CatQC and Shelf-Ready Material: Speeding Collections to Users While Preserving Data Quality

By Jay, Michael; Simpson, Betsy et al. | Information Technology and Libraries, March 2009 | Go to article overview

CatQC and Shelf-Ready Material: Speeding Collections to Users While Preserving Data Quality


Jay, Michael, Simpson, Betsy, Smith, Doug, Information Technology and Libraries


Libraries contract with vendors to provide shelf-ready material, but is it really shelf-ready? It arrives with all the physical processing needed for immediate shelving, then lingers in back offices while staff conduct item-by-item checks against the catalog. CatQC, a console application for Microsoft Windows developed at the University of Florida, builds on OCLC services to get material to the shelves and into the hands of users without delay and without sacrificing data quality. Using standard C programming, CatQC identifies problems in MARC record files, often applying complex conditionals, and generates easy-to-use reports that do not require manual item review.

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A primary goal behind improvements in technical service workflows is to serve users more efficiently. However, the push to move material through the system faster can result in shortcuts that undermine bibliographic quality. Developing safeguards that maintain sufficiently high standards but don't sacrifice productivity is the modus operandi for technical service managers. The implementation of OCLC's WorldCat Cataloging Partners (WCP, formerly PromptCat) and Bibliographic Record Notification services offers an opportunity to retool workflows to take advantage of automated processes to the fullest extent possible, but also requires some backroom creativity to assure that adequate access to material is not diminished.

Literature review

Quality control has traditionally been viewed as a central aspect of cataloging operations, either as part of item-by-item handling or manual and automated authority maintenance. How this activity has been applied to outsourced cataloging was the subject of a survey of academic libraries in the United States and Canada. A total of 19 percent of libraries in the survey indicated that they forgo quality control of outsourced copy, primarily for government documents records. However, most respondents reported they review records for errors. Of that group, 50 percent focus on access points, 30 percent check a variety of fields, and a significant minority--20 percent--look at all data points. Overall, the libraries expressed satisfaction with the outsourced cataloging using the following measures of quality supplied by the author: accuracy, consistency, adequacy of access points, and timeliness. (1) At the inception of OCLC's PromptCat service in 1995, Ohio State University Libraries participated in a study to test similar quality control criteria with the stated goals of improving efficiency and reducing copyediting. The results were so favorable that the author speculated that PromptCat would herald a future where libraries can "reassess their local practices and develop greater confidence in national standards so that catalog records can be integrated into local OPACs with minimal revision and library holdings can be made available in bibliographic databases as quickly as possible." (2) Fast forward a few years and the new incarnation of PromptCat, WCP, is well on its way to fulfilling this dream.

In a recent investigation conducted at the University of Arkansas Libraries, researchers concluded that error review of copy supplied through PromptCat is necessary, but the error rate does not warrant discontinuance of the service. The benefits in terms of time savings far outweigh the effort expended to correct errors, particularly when the focus of the review is to correct errors critical to user access. While the researchers examined a wide variety of errors, a primary consideration was series headings, particularly given the problems cited in previous studies and noted in the article. (3) With the 2006 announcement by the Library of Congress (LC) to curtail its practice of providing controlled series access, the cataloging community voiced great concern about the effect of that decision on user access. (4) The Arkansas study determined that "the significant number of series issues overall (even before LC stopped performing series authority work) more than justifies our concern about providing series authority control for the shelf-ready titles. …

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