Across The Great Divide: III As The Bridge Between Technical And Public Services
(notes for a talk given Brian Flaherty, Suffolk University Law School Library at the New England Innovative Law Users Group, October 4, 2002 at Suffolk University Law School)

I began as an Acquisitions Specialist at the New England School of Law in 1990. In 1994 I started library school, and by 1995 I was trying to insinuate myself into the reference department. I took a legal research course through Simmons College, but at the time my greatest qualifications for working at the reference desk were that I knew the collection pretty well from having worked in acquisitions for so long and that I knew the Innovative system better than the reference staff simply because I worked with it more. Also, while I was at library school, I took Virginia Wise's legal research course, and soon began to cross the stark boundary that existed between technical and public services in earnest. For the next several years, circumstances where such that I was able to work as many as 10 hours a week on the desk, in addition to remaining the Acquisitions Librarian. Without going into the drawn out story, in 2000, I made the switch to full-time reference, coming from the New England School of Law to Suffolk, where I currently work as a full-time Reference Librarian.

I'm going to begin by suggesting something that might draw a bit of ire from the majority of the folks here today. Based on my experience, on the things I've read, and on the responses to questions posted on Law-Lib in the past week, I believe that the burden of building the "bridge of communication" (or at least laying the foundation for such a bridge) between public services and technical services really lies on the shoulders of the tech services department, at least if the bridge is to be built on the Innovative system. I suggested this to our systems person who scowled at me and went away. Nevertheless, I'm going to defend it. It seems so, first and foremost, for the simple practical reason that the Innovative contact person almost invariably resides in the technical services department. If we in public services are going to know what's going on in Innovative-Land, there really needs to be some communication from technical services. Second, but certainly related, the technical services people know a great deal more about the system than do the public services people. They're the ones who put it together; they're the ones who know best how to get the most out of it.

The other reason for my believing that the onus lies on the technical services people to get the ball of communication rolling is my experience. I was an acquisitions librarian when we brought up the Innovative system at New England School of Law and continued working in tech services while we worked the kinks out of our system. When I worked at the reference desk as a technical services person crossing over, I knew just how much you could get out of the system. Then I saw how patrons were actually using the system and began to see some of the glitches - some of the things that they were not able to do. So I was able to go between departments and negotiate various adjustments that have worked to provide better access for public services librarians and patrons.

I've loosely structured my presentation into two sections. First, I want to mention what reference librarians likely don't know about the system - things that, if they did know them, might make their jobs a bit easier. Some small things that can improve the way the system is used - and I'll try to provide examples of the way we use them. At first I was going talk about these things, and show off how they worked but I realized that for the most part I'm talking to tech people. You all know how these things work - likely better than I do - so I'm just going to itemize them, and talk about why reference librarians should know about them. Then in the second part I want to talk about some of the alterations, tips and things that we've done, or perhaps will do in the future, to make using our system more efficient.

My first observation is simple and relatively obvious, but not all reference folk know about it, and I have first hand knowledge of it making a world of difference in some people's lives. It is something as simple as an "Added Title" entry. Law books, as I'm sure you realize, often have frustrating and misleading titles. Worse yet, they are so often "known" as something that is not their title. A public services librarian looking for Scott on Trusts enters TITLE: SCOTT ON TRUSTS - they don't know that the name of the book is The Law of Trusts by Austin Scott, and that it is only by the benevolent intervention of a cataloging librarian via an added title that they can find the book. But they don't need to know that, right? I say yes, because if they discover that, in many cases, by using "Added Title" (under strict AACR guidance of course) an often-used book can be looked up by its common title, many would positively overflow with delight. I have a real-life example of this. At Suffolk we had a faculty member looking for the International Court of Justice Reports. She entered "Reports of the International Court of Justice", "International Court of Justice Reports", and ICJ Reports. Not finding anything, she concluded that we didn't own the publication. Fortunately it was a wise faculty member who then called a librarian to say she couldn't seem to find the ICJ reports. The librarian did a keyword search and of course it showed that we had them. (As some of you know, they're called "Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders". Well, they're called this in French, but I'm not going to try that here.) The point is, however, that unless someone happens to know that the title is "Reports of Judgments, etc." they cannot find it by title, and unless they're savvy enough to search by keyword rather than by title (and they're persistent), they'll conclude that their library doesn't own the title. Now most reference librarians are wise enough to do this, however I would dare suggest that most international law faculty are not. Thus they go about searching for TITLE: ICJ REPORTS or TITLE: INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE… and find nothing and phone you, or grumble about the library's inadequate holdings.

