
  • most South African fiction
  • no genre or pulp fiction

Then the whole debate arises as to why we keep fiction at all. We are a university library and shouldn't we be offering leisure reading to extend and educate? Or,  knowing the parlous state of reading levels in our country shouldn't we be luring them in by all the means at our disposal? I no longer have the answers....
Light or popular fiction can and should be borrowed from the public library and the drastic cuts in our budgets makes me look carefully at every title I buy. I have to strongly motivate for monies to be put aside for fiction every year - this year Howard College got none, but I managed to make some money from moonlighting activities (before I am fired, these were library-related!) and I used this.

This whole argument once again raised its head when I was asked by a bunch of students how they can get their hands on 'Fifty Shades Darker' the second title in the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trilogy. This title, ordered by another campus library, has not even arrived in the library but users had already heard about it. By the way, this book has already proved its worth - the students had to be given a tutorial on how to use our online catalogue (OPAC) in order to find the book.

For anyone who doesn't yet know - the trilogy, described by the New York Times as 'mommy porn' has broken all publishing records both electronically and in its print format, flies out of bookshops (in South Africa it keeps getting sold out), and is being read by anybody and everybody. Public libraries are limiting borrowing times on the books and are having to order extra copies, yet even so, there are long waiting lists.

Of course it flouts every single one of our guidelines; it has absolutely zero literary merit, its plot is formulaic, it has certainly won no literary prizes (does the fastest selling published item of 2012 count?) and it fits right smack into its specific genre. If you dont believe the literary merit part, examples of the standard of writing abound on the internet - see

I am so tempted to spend my hard won fiction allocation on a couple of sets of the trilogy for the Howard College library. The thought of a constant stream of users coming into the library to borrow, reserve or read the books is too attractive to dismiss (the turnover will be quick - they are fast reads - apparently you can't put them down). On the way to to the issue desk they might notice that the library is quite congenial, has other great books in it, and has librarians who also like to have fun.

Once begun on this path who knows where it will end? Readers may move on to Mills and Boon, and then on to the Twilight Saga and then? - instead of  E.L. James, Henry James?

Monday, 6 August 2012

 Trends in Academic libraries in the United States :  my personal  observations by Shorba Harkhu,  Senior Librarian: Life Sciences Library, Pmb.

I was part of a group of fifteen librarians from the universities of Cape Town, Wits, Pretoria, Rhodes, and Stellenbosch who spent just over two months in the United States this year. My visit, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, involved a two-week training programme at the Mortenson Centre for International Library Programs at the University of Illinois followed by a seven-week stint at the Albert R. Mann Library, one of twenty one libraries that form part of Cornell University.I will include some of the trends evident in the libraries that we visited.
Fundraising, Renovations and Cafeterias 
Fundraising is the norm at most academic libraries in the US. Some libraries have a fundraising officer in charge of raising donations or it is entrusted to the library director. Gifts and bequests are received from individuals, alumni, friends, parents, students, staff, and faculty.These gifts can come from any one individual, family, trust, or foundation. The two libraries that we visited, the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago and the Thompson Library, the main library at Ohio State University were renovated with monies obtained through endowments. An amount of $25 million was donated by billionaire businessman Joseph Mansueto towards the construction of the main wing of the University of Chicago.

An outstanding feature of this library is the impressive glass and steel domed building under which lies an automated shelving system stretching four storeys. The Thompson Library was renovated at a cost of $109 million. This library was closed for three years during the renovation period. Services, however, were not compromised. The ideas around the renovation project preceded the actual physical process by ten years. This is indicative of how much planning is needed for such a project. Several feasibility studies were undertaken and input from students, staff and faculty was included right from the beginning. These libraries and some of the others that we visited were created with the user in mind which included areas for quiet reading, studying over a quick meal (!) (Thompson Library) or preparing for group projects. Other features that were carefully considered were aspects of design, decor and comfort. Students need their coffee, and every library has a cafeteria.  

