Cataloguing workflows options for Australian Libraries

1. Introduction

Libraries Australia hosted a Resource Sharing Workshop in Melbourne on the 5 February 2002. One of the workshop outcomes was that Libraries Australia would promote discussion of technical services workflows that demonstrate best practice and encourage cataloguers to address these issues. Libraries Australia engaged Rona Wade and Glenda Henderson of UNILINC Ltd. to report on cataloguing workflow options within Australian libraries generally, with a particular focus on Libraries Australia member libraries' use of the Libraries Australia system.

This paper outlines the various factors that Wade and Henderson have found impinge on cataloguing workflow across the fifteen libraries they have reviewed. Within the Australian context Libraries Australia and the National Bibliographic Database (ANBD) are key factors determining workflow. The paper outlines methods of working in the Libraries Australia environment that deliver effective and efficient cataloguing and prompt and timely delivery of information to the ANBD, both essential elements in any best practice approach to cataloguing for Australian libraries.

2. The cataloguing process

At its most fundamental level, the cataloguing process may be reduced to four basic functions

  • searching for bibliographic records to match particular titles
  • obtaining bibliographic records to be used as cataloguing copy
  • creating new bibliographic records
  • adding holdings information to bibliographic records

This breakdown of the process does not take into account the wider context within which cataloguing activities take place, nor does it take into account differences between libraries, which may result in these functions encompassing different activities. For example, copy cataloguing may be seen in one library as the simple addition of holdings information to a bibliographic record sourced from an external database without making any changes. Conversely, it may involve extensive amendments in order to comply with complex local policy requirements.

A more complete description of the cataloguing process would include upgrading of records, authority control and database maintenance, which in the Australian context may also include interaction with the ANBD. In addition, the cataloguing process quite often incorporates end processing.

Within a library, cataloguing is not done in a vacuum and staff will also be involved in other administrative, operational and service activities. In many libraries there is an integrated workflow across what is traditionally called technical services in which acquisitions and cataloguing activities are often performed by the same staff. Many libraries also employ the cataloguers' skills in reference work, interlibrary loans and other non-cataloguing activities. In most small libraries, but increasingly also in larger libraries, cataloguing staff perform other functions across the library as a regular and formal part of their duties.

3. Options for data contribution and acquisition to the ANBD

Libraries Australia provides a number of different mechanisms for enabling Australian libraries and other Libraries Australia customers of various types and sizes to both contribute data to the ANBD and to source cataloguing copy from the ANBD and other bibliographic databases.

Australian libraries can contribute data to the ANBD and acquire data from it in a number of different ways. The method or methods selected will depend on a number of factors. Options for the contribution of data include:

  • Online addition and amendment of bibliographic records and holdings statements via the Libraries Australia Search and Libraries Australia Client interfaces
  • Offline batch contribution of new bibliographic records and new or changed holdings statements using Libraries Australia's Record Import Service.

Options for the acquisition of data include:

  • Obtaining selected records using the Email Records facility on Libraries Australia Search
  • Batch downloading of records using Libraries Australia's Record Export Service
  • Downloading records via Z39.50
  • Using Libraries Australia's Products Service to acquire either one-off or regular files of records (e.g. authority record files and bibliographic changes files)

Most Libraries Australia customers use a combination of these options to complete the full cataloguing process. One scenario is that holdings information may be added directly online and the corresponding bibliographic records downloaded to the local system via Libraries Australia Record Export Service. Conversely, bibliographic records may be downloaded to the local system via Z39.50 and the corresponding holdings information uploaded regularly via Libraries Australia Record Import Service. There are many factors that will contribute to determine the particular contribution and downloading methods used by Libraries Australia customers and these are discussed in further detail in Section 5.

4. Libraries Australia workflows

There are four main scenarios currently in place among Libraries Australia customers in relation to the integration of Libraries Australia's functionality into local cataloguing workflows:

  • All cataloguing activity is carried out online using the Libraries Australia Search and Libraries Australia Client interfaces with corresponding bibliographic records then downloaded to the local library system.
  • All cataloguing activity is carried out on the local library system and then uploaded by batch to the ANBD.
  • Cataloguing activity is carried out using a mix of online and batch activity.
  • Libraries Australia is used as a source of cataloguing copy only, with no contribution of data to the ANBD.

The basic steps included in cataloguing workflows for new material, which incorporate use of the Libraries Australia software are itemised in the table below. This table lists the major stages in the cataloguing process and compares two of the scenarios outlined earlier - the full online contributor and the full batch contributor.

