Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Ready or Not? an Assessment of Shelf-Ready Materials Management Practices in US Academic Libraries

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Ready or Not? an Assessment of Shelf-Ready Materials Management Practices in US Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

This paper analyzes results of a survey on shelf-ready materials management and cataloging practices in US academic libraries with various collection sizes. The survey respondents consisted of managers and librarians in technical services operations. Survey questions addressed topics such as the volume of shelf-ready materials, perspectives on shelf-ready expansion, the effect of local cataloging practices on shelf-ready services, the amount of cataloging and processing errors, and quality control. The majority of participants were from small- and medium-size academic libraries, and print materials were the prevalent format for shelf-ready treatment. Two main reasons for shelf-ready implementation across libraries of all sizes were the need to improve materials turnaround time and the desire to redeploy staff for other projects or tasks.


The acquisition of library materials in shelf-ready form is one of the outsourcing strategies implemented by technical services departments to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and increase patron satisfaction. Shelf-ready materials supplied by vendors include physical items accompanied by full bibliographic records and physical processing such as application of barcodes, spine labels, security strips, etc. As the current library environment is moving toward management of electronic resources, the possibility of streamlining receiving, cataloging, and processing of materials in non-electronic format is potentially a very welcome alternative to the traditional acquisitions to cataloging model. While some libraries gained substantial experience in managing shelf-ready operations during the last decade, others are still contemplating the idea or are unsure of the implications that shelf-ready services could have for their libraries' databases and staffing. Potential concerns linked to the implementation of shelf-ready services can include extra review of vendor-supplied records, presence of less than full bibliographic records, and changes in work assignments for technical services staff. The review of current library literature reveals a need for assessment of academic libraries' practices in shelf-ready materials management.

The authors designed a survey to gain insights into different aspects of acquiring shelf-ready materials in US academic libraries with varying collection sizes. The authors were particularly interested in gathering feedback on the quality of bibliographic records for shelf-ready materials and their effect on local cataloging practices, including authority work. The implication of the new cataloging code,

Literature Review

Academic libraries in the United States have been using shelf-ready services as a form of outsourcing for the past fifteen years. The topic itself, however, has not been frequently discussed in library and information science literature. Perhaps the lack of research could be explained by libraries' desire to have sufficient practical experience with shelf-ready operations before assessing this type of outsourcing. There is almost a ten-year gap between the first case study by Joy and Lugg, which addressed various aspects of shelf-ready materials management, and the beginning of subsequent publications on this topic in library science journals. (1) To date, the published research on the use of shelf-ready services in academic libraries is represented mostly by case studies on cost-benefits analysis, bibliographic record quality, and workflow evaluation. In addition, some research data on shelf-ready operations is available in the archives of the cataloging and authorities discussion list Autocat. The following literature review examines these studies and other papers on outsourcing relevant to shelf-ready materials.

A comprehensive review of the literature on outsourcing by Sweetland offers a concise definition of shelf-ready services: "The books (or other material) are catalogued, provided with barcodes, spine labels, covers, and the like by the vendor. …

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