Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Transforming Technical Services: Evolving Functions in Large Research University Libraries

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Transforming Technical Services: Evolving Functions in Large Research University Libraries

Article excerpt

Academic libraries continually confront challenges that are primarily driven by technological innovation and budget constraints. Library administrators try to find ways to meet these challenges by transforming and streamlining workflows and prioritizing objectives through their strategic planning processes and other mechanisms. Academic libraries' strategic priorities subsequently impact every other area within the libraries, and technical services is no exception. The labor intensive processes prevalent in technical services have been negatively impacted by ongoing reductions in staffing and decreasing budgets. This phenomenon has resulted in various challenges and opportunities in technical services. There are great opportunities for current technical services operations to improve inefficient and antiquated workflows, to renew and develop proper technology skills among staff, and to transform the structure of technical services to effectively deploy staff to manage the transformation of its functions through reorganization.

The major shift from print to electronic resources (e-resources), including born-digital resources, in library collections over the last decade has impacted every area in academic libraries. While anecdotal evidence is shared with regard to the ways in which certain specific functions or areas in technical services are changing, it is much more of a challenge to grasp the big picture of the various changes transpiring in technical services.

The motivation for this study started from a simple question: "How is technical services changing?" Although the question itself seems naively simple, it led to some fundamental questions about the changing nature of technical services and helped formulate the research questions of this study:

1. What is the name of the functional area that is traditionally known as technical services?

2. What are the current and emerging functions of technical services?

3. What are the organizational structures of technical services? How often do libraries reorganize their technical services and why?

4. What are the factors that drive technical services to change?

This study revealed the complex nature of current technical services, including its functions and the dynamics of technical services in the context of other units both within and outside libraries. The author analyzed the organizational structure of nineteen large research university libraries based on the Technical Services Directors of Large Research Libraries Interest Group (1) and conducted one-hour phone interviews with representatives of these libraries to explore how technical services is changing. The research findings will provide empirical data to library administrators and technical services managers as they undertake the transformation of their technical services operations. They will also benefit by examining different models of technical services organizational structure and different names that identify technical services as they explore various ways to reposition technical services in their libraries. The findings on diversified current and emerging technical services functions will help them reexamine their own technical services functions and explore different strategies to integrate technical services functions to support libraries' new and emerging services. Additionally, technical services librarians and staff will benefit by gaining a better understanding of the types of skills that are needed to support the changing roles of technical services. This paper is divided into four sections: literature review, description of the research method, presentation of results and discussion, and a conclusion.

Literature Review

The functions and organizational structure of technical services have been frequently discussed in the literature. It is broadly agreed that technical services usually includes acquisitions and cataloging functions. …

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