22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Tactics Session: Risky Business: Outsourcing Serials Cataloging

September 4, 2007 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Tactics Sessions | Leave a comment


Risky Business: Outsourcing Serials Cataloging
Faye Leibowitz, University of Pittsburgh
Reported by Kurt Blythe

Leibowitz’s presentation arose from her experiences managing an outsourced cataloging project for a collection of serials at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and Economics Library.  The GSPIA/Economics Library’s serials and monographs ostensibly serve a wide range of research, but were nonetheless difficult to access.  These materials had not been included in Pittsburgh’s previous retrocons, and were only accessible via an incomplete shelf list.  Beyond that, the collection was classified using a local, hybrid classification system.  In point of fact, access was primarily afforded through browsing.

When the decision was made that the collection needed to be made accessible from the online catalog, grant funding was sought for an outsourcing project.  After analyzing the collection to determine the scope of the project, Leibowitz won a $75,000 grant.  This grant would fund the outsourcing of approximately 7500 volumes of which 1200 were serial in nature.  OCLC TechPro contracted to do the retrocon inside of one year.

Since the shelf list was incomplete, actual volumes were shipped to OCLC in lieu of cards; but only those volumes embodying major changes or first and last issues of a run were sent.  This process required a great deal of prep work to be done by Pitt’s library staff.  Students performed much of this work, checking OCLC to discover if any records relating to materials in the collection were already held, to follow up on 780 and 785 fields, and forwarding all available information to a librarian for vetting.  Few title changes were found, and most serials consisted of short runs or single issues.  OCLC was instructed to use CONSER records when available and serials were flagged before returning to the library so that holdings could be added.

Leibowitz’s experiences illustrate that serials cataloging is much more difficult to outsource than monographic cataloging.  The application of a cataloger’s judgment in determining major changes versus minor or recording designations breeds inconsistencies in treatment.  These inconsistencies are compounded when OCLC’s catalogers evaluate each volume of a title separate from the others rather than in the context of a library catalog, resulting in volumes from the same title being variously cataloged as serials and monographs.  Often, OCLC’s decisions conflicted with Pittsburgh’s policies.  At the same time, the student labor used in the preparatory phase and to process volumes returning from OCLC was often unsatisfactory due to the steep learning curve associated with training students and their lack of knowledge.

In the end, Leibowitz determined that she may have been better served had she been able to use her funding to hire full-time temporary workers to do the retrocon in-house.  With so much work required of the outsourcing institution before and after materials were handled by OCLC, and with the knowledge of students generally insufficient to the task, combined with the judgment of offsite catalogers sometimes in conflict with that of the outsourcing institution’s policies, it seems preferable to keep serials at home.


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