Shelf-ready books: an efficient LEAN way of working, or the death knell to a cataloguer?

The idea of buying in shelf-ready books has recently been aired in the hallowed halls in which I work.  I have to admit that my initial reaction to this idea was to inwardly scream and run to the hills tearing my hair out (so, not an impartial reaction then).  I don’t really know exactly what shelf-ready books would do to my job, and am thus embarking on some research to find out just what it is all about. I am planning to do some literature searches, contact people/organisations who have already been through the process, and find some examples, and attempt to find out what the pros and cons really are.  This blog post is me kicking myself into action!

As you can probably tell I seem to be erring on the old-fashioned cautious hippy side of cataloguing (Its all about the books, maaan!!!). 

Crystal Tipps - definitely a hippy, maybe not a librarian

So, perhaps someone out there can tell me, would the introduction of a shelf-ready book system mean that I could actually get round to embarking on all those retrospective cataloguing projects that are lurking in the background?  Would the system be more cost-effective and efficient, bringing a better service to the users (staff and students)?  Would I be a more efficient LEAN mean working machine?

Or would there become a day, when those retrospective cataloguing projects would dry up, when the job as I currently know it would change unrecognisibly, and leave me staring, dry-eyed and bored at a screen checking repetitive inputted data that bears no relation to books, and feeling that the heart had been ripped out of my cataloguing soul?

I am so obviously biaised that I would like to hear from people who really know what they are talking about, and who have been through the process, please enlighten me!

I’m not a total technophobe or averse to change and modernisation; I try to involve myself in as many different projects as possible, and I’m embracing the cpd23 thing with gusto.  I accept we have to move with the times, and that needs and services are vastly different to even ten years ago.  I’m not a complete dinosaur;  just a bit scared…



Filed under Cataloguing, Librarianship

6 responses to “Shelf-ready books: an efficient LEAN way of working, or the death knell to a cataloguer?

  1. Anonymous Coward!

    We moved to partial shelf-ready this summer (we can’t go fully shelf-ready because we have an odd classification scheme) and I share a lot of your concerns. We’re already talking about reclassification projects that would enable full shelf-ready, and we will be training our library assistants in copy cataloguing and bib editing soon. I fully expect that our professional cataloguer roles here (not everywhere) will be lost within 5 years, despite the potential for our skills to be employed on other exciting projects, such as providing metadata for the new repository and suchlike.

    All that said, I can see why this is happening. Given the cuts in H.E. budgets it is inevitable that we’ll lose (even more) staff, and the introduction of high tuition fees makes it likely that those staff will be lost in back office, non-student facing roles. I’m sad for cataloguing as a skill because I love it so much, but I am already trying to diversify into other areas of library work through training and projects to help me find a job when mine isn’t there any more. I’m concerned about the quality of metadata in our catalogue once this happens, but given the move towards keyword searching through resource discovery platforms I’m not totally certain that it will be the end of the world for our users. Some libraries, particularly legal deposit ones, will always need professional cataloguers though, so it isn’t all doom and gloom!

    Apologies for the long post! I’m not averse to change at all and I am excited about where this will take me on a personal and professional level, but can’t deny that I am a little bit worried about what I’ll actually be doing in the future. I’ll be interested to hear positive shelf-ready experiences from cataloguers though!

    • Don’t apologise for a long post, its great to hear people’s opinions and experiences. Our cataloguing team is already working on our repository (but its just not as interesting as cataloguing books!). Being able to diversify and accumulate new talents/skills does seem the way forward though.

  2. One of the libraries in our consortia is going towards shelf ready. And my reaction is the same as yours. GAH. How will this affect findability? I am ALWAYS using a different Dewey # than what is recommended, asking librarians where to put it if I can’t find a comparable title in our catalog. I see how you could save $ in the short term, but are we then making it harder for librarians and patrons to find things? Cataloging is a local practice…a public service. And I learned that FROM the librarian who retired from the library that is now doing shelf ready books. I wish I lived in Wales, your project sounds great.

    –p/t cataloguer, p/t wrangler of children in libraries, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

    • I too am always amending the catalogue records we get for our books, I upgrade to a lesser or greater extent every single one I touch. I know the libraries where the books go pretty well (I’ve worked in them) so I have a good idea what works best for them with classification. I agree its a local practice. I was also going to say, please come along to our seminar anyway…and then I saw where you were!

  3. Esther Arens

    Until recently I worked in a public library that had gone shelf-ready years ago. First, I didn’t like the idea that there’s no “proper” quality control with all those bib records coming into the system without human intervention. But then there’s always legacy data and colleagues doing things slightly differently. And I have to say that the descriptive data from certain suppliers are really quite good. On the other hand, some of the manually entered data from poorly trained staff were much, much worse! I think, we’ll come to accept records that are not exactly like we’d done them – and the scope for “cataloguer’s judgment” in RDA reflects a reality that’s been there all along imo.
    As for classification, I agree that this is much more of a problem and requires constant checking when done externally – in our branches there was a procedure for front line staff to check when receipting new stock. Also, specifications were regularly reviewed – internally and with the suppliers.

    I think shelf-ready services can work but there’s still a lot left to do for cataloguers.

    Btw, CIG has organised an event on Shelf-ready for 5th Dec which will be announced next week on the blog:


  4. Thanks for your comments Esther, I am looking forward to seeing the details for the CIG event, could be just what I need!

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