ALA session is here again with Midwinter approaching quickly. Typically every year, there are presentations on workflows and efficiencies. The topic is generally how to make workflows more efficient. I have to admit that I enjoy these presentations. Quite simply, efficient workflows are not only a time saver but also can improve any workplace experience. As I head off to ALA, one workflow question that might be answered is how to improve electronic workflows. In my library, we are very good with our physical materials which are accompanied by what we call a flag. The flag is just a piece of colored paper with information on it. The color and information provide a quick summary and easy visual to immediate know the status of that item in the workflow as it passes from acquisitions, receipts, cataloging, and end processing. Is it old school? Totally! Does it work? Totally! So as to waste less paper, we even use recycled paper.
But what happens for our electronic workflows? This is much more complex. First, there are several workflows. So let’s take one relating to metadata. Right now, the digital repository folks are working on a migration and request that metadata records be normalized from one metadata standard to that used in the repository. This request is part of a larger workflow in which metadata is one stop among others before the process is complete. Just like with physical items, the workflow steps are done by different people. Some of the steps are tracked in different systems; this is also very common in e-resources workflows where vendor information is found in let’s say CORAL and then the bibliographic information is in the ILS. In many instances, different units are involved as well. Unlike physical items, there is no paper flag to attach to the request. Indeed this is the problem with these metadata requests. There is the possibility of tracking that stage in the workflow, which is a good idea. To normalize metadata might involve several steps, especially if the request is for metadata that is new to the process. To use another example, think of the request for a new e-resource, perhaps an e-journal. Again, just like with the metadata request, this is a complex workflow that involves various staff and smaller steps in different systems. More than likely, and this is the case where I work, these systems are separate. One is CORAL which is a ERM tool, the other our ILS. We also use HelpSpot, which is an application for creating and tracking tickets originally created for our IT unit. We also use spreadsheets. Then we have documentation about the systems, spreadsheets, workflow steps, and units and people involved. This is a lot of documentation and a lot of documents or pieces to track workflow steps. The aim of all of this extra documentation is to provide a holistic account of the entire workflow because quite simply there is no paper flag.
As I head off to ALA this winter, I hope to attend a session on workflow efficiencies for digital resources in particular related to metadata. What and is there an equivalent to the paper flag? Are there any project management applications that solve this problem or would this just create another layer of separate tools? I believe this problem is one that we’ll encounter more because we are beginning to work with more people in and outside of the library. Especially with research data, separate systems is just the tip; there are different workflow and workplace philosophies. These are complex issues where no one solution just as a flag will work. But it’s worth a try to find something more efficient that putting a workflow together with tape – so to speak.