NETSL Annual Conference: Presentation Materials

Last October, the New England Technical Services Librarians Group held their annual conference as part of NELA. Some of the presentations can be found on NELA’s website for the conference at:

The program consisted of:

  • “Trends, trends, trends: Innovations in technical services, collections and more”: Presenters Margaret Lourie and Stephen Spohn examined changes taking place in technical services. Such changes include the increase of e-resources, the changing nature of the library catalog, or patron driven acquisitions.
  • “MARC records in North America”: Presenter Ruth Fischer talked about the study commissioned by the Library of Congress. This study examined cataloging records and the economics of current practices.
  • “Saving today: Adventures in preserving born-digital material”: Presenters Andrea Goethals and Wendy Marcus Gogel described what preservation means at Harvard. One of the more interesting discussions covered what to do with email.
  • “Technical services consolidation”: Presenter Robert Wolven talked about how Columbia and Cornell have begun sharing technical services staff as part of the 2CUL consolidation experience.
  • “Open source integrated library systems”: Presenters Stephanie Chase and Pamela Soren Smith described their experiences of migrated from vendor ILS to the open source ILS Koha and Evergreen.

All of these presentations were good. What struck me, however, is that the majority of the presentations focused on the mantra of how to do less with less. Margaret and Stephen concluded that trying to do more with less was not feasible. Therefore, it is necessary to do less with less. Examples of this involve incorporating such things as shelf-ready, patron-driven acquisitions, or automating the process with more batch record loads. This saying of “doing less with less” was echoed in Bob Wolven’s presentation. If an institution doesn’t have the staff to complete a project, then what about sharing staff? The example of the 2CUL project was the Slavic language cataloger, who cataloged materials for both Cornell and Columbia. The idea of doing less with less came up again with the presentation on open source ILS. The presenters explained how their vendor ILS were draining resources. With the move to their new open source ILS, they saved money. However, at one institution, this savings was at the expense of not being having an acquisitions module -a definite sign of doing less with less.

Over the 2 day period, I heard that doing more with less wasn’t working and technical services staff should do less with less. At the end of the conference, the one nagging question that stuck with me was: How far does one go with doing less with less? In asking this question, I realized that doing less with less is not really new to technical services. Staff in this area of librarianship has seen a considerable drop. Bob Wolven talked about a close to 35% decrease in technical services staff over a decade or perhaps a little more at Columbia. Many technical services departments not only have experienced a reduction in staff but already implement shelf-ready, patron-driven acquisitions, no longer do check-in, and do more batch record loads. Despite this, some of these departments are still stressed and overworked. Furthermore, many of these “doing less with less” projects actually take more time, such as batch record loads, which do not always go as planned. So is this just a passing phase? When is doing less with less no longer viable? When is doing less with less a disservice to users? I don’t have the answers to these questions. Unfortunately, neither did any of the presenters.