Utilization of Students as Cataloging Assistants at Carnegie Category 1 Institution Libraries

Article excerpt

A survey of 261 libraries was undertaken to determine the level of use of and duties performed by student assistants in monographic cataloging operations. Ninety-five of 142 responding libraries (64.1 percent) indicate that they use student assistants for some type of monographic cataloging tasks. These tasks are downloading of bibliographic and authority records, monographic cataloging, classification, subject heading authority control, holdings, database maintenance, and editing of 246 or 505 MARC tags. Some respondents expressed reluctance to use student assistants for higher-level cataloging tasks.

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Despite being surrounded by a steady labor supply of thousands of inexpensive and intelligent individuals, the use of student assistants at the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY-Albany) traditionally has been limited to processing of materials (applying call number labels, security strips, property stamps) and other similar lower-level duties (retrieving of materials from the stacks, pulling loose periodicals to be bound). Since 1999, graduate students from the university's School of Information Science and Policy (SISP) have been used for special projects. Two SISP graduate students worked on language-specific projects due to their bilingual or polylingual skills. One project involved the upgrading of brief records for Chinese language materials and the other project involved the processing of gift books in Russian and other Slavic languages. For these two projects, the workflow was fairly simple and linear. A third graduate student worked on the cataloging of new acquisitions that were to become part of the Miriam Snow Mathes Historical Children's Literature collection. Due to the detailed and unique cataloging provided to these materials, the staff member responsible for cataloging these materials worked one on one with the graduate students.

However, changes, both internal (reduction of staff) and external (fewer print materials being purchased, increased emphasis upon electronic resources) over the last several years have led the current administration to examine workflow and the level of staff required to complete the various duties in monographic cataloging. Cornel] University librarian Sarah E. Thomas stated, "the world's information resources are abundant, but time is a scare commodity" and that "there is a chronic imbalance between the amount of work to be done and the resources available to do it." (1) These two statements reflect what many academic libraries, both large and small, are encountering.

These circumstances caused SUNY-Albany to consider the utilization of student assistants in monographic cataloging workflow. A survey was constructed in order to gather information about how other institutions were or were not employing students, with the idea that SUNY-Albany could then take advantage of the knowledge and experiences of other institutions.

Literature Review

Using student assistants in cataloging has been discussed in the current literature, but published papers primarily focus upon their use in projects rather than as part of the standard workflow. Gnidarelli and Cary discussed the use of art students to catalog a gift of approximately 12,000 art exhibition catalogs at Virginia Commonwealth University. (2) Over four years, six different student assistants (both graduate and undergraduate students all involved in the study of the arts) worked on cataloging this collection. Three of the students already had been trained in copy cataloging using Library of Congress records. Under the close supervision of librarians, these students were able to use their previous copy cataloging knowledge and subject knowledge to enhance less than-full records, including the assignment of call numbers and subject headings. Guidarelli and Cary made the significant points that using students: (1) cost less than half the cost of outsourcing when estimating the cost of copy cataloging per title; and (2) produced more complete records. …

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