Function Online contributors Batch contributors
1. Search local catalogue
  • If found
Add holding in local system Add holding in local system
  • If not found
Search for cataloguing copy Search for cataloguing
2. Search ANBD
  • If found
Add holding online and down load record to local system Download record to local system. Add holding in local system
  • If not found
Go to step 3 Go to step 3
3. Search other databases  (e.g. WorldCat, Te Puna etc.)
  • If found
Download record to ANBD via Libraries Australia Client Download record to local system
  • If not found
Clone an existing record or catalogue title originally online Download record for cloning to local system. Clone or catalogue title originally on local system
4. Add holdings data Add holding to Libraries Australia online and download record to local system Add holding in local system. Batch upload bibliographic records and holdings information to the ANBD

The workflows described above do not take into account ongoing database maintenance, which is essential for effective resource sharing.

Libraries working online in Libraries Australia may amend bibliographic records using the Client software and amend and delete holdings data either using the Client or Libraries Australia Search software. Some libraries will then download the amended records to their local system while others manually update their local system.

In a batch uploading scenario holdings amendments and deletions are loaded to the ANBD via Libraries Australia Record Import Service. Support for bibliographic amendments is currently limited to the addition of new fields to records but in 2003 Libraries Australia will pilot a new service, which will enable the batch uploading of bibliographic changes.

5. Best practice workflows

Best practice cataloguing workflows are those designed to meet the objectives of the library in terms of timeliness and quality with the lowest cost. There is no single definition of best practice that would apply absolutely to every library. For example, a library that does not need to deliver material to users promptly but is subject to an imperative to catalogue to the highest standard (e.g. where data is destined for a National Bibliography), will have one definition of best practice. Another library with users waiting for ordered material to be available as soon as possible will have another definition of best practice. Each must define what its cataloguing operation should achieve and then set about developing best practice within that definition.

However, most Australian libraries face similar challenges of meeting user demands, managing staff and dealing with budget restrictions while at the same time providing a quality online catalogue and meeting commitments to the ANBD. Therefore, best practice for most libraries can be defined as achieving the quickest flow through of material at the lowest cost without sacrificing a specified level of quality.

Models of best practice will vary in different library environments. However, the one essential starting point is that the requirements for cataloguing have to be clear and well documented.

Clarity as to what any operation should achieve is a critical factor underpinning best practice. The balance between efficiency and quality needs to be addressed and priorities clarified. Cataloguing and technical services staff must have a clear understanding of what they are expected to achieve and be committed to that outcome. Formal statements are important but the crucial factor is open and consistent communication. Without a clear, library held understanding of what is required of cataloguing; it is not possible to aspire to any notion of best practice.

As a precursor to defining these requirements it is often useful to cost the operation and benchmark it with other libraries. This can help bring into focus the need for a clear definition of what is required by the library of the cataloguing operation. Once the objectives are defined any changes resulting from the benchmarking and costing process can be implemented. Best practice then requires that progress is monitored and subjected to objective analysis periodically. If this analysis includes comparison with other libraries with similar constraints, it can generate options for change to workflow, practices and policies and also help ensure the cataloguing operation remains vital and relevant.

If the objectives are adhered to and progress is monitored over time, then best practice workflows are sustainable regardless of the factors that may impinge upon the detail of the day to day processes.

The following are key factors that affect cataloguing workflow and impinge upon best practice in the majority of these libraries.

Library factors

Library policies, targets and priorities for cataloguing. If a library has not thought through exactly what it requires of its cataloguing operation, the result may be that cataloguing staff are faced with conflicting requirements. They may have to work towards specified throughput targets while also working to time-consuming quality requirements and may end up meeting neither requirement or sacrificing one for the other.

Cataloguing targets can add complexity to the workflow if not handled well. It is not unusual for a library working to throughput targets to have a workflow characterised by excessive statistics keeping and offline and online record keeping and paper trails.

Cataloguing and technical services staff and managers need to have a clear and shared understanding of expectations. Time consuming requirements such as correcting every error in a copy record, extensive checking, local customisation, locally maintained manuals, extensive record keeping etc should only be undertaken if they are required to support the goals of the cataloguing operation as defined by the library.

Size of library. All sizes of libraries can have workflows characterised by extensive customisation and deviations from standard practice. In some cases this may be justifiable on the basis of a stated role but, for many, such workflows would not match any definition of best practice.

