Cataloging Staff Costs Revisited

Article excerpt

Staff costs for cataloging have declined at Iowa State University Library. This is demonstrated by data from a longitudinal time and cost study begun in 1987. We discuss the national developments, technological advancements, and reengineering efforts that have supported greater cataloging effectiveness and quality. We use the ISU findings as an example of a nationwide phenomenon resulting from the remarkable ability of catalogers to share work through national bibliographic utilities.

In 1987 the Technical Services Division of the Iowa State University (ISU) Library initiated a time and cost study to investigate the impact of automation on services and products. This study, now in its thirteenth year, has resulted in a number of reports in the literature. The earliest of these provided an overview of cataloging costs (Morris 1992) and a comparison of costs for serials and monographs cataloging (Morris and Osmus 1992). Since then, refinements in the analysis of tasks and costs (and especially in the application of staff overhead) have made more sophisticated and focused reporting possible. At the same time, however, these refinements preclude easy comparison of the earliest three years of the study to the years following.

In the present article, then, we report changes in cataloging costs and productivity since 1990 and discuss the factors contributing to these changes. Morris, Rebarcak, and Rowley (1996) previously noted some of the trends presented here. Morris and Wool (1999) presented a brief discussion of these trends in relation to the value of cataloging.

Literature Review

The literature on cost studies for technical services operations is extensive--as is evident in bibliographies from Dougherty and Leonard (1970) and Tavenner (1988)--but for the most part it is fragmentary, limited in scope, and short on detail. In much of this literature, researchers either estimate in-house operating costs for comparison with prices for vendor-supplied services or offer models for cost-benefit analysis. Of the rest, Lancaster (1977, 265) provides this assessment:

A number of studies on technical processing costs have already been published.... While several ... appear to be very thorough and complete, cost analyses of this type generally have two basic limitations: (a) although many data are presented, it is not always clear how these data were derived, and it is thus impossible for a second investigator to duplicate the methodology to obtain truly comparable data for a second institution or group of institutions, and (b) directly related to the first point, there are no generally accepted standards for what should be measured in these cost studies and for how the costs should be derived and presented.

This statement is just as trenchant with regard to the subsequent literature, highlights of which include Getz and Phelps (1984); Valentine and McDonald (1986); Leung (1987); Oldfield (1987); and Fiegen, Heitshu, and Miller (1990). Harris (1989) offers an interesting survey of publications on cataloging costs, along with an estimate that cataloging costs between 1876 and 1986 rose 4200%, much faster than general inflation but slower than librarian salaries.

Relatively few examinations of cataloging costs have appeared since Morris (1992). In the most extensive report, Jenda (1992) presents a workflow analysis and time/cost study made to support a decision at the University of Botswana on continuing the library's subscription to Library of Congress (LC) catalog cards. In this study, times for cataloging tasks were measured in an experimental setting. Byrd and Sorury (1993) document a significant time/cost analysis of authority work at Indiana University. EI-Sherhini (1995), in an evaluation of outsourcing the cataloging of Slavic-alphabet materials at Ohio State University, includes a brief cost analysis of doing the work in-house. Rider and Hamilton (1996) report tests of the OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. …