Uncanny Valley: Acquisitions Processes Between Selecting and Cataloging / Chantal Sulkow

On Friday October 19, 2018, the New York Chapter of ARLIS/NA and NYTSL (New York Technical Services Librarians) co-sponsored the event “Uncanny Valley: Acquisitions Processes between Selecting and Cataloging”, hosted by the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Moderated by William Blueher of the Watson Library, the lightning-round session asked presenters from five local institutions to respond to the prompts: “What part of your acquisitions process works well? What part of your process would you like to work better? What is one takeaway you have after examining these processes as a whole?” The goal of the session was to get librarians talking about the nuts and bolts of acquisitions processes- a topic that is often overlooked in articles and conference sessions.

Lauren DeVoe and Matthew Pavlick spoke about how The Columbia University Libraries, in coordination with the Cornell University libraries, created the Pre-Order Online Form (the POOF) in order to streamline the ordering process. The POOF allows subject specialists to place orders directly to Acquisitions with all the needed information, including the appropriate OCLC record. If an OCLC record is available, the POOF will pull the record in and automatically generate a purchase order and bib record that only needs to be approved by Acquisitions in our Voyager ILS. If there is no record already available, the system will create a provisional order record with the information provided by the selector. This platform allows the ordering process to go extremely quickly and makes things more efficient. The Cornell University Libraries would provide the source code for the POOF to other institutions that may be interested in trying this platform out!

 Chantal Sulkow from the Bard Graduate Center Library touted the benefits of being a smaller institution that can respond nimbly to requests without the need for bureaucratic oversight, presenting a contrast to the other larger institutions at the gathering. Chantal spoke about the BGC Library’s practice of customizing title selection and ordering around the needs of a very specific academic community, using a less structured approach than one would in a wider university setting. Despite this practice, and following a recent migration from Millennium to Sierra, the library has recently begun looking to add more structure to define processes for finance tracking and claiming missing orders, all the while trying to strike a delicate balance between preserving efficiency vs. adding unnecessary layers of work.

John Lindaman from the Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art described ROBOT (Received Order By Ordering Team, clearly a case of the acronym coming first) receiving as a way to eliminate the need for a lot of the physical schlepping of receiving books that will ultimately go offsite by having them sent directly there by shelf-ready vendors. Based on language, subject, or other criteria, books are either selected by the vendor to go offsite directly, or selected by the orderer to be processed on the appropriate shelf-ready account. Records are loaded with an “on order” status when the books are shipped, and records are updated to status “requestable” when the books are accessioned at the offsite facility; this provides the same item-level control as annotating the paper invoice, but without the physical work.

Greg Ferguson from NYU Libraries described their new workflow for managing its e-resources acquisitions using the project management web application Jira.  Jira is designed for software development, but NYU has repurposed it to assign and track the work of its e-resources staff.  Jira allows users to attach documents, store email conversations, and group tasks by product or publisher, making it a de facto knowledge base containing licenses, title lists, processing notes, etc.  This is part of a robust set of workflows NYU is developing for all of its e-resources maintenance in Jira.  Setting up these workflows required a significant investment in time and effort, but has paid off by bringing clarity and order to a part of the library’s work that was previously difficult to handle.

Christina Peter and Mary Seem from the Frick Art Reference Library discussed the life of gifts after they are accepted by the library, including the issues, and time constraints, of de-duplication, and namely the storage and disposal of duplicates. They used two of their recent gifts as case studies: the Suhr gift from a past Frick curator that proved problematic due to the large number of out-of-scope titles and its poor condition and the Abbott-Guggenheim gift that contained many titles we didn’t have but gladly accepted. The issue of retaining the gift titles for the required three years and the search for vendors or buyers for the unwanted titles was also mentioned.

The lightning presentations were followed by a Q+A with the presenters, which became a lively 45 minute conversation involving most of the audience, with a free exchange of ideas and tips about various subjects. This was so successful that there was no need for the small-group discussion pre-planned activity. Due to the variety of institutions represented, attendees seemed to come away with many useful new ideas, and it was great as always to talk and catch up with local colleagues.

Many thanks go to Ken Soehner of the Watson Library for hosting, and thanks to our colleagues in NYTSL for co-sponsoring this very helpful discussion. A number of attendees expressed that they’d love to do this again, and we hope to arrange more events like this soon!

–Chantal Sulkow, Acquisitions Librarian, Bard Graduate Center Library

With contributions from:

  • Lauren DeVoe, Order Unit Librarian Collections, Acquisition and Description, Columbia University Libraries
  • Matthew Pavlick, Head, Monographs Acquisitions Services, Columbia University Libraries
  • John Lindaman, Associate Museum Librarian, Manager of Technical Services, Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Gregory Ferguson, Head, Resource Management, NYU Division of Libraries
  • Christina Peter, Head, Acquisitions, Frick Art Reference Library
  • Mary Seem, Assistant Acquisitions and Cataloging Librarian, Frick Art Reference Library


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