  Remote storage
Academic libraries in the US use high-density storage facilities to house lesser-used library materials. Off-site storage is actively pursued and collections are not readily weeded as in SA. Researchers thus have a wider pool of material to draw from. The remote storage at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) comprises state-of-the-art high-density shelving which is 4 storeys high and which needs a forklift to retrieve material. Library users can place requests for items via the Library’s online catalogue, and the turnaround time is 24 hours. The Mansueto Library uses an Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS), which is a high-density automated shelving system 4 storeys underground. The books are stored in metal bins and are arranged by size rather than library classification. Material requested is transported by a robotic crane to the circulation desk. It takes about 15 minutes from the time of request to the point of collection. 

Academic libraries in the US are constantly striving to explore new ways of using digital technology in providing for the continuing preservation and accessibility of information. All the libraries that we visited hold a collection of sophisticated digital equipment. These include scanners that can undertake the digitisation of rare and fragile material and digital cameras that can take high-resolution digital images of book and paper material.  Libraries also digitise material in 3D. Most of the libraries use DSpace for their institutional repository and ContentDM for their digital library. They find ContentDM a suitable platform for hosting all kinds of digital content, including collections of artefacts, music, maps and photographs. In addition to digitising their own content, libraries scan on demand and also run a number of digitisation projects for other institutions such as cultural institutions and smaller museums or libraries.

Assessment is an important feature in American libraries as there is increasing pressure on libraries to prove their worth. The focus has shifted more on assessing services than collections. We met with Paula Kaufmann, University Librarian at UIUC who discussed new trends in academic libraries and related how she and her staff had to review their service models. They paid attention to the ‘culture’ of their institution and their new service model included some of the following:

       Meeting emerging needs of researchers
       Collaboration with people across campus – “campus-wide solutions for
         campus-wide problems”
       Data management and curation
       Active fundraising

Similarly, librarians at the Engineering, Math and Physical Sciences Libraries at Cornell University found that their researchers were mainly using online resources. They took the bold step of getting rid of all of their print collections by going virtual. Their print collections were moved to other Cornell University libraries and their library website had to be redesigned to reflect only online resources. Libraries also do a great deal of usability testing. At Mann Library usability testing of software is done by students who are rewarded with pizza, money or gift vouchers from the cafe.

Mobile technology

Mobile technologies are readily available in academic libraries. Mann’s mobile website provides streamlined access to the most heavily used library services such as the library catalogue, course reserve readings and laptop availability. Ohio State University has a mobile app that includes everything that Ohio State has to offer from athletics to libraries.  UIUC offers a mobile website that provides access to core library services which includes the ability to search the library’s catalogue, find library locations and hours, and text librarians.

Embedded librarians
In some of the libraries that we visited librarians have formed a strong working relationship with their departments. Some examples of embedded librarianship include collaborating with academics to integrate library resources into class assignments and teaching information literacy skills. Librarians are also virtually embedded and are available via email, instant messaging and online chat. Libraries in the US are also faced with the problem of academics being resistant to integrating the library into their academic programmes as well as students lacking core information competency skills. Librarians are pursuing various initiatives to overcome this. One such initiative was the Cornell Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative (http://infocomp.library.cornell.edu/). The aim of this initiative was to work with academics to integrate research skills into the classroom and the curriculum through the redesign and creation of assignments for undergraduate courses. 

In conclusion, given the staff, resources and facilities that they have, academic libraries in the US have much more to offer to their students and academic staff than we do here in SA. We may offer the same services, have similar issues and challenges, but American librarians are much more proactive and innovative from top-down.  

Friday, 6 July 2012

Referencing is a nightmare! Does referencing style really matter?

