Barcoding as a Tool for Collection Use Analysis: A Pilot Project

Article excerpt

This article discusses the value of having information on how in-house use only collections are used when making collection development and maintenance decisions. It describes a pilot project in which the feasibility of using barcoding as a method for measuring journal-use patterns is tested. Technological, economic, organizational, and political considerations associated with the implementation process are discussed. Samples of screen designs and database reports are included.

Introduction

A review of the literature shows that academic libraries pursued barcoding primarily for circulation and inventory purposes. This article discusses the use of barcoding as a method for measuring the frequency-of-use patterns of bound journal collections in an academic library setting. In December 1992, Northern Illinois University (NIU) Libraries decided to fund a pilot project to test the feasibility of using barcoding technologies to measure the use of the libraries' uncataloged bound periodicals collections. If the pilot project was successful, the library would then barcode all volumes of the bound periodical collections that were used in the library and track their frequency-of-use patterns on an ongoing basis. The project involved the following activities:

* Barcoding 1,000 uncataloged bound periodical volumes using commercially produced barcode labels.

* Building a database that contained a dummy barcode field and information on each volume that had been used.

* For barcoded volumes, scanning them after each use to document their use patterns.

* Generating management reports on the use of the bound periodicals collections.

The planning, analysis, design, implementation, and maintenance of this project was done using a team approach with participants from the administration, periodical services, and systems. A team approach is frequently taken within library organizations when working on the development of automation projects, with each of the team members contributing their expertise to the project's success.

The Administrative Role

The administrator conceptualized the idea for the project, organized the team, obtained approval to go ahead with the pilot project, got funding approved, and provided the leadership for the project. In many ways the administrator was the catalyst that took a concept and "made it happen." It was not enough to know something was technically possible; it had to be made to work in the context of the organizational environment.

The Periodical Services Role

The periodical services unit staff was responsible for the initial barcoding of the bound journal collections and scanning each volume prior to its being reshelved. The department head was the team's in-house barcoding expert and trained the staff on keeping the bound periodical use database current.

The Systems Role

The systems librarian and the systems database analyst were responsible for all aspects of hardware and software support for the project, e.g., installation, testing, and maintenance.

Project Rationale

If the project proved successful, information on the use of the uncataloged bound periodical collections could be systematically obtained and could assist in making key collection development and collection maintenance decisions.

Collection Development

NIU Libraries, like many other academic libraries nationwide, had been experiencing over the past decade severe reductions in its library materials budgets due to the combination of several economic factors. These included double-digit inflation in price increases for journals, the sustained weakness of the U.S. dollar against foreign currencies, and continuous reductions in budget allocations at the institutional level. These budget cuts had been sustained over the past several years. With each successive budgetary cutback, the decisions as to which journal subscriptions to be cut became increasingly difficult. …