Small to medium sized libraries often have a more integrated approach to technical services than large libraries and cataloguing staff are often involved in other aspects of library operations.

Small libraries with few staff and small acquisitions budgets may have no perceived need to catalogue to standards or to contribute to the ANBD. This can obviously affect cataloguing workflow, particularly in relation to copy cataloguing. For example, records might be keyed into the local system as brief records or printed from external sources and keyed into the local system. This would not fit any model of best practice, but it may be the only perceived option. Such an approach is rarely sustainable in the long term as the throughput increases, users needs become more sophisticated and library staff seek a more active client service role. For these libraries, a viable alternative is to use Libraries Australia as an online cataloguing system, where holdings and bibliographic records are added online and bibliographic records downloaded to the local system. Using Libraries Australia does incur charges, but the reduction in staff time otherwise involved in printing and keying in of data would more than compensate.

Larger libraries generally have more options in how they design their cataloguing workflow but as funds become scarcer and there is pressure to move staff resources into the client service areas, large libraries must look to reduce the cost of technical services. In such an environment some larger libraries aim to emulate practices used in smaller libraries, such as an integrated workflow and involving cataloguing staff in other areas of the library. This is assisted by improvements in library systems and the ready availability of good cataloguing copy.

Type of library. Much of what has been said about size also applies to type of library. However, there are special pressures on major national institutions, especially those charged with the task of providing input to the national bibliography or other published products, which may well justify a greater emphasis on creating records with fewer errors and upgrading records to meet higher standards. This impinges on workflow and also has flow on effects such as an increased need for checking and quality control. Such elements would need to be built into any definition of best practice for these libraries.

Extent of resources (staffing, budgets etc). Resourcing levels have a clear impact on cataloguing workflows. Reductions in library budgets across the board have meant that Australian libraries are being asked to do more with less. This can only be achieved by introducing efficiencies in processes and practices.

Decentralised versus centralised technical services. Centralised operations are often seen as inherently more efficient than decentralised ones. However, modern library systems remove many of the impediments to decentralised cataloguing. Centralised operations can be less efficient than decentralised ones where complex cataloguing requirements have been substituted for simple ones.

Cataloguing outsourcing arrangements. Outsourcing affects inhouse cataloguing workflows in relation to the management and monitoring of the processes. In addition, libraries looking at outsourcing are quite often prompted to review their level of local customisation and non-standard practices, especially when they see how much these increase the costs.

Staff morale. Cataloguing staff who feel under undue pressure to prove the quality or timeliness of their work often resort to excessive paper trails and record keeping, both of which add complexity to any workflow.

Cataloguing factors

Customisation. The impact of customisation on the cataloguing process is the biggest single factor influencing workflow. Every type of customisation creates an exception to any basic workflow. Customisation requires that staff be specially trained, local manuals need to be maintained, and complex checking procedures introduced to scrutinize adherence to local practices. This often means that much of the cost benefit of re-using bibliographic records for copy cataloguing is lost.

These local policies are often stated as reflecting the client focus of the cataloguing operation. However, in this age of flexible learning, library users make use of many different types of libraries and there is a convincing argument for consistency in practice from library to library.

Even libraries that have simplified their cataloguing workflow considerably may not have extended that principle to classification practices; it is not unusual for more attention to be given to non-standard classification than to the basic quality control of bibliographic records.

Timing of downloading records. Bibliographic records may be downloaded to local systems either at the point of ordering material or when material arrives. This has a significant impact on both acquisitions and cataloguing workflows.

Efficiencies are achieved at the acquisitions stage if downloaded bibliographic records can be used by local system software to form the basis of the order record. This eliminates the need to manually input bibliographic details in the order record and at the same time provides the bibliographic record for cataloguing. As long as material arrives as ordered, this process is efficient and effective. However, some double handling is inevitable for cases of incorrect supply and non-supply, particularly if holdings information is added online at the ordering stage. This double handling may be deemed acceptable when weighed against the alternative of manually inputting bibliographic information into order records on the local system and then having to search for cataloguing copy after the material has arrived in the library.

Time of adding holdings. The Libraries Australia software supports searching and cataloguing functionality and provides flexibility for libraries to add holdings and download records at any point during the acquisitions/cataloguing process. This allows considerable variations in local workflows which seek to integrate Libraries Australia.

Libraries that have integrated the acquisitions and cataloguing processes tend to have acquisitions staff adding second and subsequent holdings directly to the local system. These items then receive end processing and go straight to the client or shelves. Increasingly, libraries also have these same staff add first holdings to reused records (copy cataloguing) and end process these items without passing them to cataloguers unless the record does not meet certain specified requirements. Other libraries only permit cataloguers to add holdings, even second or subsequent holdings.