Teaching the basics of bibliographic management packages to various groups of students and checking endless bibliographies of student theses, has highlighted their confusion surrounding referencing in general and the referencing/citation of electronic records such as journal articles in particular. I am convinced that referencing is indeed an art and not a science. Why is style such an issue?
  • Students are confused when they have been given referencing guidelines for a module/discipline only to discover that there are variations of that particular style across databases and bibliographic management packages, and different modules require different styles
  •  Even more confusing is the use of URLs or database names in a bibliographic reference (and the concomitant problems of these where uniqueness and permanence or persistence are issues.)  At the other end of the spectrum is the annoying use, by students, in citations of long URLs with no other details
  • Not all databases are as accommodating as JSTOR with nifty unique short handles (URLs) per article - but is it preferable to reflect the article identifier, or the database name and/or URL or a combination?
  • Is a PDF referenced as a print or electronic item?

Digital object identifiers
One of the ways of overcoming the shortcomings of identifiers such as URLs is the use of unique identifiers which Paskin [1] describes as ‘a concise means of referencing something.’ 1586 – 1592. In 2000 the Digital Foundation Organisation launched the first applications of the Digital Object Identifier (DOI®) system using a federation of registries following a common specification. ‘The DOI System provides a framework for persistent identification, managing intellectual content, managing metadata, linking customers with content suppliers, facilitating electronic commerce, and enabling automated management of media. DOI names can be used for any form of management of any data, whether commercial or non-commercial. The DOI System is an ISO International Standard.’(www.doi.org/). DOIs are alphanumeric (can be compared to the use of barcodes) and ‘the identity of and access to an electronic information source is maintained through its DOI regardless of changes in location, format or publisher’. [2] This may be the preferred way to go in the long term and less confusing for those who have to construct references.

Academic databases and DOIs and the vagaries of referencing
Not all, but many journal databases now provide DOIs for articles. This trend towards using DOIs instead of URLs has been accommodated in bibliographic management packages such as Refworks and Endnote that include the DOI field in their templates and output style for styles that require these identifiers. Some disciplines have required the inclusion of DOIs in bibliographic references for a while whilst others are more recently on board. For example, in 2008 the American Psychological Association (APA) changed its referencing requirements, suggesting the exclusive use of DOIs where available.

Here is an example of an online article from a database (as reflected in Endnote) using a DOI only as suggested by the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide 6th edition:

Hall, A. M., & Phillips, W. M. (2006). Weathering Pits as Indicators of the Relative Age of Granite Surfaces in the Cairngorm Mountains, Scotland. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, 88(2), 135-150. doi: 10.1111/j.0435-3676.2006.00290.x.

If an article has no DOI, what then? Database name and URL?

 a) Endnote suggests the following style for the American Chemical Society (ACS):

Kretsedemas, P. “But She’s Not Black!” Journal of African American Studies [Online], 2010, p. 149-170. a9h. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=48587199&site=ehost-live>.

b)    Endnote suggests the following style for the Modern Languages Association (MLA): 

Kretsedemas, Philip. "“But She’s Not Black!”." Journal of African American Studies 14.2 (2010): 149-70 pp.  EBSCOhost<http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=48587199&site=ehost-live>.

These long URLs are really clumsy! Also, what about the referencing requirements to differentiate between preprints, online only journals, and those from databases?

Is it any wonder students are confused?
So, there are as many styles and variations of styles as there are guides produced about styles. Little wonder then that many students will only produce the five line URL. Many markers of assignments will argue that consistency is the key, but consistency of what? Consistency is still within the context of a style. Students are often expected to rigidly adhere to a style, but is this practical in an information environment that is changing so fast, referencing within a style is never exactly the same depending on which bibliographic management package is being used and why exactly should one style be preferred to another? I have not as yet found an answer as to the rationale for the myriad of styles. It can be argued that referencing style has a right to be as unique as the vocabulary of a discipline, and therefore must be mastered. The Chicago Manual of Style [3] notes that conventions vary according to preferences of disciplines, authors and publishers and needs of a work, but further adds what is the crux:  ‘regardless of the convention being followed, the primary criterion of any source citation is sufficient information either to lead readers directly to the sources consulted, or, for materials that may not be readily available, to positively identify the sources used, whether these are published or unpublished, in printed or electronic form.’ Is this not the essence of referencing and not the order of elements and where full stops and commas go?

