Production Benchmarks for Catalogers in Academic Libraries: Are We There Yet?

Article excerpt

This paper examines existing library and personnel literature to determine whether any strides have been made among academic libraries in determining cataloging productivity benchmarks. The perceived importance of performance evaluations based on quantitative and qualitative standards is explored, as is the intended effect of established cataloging production norms. The pros and cons of cataloging benchmarks are analyzed from four different perspectives: library administration, library human resources, cataloging managers, and cataloging staff The paper concludes that additional research is needed in order to determine whether established production cataloging benchmarks are feasible and meaningful within academic libraries.

**********

In the library field, we seem to have been generally hesitant to discuss productivity, and even more reluctant to compare libraries or staff in terms of individual or institutional production data. While the library literature has regularly publicized figures for library budget dollars allocated and works circulated per year per capita of user population, little attention is given to reporting library production data linked to cost or staff and attempts to propose the publication of library performance data for purposes of comparison have not been popular propositions.--Judith Jamison Senkevitch, "Analyzing Productivity in the Era of Accountability."

With increasing frequency, heads of cataloging operations within academic libbraries receive surveys in the mail, e-mail messages from colleagues, and read postings on electronic discussion lists that begin:

   Within the Technical Services Department here at X University, we
   have started to grapple with the idea of setting general production
   benchmarks for cataloging staff. I would appreciate if you would
   share any standards or benchmarks that you currently have in place
   or the outcome of debate.

In the current environment of dwindling budgets and increasing focus on individual and institutional accountability within the workplace, renewed discussions about establishing formal cataloging productivity benchmarks are not surprising. And yet, the debate surrounding this topic appears to be just as controversial today as it was three decades ago.

A benchmark is a standard by which something is measured or evaluated. The term "production benchmarks" refers to an established set of criteria developed to measure and compare quantitative and qualitative output. In the manufacturing world, benchmarking helps determine the standards that will be used to create a product, evaluate how effectively the product or the individuals creating the product meet the defined standards, and increase overall productivity. Cataloging production benchmarks are the standards or norms designed to evaluate cataloging output. Cataloging output is defined in terms of quantity (number of items cataloged) and quality (accuracy and uniformity of the intellectual work performed). This paper examines the various issues surrounding the implementation of cataloging production benchmarks in academic libraries from several perspectives.

No one would argue with the idea that managers of cataloging operations are responsible for making sure that their staff are fully trained, have the tools they need to do their jobs, and are organized effectively, and that workflows are smooth. All would agree that a successful manager monitors the situation within a cataloging unit on a daily basis to ensure that the work is getting done and that backlogs do not develop. This cannot be accomplished without managers focusing much of their attention on cataloging productivity. However, when asked to define or set measurable cataloging production benchmarks, many managers are reluctant or unable to do so.

As a profession, we are often accused of spending too much time focusing on the quality of the final cataloged product instead of on than quantity of cataloged records we produce. …