Standards. The cataloguing process is well served with standards at the national and international level. These have enabled libraries to realise cost savings in the cataloguing process by reducing the need to reinvent the wheel and maintain local manuals etc. Undoubtedly the main benefit has been the ability to share cataloguing effort and make use of cataloguing copy. It is when local policies depart from these standards that complications arise. Non-standard practices in areas such as classification and the use of specialised thesauri add levels of complexity to the cataloguing process.

Such policies are often justified as meeting user needs or reflecting the client focus of the cataloguing operation but they come at a significant cost in terms of cataloguing staff time. Another reason cited for deviating from standards, particularly in the area of classification, relates to limitations on the library's physical space, especially where the library was not purpose designed. Any deviation from recognized national and international standards reduces the value of bibliographic records sourced from external databases for efficient and cost effective copy cataloguing.

Structure of technical services/cataloguing unit. Mention has already been made of the integration of acquisitions and cataloguing processes. Advances in local library systems and increased automation of the acquisitions process has facilitated this through access to records that can be used to generate order records and acquisitions modules that are similar to, and integrated with, cataloguing modules.

Most libraries could improve efficiency by integrating these functions and, for instance, allowing acquisitions staff to download records and also add holdings. This has a major impact on workflow as fewer items would then be passed on to cataloguers.

The organisation of technical services work into teams also obviously affects workflow and can have an impact upon efficiency. The team approach can be efficient, but it can also have a detrimental effect where there is no obvious direction for the team or where the workflow is based on multi-skilling, which in turn may be fragmented in its application.

Quality of cataloguing. Cataloguing best practice includes reference to quality where this is of relevance to the library's objectives. However, the pursuit of the "perfect" record can create complexities in workflow and absorb considerable resources in the process. It also begs the question of a definition of the "perfect" record.

The quest for high quality cataloguing can result in the retention of all cataloguing activities (including downloading and adding copy) by librarians and extensive checking procedures for downloaded records, upgrading, quality control (checking) of work done, record keeping and printing of records.

Types of material catalogued. It is often stated that the type of material can affect workflow, in that some material has less readily available copy, and if copy is available, it requires more upgrading and is harder to catalogue originally than other material. Music and non-book material are often cited as examples of this.

While it is recognised that original cataloguing generally takes more time than copy cataloguing, copy cataloguing for non-book items should be no more difficult than other material unless there is substantial customisation. Unfortunately, non-book material is an area where client pressure in some libraries over time has built up a complex web of customisation relating to areas such as call numbers, subject headings and annotations. Other libraries with similar needs may well use available copy without amendment. Libraries with high proportions of such material can be as efficient as those without, provided they have a workflow that encourages fast throughput and minimises customisation.

Libraries also differ considerably in how they treat semi-serial publications emanating from bodies such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, UNESCO, etc. Some libraries source or create a record for each publication, others catalogue them as serials, and others simply refer users to the relevant web sites. This can obviously have an impact on workflow and on the numbers of titles to be catalogued.

Theses are also handled differently across libraries. Some catalogue local theses to a very high level and add considerable customisation, while non-local ones receive brief records only.

Electronic resources are causing some review of workflow. Where they are being catalogued, they are often treated as exceptions and handled quite differently from other material. There is no real need for this once cataloguing staff are fully familiar with their treatment. The parallel to be drawn here is with the introduction of non-book materials to library collections some twenty-five years ago. Specialised cataloguing manuals and rules were developed to deal with this "non-mainstream" material but now current international cataloguing rules are applied effectively to all formats.

Hit rate. Libraries should generally be able to achieve an 80-95% copy cataloguing hit rate for their current acquisitions. For retrospective material post 1980 this may be higher and for older material lower. Legal deposit material of national and state libraries may also be lower.

The hit rate can affect the mix of staff involved in cataloguing, but it can also affect workflow. Some libraries put aside material for which they do not find a record and search it again after a prescribed interval or when it is in demand, rather than completing original cataloguing at the time. This results in double handling. Some libraries search and re-search for little real benefit. There comes a point when repeated searching for copy in fact costs more than originally cataloguing a title and it has an impact on the timeliness of delivery of material to the end user and can, in the worst instances, create backlogs.

