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AE 10: Technical Services

This Administrative Essential covers:

  • Technical services
  • Library automation
  • Selection and acquisition of materials
  • Organization and cataloging of library materials
  • Circulation of materials
  • Interlibrary loan
  • Delivery of materials
  • Processing and repair of library materials
  • Sources of additional information

Technical services

Technical services are the "behind the scenes" activities that a library undertakes to effectively deliver library services to the public. These services include the processes and procedures which are necessary to order library materials, to classify and catalog those materials, to get the materials ready to put on library shelves. These services also include the activities that are necessary to control the lending and return of library materials. Other technical services include the activities related to acquiring materials from libraries in behalf of your library users and the repair and preservation of library materials.

Library automation

How technical services are carried out in your library is significantly impacted by the nature and degree of automation that exists in your library. Library automation impacts the acquisition, cataloging, circulation, and interlibrary loan functions of your library. Your library may have a stand alone automated library system or your library may be part of a shared automated library system which is administered or coordinated by your public library system. The specific functions included in the automated system will vary depending on the vendor and the functions which your library has selected. Only a few public libraries in Wisconsin do not have any of their library functions automated. If your library doesn't participate in a shared automated library system, it is likely that it will consider doing so sometime in the future.

Library automation decisions are among the most important you and your library board will make. These decisions are often expensive, but they have the potential for significantly improving library service to your community. The implementation of a library automation project whether a shared system or a stand alone system will also be one of the most challenging projects you will undertake as a library director. Fortunately, your public library system and DLT are able to offer you significant assistance with library automation.

Selection and acquisition of materials

You and your staff will be responsible for selecting library materials to add to the library's collection. These decisions should be consistent with the library's collection development policy (see AE 24: Collection Development). Once you have made your decisions on what to purchase, you will need to order the items. In most instances this will be through a commercial book and media jobber. There are several large national library jobbers. These jobbers offer libraries significant discounts on the retail prices of books and other library materials. The State of Wisconsin through DLT negotiates group discounts for Wisconsin libraries. Depending on the jobber, the actual ordering process may occur online using the Internet. If your library belongs to a shared automated system, the system may have an acquisition module that facilitates the ordering process.

Although your library will be purchasing most of its materials, many libraries receive materials as gifts. Many of these materials are not suitable for adding to the library's collection, and can be placed in one of the library's book sales. However, it may be worthwhile to add some gifts to the collection. Many libraries expand their collection of popular paperback books this way.

Organization of library materials

You will want to organize library materials in your library so that the library user can easily find what they are looking for when they come to the library. A key tool for making this possible is the library's catalog of library materials. Traditionally this catalog has been a card catalog in which information about a book or other item is printed on a paper index size card. As libraries have automated, the card catalog has been increasingly replaced by an online public access catalog.

Whether your library has a physical card catalog or an online catalog, your library will need to acquire a catalog record for each item that is added to the library's collection. The catalog record will have complete bibliographic information on the item. If the record is in electronic format, it will almost always conform to a universal standard for catalog records called MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging). Your library can obtain catalog records in several ways.

Some of the major library jobbers will supply catalog records for items in your order in either printed or electronic format.

If your library participates in a shared automated library system, it will be relatively simple to just add your library's holding to an existing library record if the item to be cataloged is already in the shared catalog.

There are also software programs that enable you to capture catalog record information in MARC format from large catalog databases such as that of the Library of Congress that are accessible over the Internet.

A key part of the catalog record is the classification system used to arrange materials on the shelf in your library. The classification system which your library uses is probably the Dewey Decimal Classification System.

Circulation of materials

A significant part of the business of your library is the circulation or lending of library materials. Your library's circulation system plays a key role in making the lending and return of library materials efficient and in maximizing the use of your library's collection. Circulation is the function that is usually automated first in a library, and it is likely that it is automated in your library. If your circulation system is part of a shared automated library system, you and your staff will receive support from the owner/coordinator of the shared system. If you have a stand alone system, you and your staff will be responsible for dealing with any problems relating to maintaining the system.

If your library's circulation system is not automated, you will need to be aware of the need to collect circulation statistics in a number of different categories and to establish reliable procedures for doing this. These statistics are important in tracking non-resident library use which may be required for reimbursement.

It is important that your library have in place good policies and procedures relating to the lending and return of library materials (see AE 15: Policies and Procedures). Policies need to be established for the loan periods for various types of materials and on whether fines will or will be not levied for the late return of materials.

Interlibrary loan

Your library, no matter how large, will not have sufficient resources to meet all the needs of your library's users. Libraries have traditionally been willing to share their resources with other libraries through interlibrary loan. In taking advantage of interlibrary loan in behalf of your library's users it is important to remember that interlibrary loan is intended to supplement not replace your library's collection. It should not be abused. Respect the generosity of other libraries that loan their materials and return them promptly.

Wisconsin has established regional and statewide networks to facilitate the sharing of library resources. At the regional level, it is your public library system that has the primary responsibility for this function. At the state level, DLT has that responsibility. DLT also will refer interlibrary loan requests to libraries in other states.

If your library participates in a shared automated library system, interlibrary loan between libraries that participate in the system will be relatively simple. Often the library user will initiate the interlibrary loan process, and the item will be delivered to your library (see "Delivery of library materials" below) for pick up by the library user who requested it.

Delivery of materials

One of the benefits your library receives from the public library system which it participates in is the delivery of materials between libraries within the system area and within the state. Some public library systems own their own delivery vehicles and provide staff to operate the delivery system. Other public library systems contract with another entity to provide this service. Some library systems may charge for supplementary delivery services.

The delivery systems which operate within a system area are connected to a statewide delivery service which is operated by the South Central Library System under contract with Wisconsin's other 16 public library systems and the DLT .

Sometimes it may be necessary to use the mail system instead of delivery to acquire and return materials through interlibrary loan.

You and your library staff need to take proper precautions to insure that materials sent through the delivery system are properly packaged and handled to avoid damage to the materials.

Processing and repair of library materials

Your library will need to have in place a procedure for processing new library materials. Most major library jobbers have an option to purchase pre-processed library materials, and this is a good option for smaller libraries.

Those materials in your library that receive a high level of use will inevitably suffer wear and tear. You will need to make decisions as to whether to repair or discard such items. If the decision is to repair the item, there are several major library supply vendors that can provide you with the materials to repair book and other items in your collection.

Sources of additional information

Administrative Essential 24: Collection Development

Your library system staff:

Division for Libraries and Technology staff:

Chapman, Liz. Managing Acquisitions in Library and Information Services. Third Edition. 2004.

Administrative Essential: A Handbook for Wisconsin Public Library Directors was prepared by the Division for Libraries and Technology. © Copyright 2008 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Duplication and distribution for not-for-profit purposes permitted with this copyright notice.