Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Backlog Management: Estimating Resources Needed to Eliminate Arrearages

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Backlog Management: Estimating Resources Needed to Eliminate Arrearages

Article excerpt

Backlog Management: Estimating Resources Needed to Eliminate Arrearages

Library Literature covering 1986-1989 lists eleven articles on cataloging backlogs; only six are listed for the period 1955-1985. These figures suggest that backlogs again are becoming the major concern that they were in the early 1950s, when the Journal of Cataloging and Classification devoted an entire issue (Fall 1951) to the topic. The Library of Congress recently developed an "arrearage reduction management plan" to address its mind-boggling backlog of 38 million unprocessed items. Implementation of the plan is dependent upon the appropriation of funds by Congress. [1]

That backlogs exist in many libraries is no secret--surveys have shown that they are common (although the term "backlog" has been defined in various ways). Behrens and Smith surveyed 112 academic libraries in the United States holding more than 250,000 volumes and found that backlogs existed in 44 (85%) of the 52 responding libraries. [2] Agnew, Landram, and Richards conducted a survey of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member libraries in 1984 and found that 68 (77%) of the 88 responding libraries had backlogs representing from 1% to 10% of their total collections. More than three-fourths of the libraries with backlogs had had them over ten years. [3] These results were consistent with those obtained by Piternick when he surveyed ARL libraries and selected others in 1986. At that time 67 of the 86 responding libraries (78%) had backlogs. [4] These studies imply that backlogs did not disappear during the 1960s and 1970s even though they were mentioned infrequently in the library literature.

A distinction must be made between "normal" and "historic" processing backlogs. "Normal" backlogs routinely develop whenever the volume of incoming materials is high and sometimes are used to stabilize the cataloging workflow when the volume is low. They also might be created purposefully by libraries preferring to wait for cataloging copy or authority records to become available from the bibliographic networks. "Normal" backlogs probably are desirable as long as they can be contained; that is, as long as periods of backlog growth are offset regularly by periods of backlog reduction.

In contrast, the "historic" backlogs found in many libraries often consist of thousands of volumes that have been awaiting cataloging for years. Of the 60 libraries that participated in the 1989 National Shelflist Count, 27 (45%) reported that they had processing backlogs of more than 20,000 volumes. The median backlog size for these 27 libraries was 70,000 volumes. [5] Backlogs of this size take up valuable storage space that possibly could be put to better use. Many of the materials are likely to be outdated and might no longer be worthwhile additions to the library's collections. Some volumes are unusable due to physical deterioration. While "historic" backlogs can stabilize the cataloging workflow in times of severe financial exigency when materials budgets are drastically reduced, they are not desirable. They are evidence of a prolonged imbalance in the scheme of technical processing that should be addressed by library administrators.

Backlogs develop when more materials are acquired than can be processed. There are various reasons why this imbalance occurs. White and Roos cite materials budgets, staffing levels in cataloging departments, special projects such as retrospective conversion, collection-development policies, and cataloging priorities of the Library of Congress as factors that can contribute to the growth of backlogs. [6] Another factor suggested by Dwyer is the quality of the records used for copy cataloging; when records must be corrected or improved before they can be used, cataloging is more time consuming. [7] Intner attributes the current backlog crisis to the increasing variety of materials being published, the conversion to computerized systems, a more complicated cataloging code, and shrinking processing budgets. …

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