Where use of bibliographic management packages such as Refworks and Endnote are required, lecturers/examiners may have to be more flexible in accepting variations of the generalised styles such as APA, MLA, Chicago and so on.

[1] N Paskin. 2010. Digital object identifier (DOI) system. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, 3rd ed. 1586
[2]Coghill, AM and Garson, LR. 2006. The ACS style guide: effective communication of scientific information Washington DC: ACS 317
[3] University of Chicago Press. Chicago manual of style 16th ed. 2010 655

Thursday, 26 April 2012

To buy or not to buy – the challenges of collection development : some thoughts

by Omesh Jagarnath

Developing collections

Any academic library that aims to satisfy the information needs of its academics and researchers must take great care in the management and development of its collection.

Collection Development aims to provide the right information for the right reader at the right time. The cost of books has escalated in recent years, especially in the sciences, while book budgets have been shrinking year after year. Consequently, schools and colleges have begun to feel the negative impact that this is having upon collection development. After all, university libraries aim to develop collections primarily to support the current and future instructional, research and service programs of the institution.

Some challenges

The collection development process has to be vigilantly monitored and cannot be approached in a haphazard manner. Some crucial questions to ponder are: who decides what to buy and what not to? How often is our collection really up-to-date and in support of the University's goals of teaching and learning? What happens to older editions of books and is there a process to be followed regarding removing these older underutilized titles? Then there is the question of should libraries go completely virtual and re-look at space utilization, or, perhaps invest in off-site storage facilities, a practice that is very popular in many US libraries? These are just some of the areas that upon close examination present challenges to today’s academic libraries and librarians who have to juggle their time between serving the needs of the user and collection maintenance.

Both the quality and quantity of a library’s collection is dependent upon the library’s acquisition programme, including its collection development policies and procedures. Perhaps what is needed is a regular review of our current Collection Development Policy to ensure that is flexible enough to reflect changes and trends in the university's academic programs and the overall outcomes of the institution.

At UKZN Library, collection development is viewed as a joint effort between library and faculty, with the library managing the process. Academic staff are requested to send in recommendations to the subject librarian who in turn processes the requests. In most instances, emphasis is placed upon the development of the "core" collections that support undergraduate requirements. Some schools place great emphasis on the purchasing of multiple copies of a text to be placed on reserve for students to access, while others concentrate on purchasing books in their areas of teaching. Often there is confusion as to the numbers of books allowed per student, yet the guideline states that one copy of a book per 50 students up to a maximum of five copies may be acquired.  It is not the function of the UKZN Library to circumvent the need for a student to own copies of prescribed books. Duplication of prescribed textbooks is not justified and this applies to recommended books as well. The library sometimes ends up purchasing several copies of a text to serve a handful of students, or one book to serve hundreds of students. This is purely due to a lack of communication between the librarian and the academic staff member.

One observation has been that many academics only respond to the librarian’s call to send in their book requests after they are told that their budgets will be cut the following year or it will be utilized by other departments. As a result there is a rush of book order requests by a certain cut-off date resulting in many underutilized titles being ordered.

With regards to the postgraduate experience, perhaps this is where subject librarians play an equally active role in liaising with electronic database vendors in evaluating databases and making recommendations for purchase with the support of academic staff.

And why are we intimidated by ebooks?

Somehow, the purchasing of e-books has been slow at UKZN library.  Possible reasons for this could be either that patron’s prefer a hard copy to an electronic one; or the concept has not been well marketed. Budget constraints and license agreements are other hindering factors. As much as we may be living in a techno savvy environment, how many of us are enthusiastic about reading a book online when it is so easy to grab a book off the shelf? Many US libraries have begun loaning Kindles which are preloaded with selected titles - perhaps once this trend is adopted at UKZN library they will become popular. Currently not many textbooks are available electronically which is another hindering factor as publishers battle to maximize profits.

