Time in C&RD (Technical Services)

The experiences most readers have of libraries are of gentle wanderings around the shelves,  furious frustration with the establishment’s electronic equipment and the relentless pursuit of fines conducted by ever vigilant staff. Obviously such an experience is one-sided: libraries consist of far more than their public face.  A vast amount of work is done ‘behind-the-scenes’ and most of it is vital to keeping the public services of the library in operation. Acquisitions provides new stock, cataloguers make sure the library’s collections are accessible, bar coders make electronic check-in systems possible.

My time in Technical Services was spent between four sections of the department, each with an integral role in keeping the Bodleian Library operating: the Copyright Receipt Office (CRO), Foreign Cataloguing, Acquisitions and Room 215 (where a significant number of differing tasks are completed). However different the work of each of these sections is, they are all part of essentially the same  process: the acquisition of material , its reception into the library and then preparation for public use.  In the Bodleian, this process is somewhat different to that of an ‘ordinary’ library (does such a place exist?) because of the Bodleian’s legal deposit status. This means that the Bodleian is entitled to claim any book published in the UK (and some from beyond the coasts of this sceptered isle):  publishers must send a copy of a work if it is requested. This means that Technical Services have to deal with an absolutely vast quantity of material, not all of it useful. As I found in the Rare Books department, the Bodleian’s role is not simply that of a library: it is also a museum, collecting and preserving the bibliographic heritage of the English-speaking world. Preserving untold numbers of Mills and Boon ‘erotica’ (I use the word in its loosest sense) may not seem to be important to us right now but who knows what service they might render to future generations of scholars studying subjects like gender or popular literature?

Much of my time was spent in Room 215 where I was heavily involved with the X-Backlog project. Books that arrive at the Bodleian are  usually either shelfmarked ‘M’ or ‘X’: the ‘M’ titles are usually academic works or works that will be of use to academic research whilst the ‘X’ titles are much more popular books. As such, the ‘X’ shelfmark is an umbrella that encompasses a wide variety of different material: children’s books, the autobiographies of modern luminaries such as David Beckham and Jordan, puzzle books (Sudoku as far as the eye can see), film tie-ins, self-published manuals developing elaborate conspiracy theories and travel guides. As I’ve already mentioned, the Bodleian is obliged to keep at least one copy of these books for the purposes of preservation and this means that significant resources have to be employed to making these books accessible: bibliographic records need to be imported, bar codes inserted, shelfmarks assigned, shelve space found. These were the general tasks with which I was occupied whilst in Room 215. As these tasks are time-consuming (especially when we consider the rather low-level of demand coming from readers for ‘X’ books), a backlog of several thousand books currently exists, a backlog that needs to be dealt with before the closure of the New Bodleian takes place. Naturally, this deadline has forced certain procedural changes so that it can be met. Room 215 also deals with English-language cataloging and it is also the home to the Bodleian’s liason with the Library of Congress.

The Copyright Receipt Office (CRO) deals with books when they first arrive at the library. They unpack the crates of books delivered by the porters, stamp them and register their reception and their bar code (in a process known as ‘CRObaring’). Journals are checked in and sent to the various reading rooms of the library whilst books are placed on display: the subject librarians flock to the display to pick and choose the materials they want for their collections. Necessarily the pace of work in this section is very brisk indeed due to the sheer quantity of the material submitted via copyright: it all needs to be cleared. The staff here also pursue claims that have not as yet been fulfilled by reluctant publishers. Many problems encountered by CRO staff have been caused by the recent move of the Copyright Agency from London to Edinburgh, a move which caused the loss of the experienced and well-connected staff it had accumulated.

Foreign cataloguing probably needs the least explanation: it is their job to take those new materials written in a foreign language (the Bodleian deals with occidental languages only) and establish bibliographic records for them within OLIS. In some cases, this requires making entirely new records whilst in others it simply requires that records be imported and modified for the purposes of the Bodleian. As graduate trainee, I helped them deal with the large number of auction catalogues that had accumulated in recent months: in doing so, I was given a crash course in the basic principles of cataloguing.

Last but no means least is Acquisitions. Although the Bodleian can and does acquire the majority of its stock for free through a copyright claim, this is sometimes inadequate. Copyright claims can take a very long time to produce results, which is clearly detrimental when a book or journal is urgently required by an academic or the student community.  Books also need to ordered from abroad so Acquisitions (formerly known as ‘Foreign Acquisitions’ for precisely this reason) places these as well, in countries as diverse as Argentina, Russia and Japan. So the Acquisitions staff deal with orders, some copyright claims, invoices and the receipt of foreign journals. Here the constraints of budget and the library’s financial policies are most strongly felt as the Acquisitions staff must ensure that budgetary limits imposed on book orders are adhered to by librarians. I helped process the invoices, set up claims and I also spent a day at the Taylor Slavonic, where I was able to assist with some acquisitions work due to my knowledge of Russian.

Although the work of Technical Services is far from glamorous (it is far removed from the human contact encountered on the desk and is sometimes repetitive to the point of monotony), it is utterly vital from any perspective. Without the complex systems set up and administered by technical services staff, the Bodleian could not cope with the large demands placed on it by its legal deposit status.

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