Another thing that reference librarians don't know, or don't always know how to do is to use the "Create List" function. As you know, creating lists is a way of searching your catalog for fields not in the major indexes (author, title, etc.). So if you want, for example, to search for books purchased in 2001 that have circulated more than twice, you use Create Lists. Now I know from my experience in reference that we find ourselves wanting to search the collection in ways unanticipated by the OPAC, such as securities law in looseleaf publications that are still being updated, books written by CLE organizations that we've purchased in the last two years, Massachusetts books not published by West or Lexis, which contain forms on disk.

It isn't just the ability to search all of the unindexed fields that's exciting. That might be exciting to a reference librarian, but it's what you can do with those lists once you've got them. For example, remember the list of CLE materials purchased in the last two years? Now run circulation statistics on it, see if those materials are being used. Or weeding projects-say, someone wants a list of materials that have been on reserve for over three years, but haven't circulated once.

Now I want to change gears a bit and talk about some of the experiences I have had, and some tales that have been told to me by others, that illustrate how communication between technical and public services about the Innovative system has resulted in some changes to the system, and, ultimately, in improved service to library patrons. The first experience is my own, from when I first began sitting regularly at the reference desk. At the time we were receiving numerous books with enclosed "forms on disk." We, like so many other libraries I knew of, had no idea how to deal with these added extras. First we let them pile up in my office. (Well, first I let them pile up in my office.) Then we tried putting them on reserve, with pointers: "see accompanying disk at reserve". This really satisfied no one. (Well, no one but me, because they were no longer piling up in my office!) Finally we thought to shelve them with the books by simply sticking them in the enclosed sleeves. This worked until a patron one day asked for bankruptcy books with enclosed forms on disk. The tech services part of my brain thought, "OK, this is easy - I'll just run a list of books with 'Bankruptcy' in the subject and 'Disk' in the description field." As I'm doing this, I'm thinking there's got to be an easier way. I mentioned this to the reference staff, and all of them suggested an easier way - why not use an Added Title? Something like "Forms on Disk" " - you see, I'd already introduced them to the joys of Added Titles, to their delight, but to the consternation of the catalogers. This suggestion gave our cataloger fits of the AACR2 variety. She said that we couldn't simply create "added titles" out of whole cloth and paste them wherever we pleased. The answer came at a smaller meeting of acquisitions librarians who use Innovative, where someone mentioned what her library does with the 793 "Alternative Title" field. My ears perked up - "alternative title?" says I? And so began my use and abuse of the 793 field - the alternative title field, which we index like an added title, but doesn't show up on the patron display. We used this then for Forms on Disk, so you could search by subject and then limit to Title has Forms on Disk. We use it also for MCLEs, because we do indeed get the question: "What MCLE titles to you have" or "where are your MCLE's" variations on a theme. For titles published by MCLE, we simply put MCLE in the title field, and so can bring them all up quite easily (Sure, we could search by subject and then limit by MCLE, but sometimes we get "there was a recent MCLE on something like… that had… in it.)

