Technical Services-Public Services Partnerships
There are a few things that came up recently, which got me thinking about technical services' relationships with public services. First, I was reading Lihong Zhu “The Role of Paraprofessionals in Technical Services in Academic Libraries” (Library Resources & Technical Services, v. 56 no. 3, July 2012), which addresses the expanding responsibilities of paraprofessional staff and acknowledges that today's technical services paraprofessionals perform duties that for decades were the exclusive role of full-fledged librarians. Subsequent conversations with my staff about approval plans, budgeting and standing orders have blurred the demarcations in our library between technical services staff and public services staff in the area of collection development. Finally, we're developing a subcommittee of our Collections Steering Committee to review the shared acquisitions workflows between subject librarians and our department, Monographic Services.
Monographic Services is one of several departments in our library's Technical Services. We are joined by E-Resources & Serials Management, Resource Description & Management, Preservation and Library Systems. Collectively, these departments provide and maintain the infrastructure upon which our patrons' access to research resources is dependent. Collection development as an activity falls under public services and is the purview largely of subject librarians, who also provide research consultation and classroom instruction with respect to library resources. (In some libraries, collection development is more closely aligned with technical services.)
Perhaps in some libraries, the stigma that technical services staff are responsible for “processing” persists and maybe it's true in some cases. In our department, all staff, including paraprofessionals, are expected to add value to workflows well beyond bean-counting and “processing”—following well-established instructions that require little imagination or interpretation—work. For example, one staff member identified multiple standing order titles that would lose their funding—due to a combination of the titles' infrequent publication and our library's budget allocation practices—so she initiated conversations with library Accounting staff and the AUL for Collections and Services. This initiative led to a more holistic, systematic distribution of the responsibility for looking at these titles and deciding whether to cancel the standing orders, move the acquisition of these series to approval plans, or take some other approach. That decision ultimately lies with individual subject librarians, but the information that such a decision needed to be made was started in Monographic Services.
The service this staff member provided is what I mean by partnering: she took the lead on defining a problem and proposing possible solutions, which she will implement. From a subject librarian's perspective, the problem could be defined as a collection development—as opposed, in our library, to a technical services—problem, which falls under the auspices of subject librarians. However, our staff member understood that the technical implications of publishing patterns and budget allocation policy had collection ramifications. The subject librarians, armed with the knowledge of potential impacts on our collections from this situation, will make timely, informed collecting decisions.
Another partnership example is oriented around approval and notification plan management. The librarian in our department who manages approval plans is more than a conduit for profile instructions from subject librarians to vendors; he actively works with subject librarians to learn what their problems and issues are with approval plans and crafts them to support our collecting needs.
The Monographic Services Shared Workflow Subcommittee will represent a slightly different tack on the partnership with public and technical services: staff from both areas will review, expand and revise what are largely monographic acquisitions processes and therefore the traditional purview of technical services. As four of the five members of the Subcommittee are from public services, we're going to get direct input into how selecting and ordering processes are working and how they can be improved. Likewise, this group provides an opportunity for subject librarians to delve into the technical complexities and financial mechanisms necessary to make these processes flow smoothly. The Subcommittee will consult with other Monographic Services members and staff—both professional and paraprofessional—from units charged with service to the public.
Considering subject librarians to be our department's partners does not preclude the fact that they are also our department's customers. Service is a critical piece of our department's name and mission: we serve the people who serve the public. I believe that it is through partnerships that we provide the best service and foster a mutual understanding of each other's roles across library divisions. We do our own outreach and consultations within the library, much as subject librarians do for academic units on campus. Enhancing these partnerships is the way to optimize our service and jointly achieve more efficient and effective collection building for our library's users.