Some Concluding Remarks

Collection Development should undergo constant review to ensure that our acquisition, weeding and retention policies are unbiased and customer focused so that our library users have access to current, relevant and authoritative information in their preferred format. We should also look at the benefits of shared collections, regular weeding and preservation of rare collections, and current trends in e-book acquisition. No matter what the trend, collection management will continue to be an activity in need of librarian expertise.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Librarians' lament

by Margaret Bass

Why are Academics so resistant to integrating the library into their academic programmes? This is a question I ask everyday as I meet hordes of students who are given assignments and tasks and who do not have the faintest clue how to start with the information retrieval process.

I do not understand how lecturers cannot see that a few basic sessions explaining what journals and books are and how to find them can have a direct impact on the quality of the assignments returned to them.  This would also go a long way in alleviating the reliance on Google and Wikipedia that students are so invested in.

There is a continuous stream of students at my door who do not understand the most basic concepts of a library, let alone finding material in it. I wonder sometimes if academic staff have any notion of the reality of working with students with these limitations. Some examples of the most common questions I am asked are:
  •  I have the number – where do I find the book?
  •  The computer says that the book is ‘on loan’ but I can’t find it on the shelf.
  •  I can’t find the green book on Industrial Relations.
  •  Where can I find the textbook on Criminology?
  •  I have my book – now what?
  •  I am a 3rd year student, I have been told use journals and I don’t know what these are and how to find them - and I’ve never been in the library…..
Do you know that many students are unable to find a book even if they have the shelf number?  The logic of the numerical sequence defeats them totally.

I am supposed to be a ‘research librarian’, trained to help users find resource materials in the bewildering world of information available in the 21st century and help them hone their research methods and strategies - yet most of my time is spent doing stuff that students should already be familiar with.  The fact that they aren’t library/information literate, we librarians are very congnisant of and have taken remedial action to rectify, by offering all kinds of interventions at different levels to attract users. However, I question whether we have the support of the academic staff  who seem  not  to understand the link between academic success and information literacy.

Please don’t get me started on post graduates! Many are totally unaware of the subscription journal databases and are quite happy to be dependent on Google for their sources. I can only think that the quality of these dissertations must be seriously compromised…

After they have spent time with librarians who show  them what is available to them in the world of information and give them the skills to use bibliographic reference managers (which by the way they love and adore as it saves them fortunes of time…) – their most common lament is “why weren’t we shown this as undergraduates?”

From my side, it feels that I am banging on about the importance of information literacy and no-one is listening. I often feel like a gate crasher when attending any discipline related activities - the perennial outsider. This is so de-motivating!  We should be working together with academic staff as a team and should not always be the afterthoughts in the academic endeavour!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Charlie's Angels try harder : coreservices@UKZNLibraries

by Helen Gordon 

Have you ever wondered how an item gets onto the shelf in your library?  Have you ever wondered how access to an electronic database is made possible?  Or are you just happy that the item is available online or on the shelf and loanable?

CoreServices is responsible for ensuring you have access to electronic resources and that the items you have ordered are purchased and made available for you to use. Acquisitions & Cataloguing@CoreServices make every effort to ensure that you the library user can access any item you need.

We at Core Services strive to make library users happy by providing an efficient and friendly service to our colleagues who order the items requested.  Core Services staff (Charlie Molepo runs the show) cater to the needs of all the UKZN libraries. We operate as a centralized team despite being housed in different UKZN libraries. We work to a high standard and hope that this results in satisfied users.

C      You Choose (lecturer, subject librarian, user)
O      We Order (subject librarians select and place orders online, using Symphony our library system, and these selection lists are attended to by Acquisitions@CoreServices). Items are ordered from approved booksellers nationally and internationally.
R       We Receive and Accession (booksellers deliver items to our department every day and our 
            dedicated team unpack the boxes and match the invoices with the items received). Items are 
            accessioned (barcoded) and sent to be catalogued.
E        We use every ounce of Effort, Energy and Enthusiasm

Charlie Molepo with E.G. Malherbe staff.
Pass for payment - invoices are sent to Finance for payment

Catalogue - items are sent to our cataloguers to make sure the records are in order according to International standards using Anglo-American Cataloguing rules, MARC21 and the Dewey Decimal system

Process - catalogued items get labelled and sent to be shelved

Result - a satisfied user when they see their item on the shelf in their library or that online access is available to the electronic resource they need. 