Another time, we had the experience of having the Faculty Library Committee come to us and ask us to give us a price breakdown of all of our major collections - official state reports, state digests, state laws, national reporter, Shepards, etc. for the last couple of years, as part of a whole scale collection evaluation. Such a project involved both the tech and public services people. Reference told us what they wanted, what kind of list they wanted - a list of official state reports, for example - and the tech services people put the list together and ran statistics on it. OK, so this was the idealized procedure, but of course the world is never the ideal one, and so there were glitches. We would create a list and it wouldn't include all of the appropriate titles, and so we'd have to go back and add things. We would create something that looked right, but the statistics we ran would not seem right, and so we would need to go through the list more carefully. Because the collections, i.e. what was included in them, was something ultimately determined by the reference staff, they were really the appropriate people to go through the lists. And so we trained them, not only how to create lists, but how to go through and remove items, append items, sort by call number and print lists to verify that we'd gotten everything. Many things happened as a result of this project. First, we had a pretty nifty and thorough evaluation of our collection. Second, our reference staff became pretty adept at creating lists, and at searching our collection by the non-indexed fields. Finally, and most importantly, because our reference staff spent so much time working with the tech services staff, the communication between the two departments increased thousand-fold. They began to see tech services not only as the people behind the scenes that put the catalog together, but as people to turn to when they needed find something or manipulate data in the catalog.

The next example comes from a response to my question on law-lib this week. I asked about technical service/reference department crossover ---What are the experiences of technical services people who work reference? What are the experiences of reference librarians who work a bit in tech services? I got some great responses, most of which were from tech librarians who had worked in reference and had discovered certain "disconnects" between the way the system is designed and the way patrons use it.

One kind of question we get is the very basic "I'm looking for books on…Massachusetts civil procedure, landlord/tenant, tort law, drunk driving, bioethics…" And what we do (what this tech services cum reference librarian was trained by the other reference librarians to do) is go to the catalog and run a search for the patron by subject or keyword, depending on their comfort with LC subject headings. Then we limit that search by year to get the most recent materials. Click on Limit, and put in the date, QED? But this particular librarian, because he worked in tech services and knew the system, knew which fields were read when a record was "limited." He realized that by doing this, the user (the patron, the librarian) would miss any loose-leaf services published before that date, no matter how recently they had been updated. For example, if you were in fact looking for books on bioethics, you could enter Keyword: Bioethics. Then if you decided you wanted only the most recent materials, you would limit to, say, the last five years. You would miss BioLaw, one of the more useful sources on bioethics, updated monthly, but published in 1986. Now I don't know the story exactly, but this was probably pointed out to the reference librarians, who probably said - and I mean to cast no aspersions on reference librarians, being one myself - something like "well, why can't we just change the date?" And so began the dialogue.

The result was that the librarians decided that they could put a second imprint field into the record, which would indicate the date the title was most recently updated. And so when the patron or librarian looked for Bioethics books, and then limited by date to the last five years, Biolaw does in fact come up.

So these are three examples of what I see as improved communication between tech services and reference librarians facilitated by III - better communication which has led to better access to the collection for librarians and patrons, improved communication, which has led, one would hope, to more communication.

The last thing I want to talk about is making this "better communication" happen via III. The first (and probably best) way to improve communication between the departments is to have some kind of department crossover - tech services librarians who are willing to work at reference, reference and/or public service librarians who willing to work in tech services. There is, so far as I can see, no better way of getting the departments together than letting one see how the other operates.

Both departments can watch out for those "teachable moments," An example of such a moment is the collection evaluation project discussed above, where the technical services librarians worked closely with the reference staff to show them how to create, edit and manipulate lists. The result far exceeded the reference librarians' newfound ability to create lists.

Finally, yet another way to foster better communication is to formalize it, i.e. create forums where reference librarians and technical services librarians are more or less forced into the same room and made to talk to one another. Meetings like this, or like the smaller semi-formalized meetings that I talked about before would provide such forums. Actually, I want to put in a plug for those smaller, semi-formalized meetings. They were born out of the "Birds of a Feather" sessions. We just took one of those sessions and expanded it into a half-day meeting. So if you find these sessions and talking to someone at your table particularly helpful, I urge you to make plans to meet at a not too distant date and keep the meeting going. It's a great way to share information and to get to know your colleagues in other libraries.


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