Notes from Stack Maintenance Session

Facilitator: Bill Austin, Head, Collection Management Department, Access Services Division, Columbia University Libraries

Recorder: Kitty Chibnik, Head, Access and Support Services, Avery Fine Arts Library, Columbia University Libraries

Discussion Topics:

  • Quality control, performance standards and measures
  • Managing the peaks and valleys of the re-shelving cycle
  • Space planning

Austin began both sessions by listing the four maintenance activities at the Columbia Libraries for which performance goals have been determined (Shelving Turnaround; Shelf-reading; Straightening: Pick-up and Sorting) and asking whether other institutions had established goals for other activities. Two other activities were added to his list: Not-on-Shelf Searching and Shifting. Some institutions had chosen not to establish institutional goals for these activities believing that each library within the institution was too different. Other institutions had not codified their goals, going with more broad goals such as accuracy and 'getting material to the public." Shelving Turnaround and Not-on-Shelf Searching were deemed to be priorities.

Discussions then turned to a) how the goals were determined; b) how the activities were measured; and c) how the figures were reported and to whom. The answers to "how the goals were determined" ranged from "ad hoc" to guesswork to "knowing the collection, space, amount of use, etc." to informal agreement among the institution's libraries to "by the size of the re-shelving area." None of the institutions had solicited direct user input into setting the goal, although one person had talked to their student workers. Statistic gathering ranged from monthly, quarterly, annually, to not gathered anymore, since doing them had become too time-intensive. The discussions brought up the problems of how one knows when one has achieved the goal, determining baselines, and determining targets. The results of the statistics gathering were forwarded to administrators (high agreement among attendees), internally within the divisions (less so), and to the institution's public (even less so). There was general concern about collecting "statistics for statistics' sake."

Methods for checking on accuracy and improving the state of the stacks varied depending upon the task and the institution. Some institutions emphasized shelving accuracy, thus minimizing shelf reading, while other routinely shelf-read after shelving (sometimes as an overall task, sometimes as a check-up of work accuracy). Some institutions had had success with the assignment of "shelving areas" to individual employees (making the space theirs, as it were), while others favored an all-over shelving accuracy approach.

Austin asked whether institutions were using the statistics as a measurement of work quality/quantity at the individual-level. Most institutions said no, except if there was a problem with an individual employee, when then the statistics were used as part of a performance improvement program. Princeton, as part of its goal-oriented evaluations, had "pay-for-performance" for union staff only.

Discussion moved on to the next topic of managing the shelving cycle. Solutions varied: using only student workers, using no student workers; using only union staff, using part-time staff with added hours during peaks, using high school students; and using outside vendors and temporary agencies. Flexibility in budgeting was considered a plus.

On the topic of space planning, most institutions did this internally. One institution had received trailing/cleanup funds for onsite shifts after moving materials offsite. One institution had a full-time shifting coordinator. One institution had permanent employees who were book-movers/shifters. There was general lamenting of the problem of "no space left" to do "space planning" for.

Conversations were lively on all three topics and each one could have been discussed for the entire session.