You get to see the book on the shelf or click on a link on your computer - but now you know that there is a whole world of activity behind the scenes...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Should professional librarians be the only cataloguers?

by Charlie Molepo

Should cataloguers be professional librarians? This has been a growing debate in the industry for some years.

In the past there was agreement that cataloguing was reserved for qualified librarians only. The question has cropped up recently as a result of library schools closing;  those that are still open only offering cataloguing/classification for a six month period as opposed to four years' training in the past; and some schools changing focus from librarianship to information and knowledge management.

At the last LIASA (Library and Information Association of South Africa) conference there was an acknowledgement from the practitioners and academics alike that cataloguing is fast becoming a scarce skill in the industry. It was also clear that academic departments are reluctant to teach cataloguing as it was done in the past, with an added problem of a scarcity of academics to teach the subject. One institution mentioned that they could not find a single candidate to fill a post to teach cataloguing skills. Are these challenges unique to South Africa?

Below is the executive summary of a study undertaken by the Primary Research group that was forwarded to me by a colleague and I thought I would share it with you.

On their website this group define themselves as a Group that publishes research reports, surveys and benchmarking studies for businesses, colleges, libraries, law firms, hospitals, museums and other institutions. Our benchmarking studies allow institutions to compare their budgets, managerial decisions, technology purchases and strategic visions to those of their peers, and to identify best practices. Our market studies, based on substantial primary and secondary research, assist our clients in identifying opportunities and threats.

Primary Research Group has published: The Survey of Academic Library Cataloging Practices, 2011-12 Edition, ISBN 157440-178-5.

The study looks closely at how academic libraries deploy their cataloging personnel, how they use librarians and cataloging technicians, and how large are cataloging and technical services departments. It helps library administrators to answer questions such as: What kind of work is performed by cataloging librarians and paraprofessionals in different types or organizations? How much cataloging work is outsourced? How are special collections handled? Are cataloging staff growing or shrinking? How does administration assess work quality? What are considered reasonable measures of excellence? To what extent is cataloging of eBooks or AV materials outsourced and how does this compare to other types of materials?

Some findings of this 160-page reports show that:
  • Copy cataloging was routinely performed by paraprofessionals in 81.43% of libraries in the sample, and by librarians in 58.57% of them.  

  • Master bibliographic record enhancement in OCLC was performed by paraprofessional support staff in 30% of academic libraries, and by professional librarians in 75.71% of academic libraries.

  •  On average, the libraries in the sample anticipated the retirement of 0.50 professional librarians performing cataloging functions within the next five years, with community colleges anticipating the fewest, a mean of 0.10.

  • 28.57% of private colleges and 17.95% of public colleges considered turn-around time very useful as an indicator of cataloging work quality, including 33.33% of community colleges and 25% of 4-year degree granting programs.

  • 45.71% of academic libraries outsourced authority control in the form of obtaining new and updated authority records. This outsourcing occurred most often in private colleges and in higher level academic institutions, as in level 1 and level 2 Carnegie Class research universities, 73.33% of which had outsourced this work.
It is quite clear from the above executive summary that cataloguing challenges are not peculiar to South Africa. For us to be able to meet the needs of our users, we need to think out of the box. The irony is that while we place much emphasis on a university qualification as the entry requirement for cataloguers, it is the Universities of Technology that still teach cataloguing as universities used to.

Maybe we need to develop cataloguers as artisan rather than academic professionals, i.e. cataloguing would be a vocational skill. I do not see universities allocating more than 20 Credits to cataloguing - in the past it constituted almost, if not more than 50% of the library qualification. The library Association can then train cataloguers using the apprenticeship model. This would be very useful even for qualified librarians who are currently not taught cataloguing.

It makes you think doesn’t it?