Data sources. The source of cataloguing data may be a factor in designing workflow and in the efficiency of that process. Where records can be sourced from the local system, such as is the case with a shared library system, workflow is simplified and there are major savings in terms of staff time and costs.

Where libraries can go outside their local system to a rich source of good quality relevant records, preferably without having to reformulate the search, this also simplifies the workflow and reduces staff costs. Libraries Australia meets this need for most Australian libraries. Where this can be extended to other known quality relevant sources (e.g. OCLC for music, RLIN for art, or collaborative z39.50 targets), then that is also cost effective. Beyond that, it is often better to undertake original cataloguing than pursue more and more sources.

Some libraries use z39.50 broadcast searches to access library catalogues for MARC records, seeing this as a cost saver because it bypasses subscription services. However, in many instances the staff time involved can be considerable.

Contribution of data to the Australian National Bibliographic Database (ANBD). Any definition of best practice for cataloguing in Australia must include reference to the ANBD. Timeliness of contributions and maintenance of data, particularly holdings information, are important considerations for all libraries that use the ANBD. Timely data contribution, data quality and ANBD coverage directly influence the effectiveness of the ANBD as a source of copy cataloguing and enhance the efficiency of resource sharing activities between libraries.

In terms of workflow, the online addition of holdings can often be integrated into the process of obtaining copy cataloguing. Alternatively, once set up, batch loading is largely an invisible process for the library and except for working through any error reports, should have a minimal impact on cataloguing workflow. In addition to using batch loading to add holdings and records to the ANBD, the process is also an efficient and easy means of ensuring that amendments or deletions to libraries' holdings are updated on the ANBD on a regular basis in support of interlibrary lending and other resource sharing initiatives.

For those libraries using Libraries Australia as their cataloguing system new holdings and new bibliographic records appear in the ANBD at much the same time as the local system, as the same activity generates both. This makes for an efficient internal workflow and certainly meets the needs of timely and prompt contribution of data to the ANBD.

Cost factors

Staff costs. Most libraries are under pressure to maintain staff costs and to provide more services with the same staffing. This is causing many libraries to review technical services processes and the numbers and levels of staff involved.

Service costs. There are various costs associated with the cataloguing process in addition to staff costs. These can determine how cataloguing is approached and hence affect workflows. Costs may include data charges, e g Libraries Australia, RLIN and OCLC, staff training, outsourcing arrangements, library system data extract and upload software, cataloguing tools, equipment and network access.

Most libraries take such costs into account when costing their cataloguing and when fine tuning workflow. The cost to interlibrary loan sections of not maintaining up-to-date ANBD holdings should also be considered in any workflow decisions.

Libraries that contribute bibliographic or holdings data to the ANBD receive a discount on their charges for the use of Libraries Australia. Those that catalogue on Libraries Australia online also receive a free allocation of the Libraries Australia Cataloguing Client in proportion to their level of contribution.

Systems factors

Capabilities of the local library system software. A library's readiness and ability to exploit the capabilities of the local library management system to the benefit of cataloguing can have a significant impact on workflow.

Obviously, the ability to import and export data in an acceptable format is essential to any cataloguing operation. This functionality will enable the library to take advantage of Libraries Australia services such as Libraries Australia Record Export Service and Libraries Australia Record Import Service or to obtain data via utilities such as the Z39.50 protocol.

The ability to perform changes globally across a bibliographic database is advantageous in the area of database maintenance. If a library needs to transfer specific collections of material to a new location, for example, changes can be made without manual amendment of each record. Similarly, changes in subject headings and forms of name can be much more efficiently managed with a global change facility.

The reporting functions of library management software should not be ignored in the design of cataloguing workflow. Many administrative tasks associated with statistics keeping and reporting can be handled most efficiently by software reports. Similarly, many database maintenance tasks can be identified using reports and the work can then be batched for quiet times or outsourced.

Features of the cataloguing software. Whilst particular features of the software may present issues for staff using the system, this generally has little bearing on the overall efficiency of the cataloguing operation. There are some important exceptions to this namely the complexity of adding holdings, the ease of printing labels, presence of data validation and support for authority work.

6. Conclusion

A focus on best practice cataloguing workflows provides benefits for library users, libraries, the Australian National Bibliographic Database and the library sector generally.

For each library that currently catalogues at maximum efficiency and effectiveness there are others where cataloguing costs can be reduced, and in many cases halved with throughput and quality improved, by the application of a best practice approach. All Australian libraries are encouraged to determine what their cataloguing operation should achieve and then set about ensuring that desired outcome.