“What is the value of working with a vendor?”
We have been asked this before, and it’s a great question to take a step back and understand how service partners like Backstage fit into technical service processing at a college, university, public, or corporate library. To answer the question, I think it’s important to first recognize everything in-house technical service staff members and managers are responsible for.
- Processing new acquisitions.
- Completing projects that curate, clean, and promote the collections in the library.
- Working with other department leads to further the goals of the library socially and physically.
This may include cataloging, physical processing, enhancing subject analysis in existing metadata; updating previous metadata, performing authority control on a routine basis. This may include digitizing papers, working through an archival collection, reorganizing storage space to accommodate a newly gifted collection; researching latest standards and trends in the field, preparing proposals for grants, setting aside materials for microfilming, repairing, and restoring. This may even include front-of-house management, things that can’t be outsourced, like assisting patrons with their research, setting up new displays and galleries, and planning regular events in the library.
What is the value, then, of a vendor partner?
While we can list out a variety of tasks undertaken by library staff, it does nothing to illustrate the vast amount of time and resources these tasks require. Let’s take digitizing: it can take one dedicated staff member’s full shift to scan, image correct, file name, and describe 50 objects in a collection without interruptions. What happens if the library is gifted a collection of personal papers with 1000 distinct objects? Then, that single staff member (who has a full schedule of other tasks besides digitizing a new project that’s arrived) will be tied up for 20 days digitizing the collection.
One of the biggest strengths of vendors is being able to pick up extraneous or time-consuming projects. We get frequent requests to take on the routine or labor-intensive processes within libraries, such as shelf-ready physical processing and copy-finding in OCLC, or completing an inventory review of collections that would absorb months of your staff’s time if not outsourced.
Equipment and Space Requirements
Our Bethlehem, PA office, which houses the Microfilm and Digitization departments, has its space principally divided into camera studios, and Microfilm has extra rooms for film processing and a darkroom. First, when we say cameras, we don’t mean scanner beds or a Nikon pointed at a cradle: our cameras are very large, supporting multiple light sources, shields to prevent exterior light bleed, specialized cradles that can be interchanged with a glass bed to gently press paper flat, and dedicated computers for receiving the images. Our camera rooms are FADGI compliant, one-of-a-kind purposed just for taking photos. Second, who even has microfilm processing in house? It’s a lot of upkeep and maintenance, and several technicians at Backstage are assigned only to the processing and darkroom studios.
Not all libraries have the space or budget to dedicate to cameras or darkrooms, and those that do may sometimes only be able to fit a single camera set-up or two, which limits processing time to the amount of equipment that can be housed. In the earlier example of the gift collection with 1000 objects: rather than pulling a staff member from their current work schedule for a month, the collection could be sent to a vendor instead and completed well inside of a week. Space and equipment can be a very real factor when considering whether a project should be sent away.
Specialized Expertise and Management
Library directors and managers: there are very few instances where a vendor is going to understand more than your library staff. At Backstage, we very firmly believe that library staff can do anything that we do with enough time and resources at their disposal. There are some tasks that, given the realities of the time and resources, are necessary to outsource to get the project done. One that comes to mind is authority control processing or automated record cleanup. These processes require extensive sampling to make sure the programming to adjust records automatically is targeting the correct parts of a record, and sometimes, working with existing systems in your ILS can be tricky. This is one area where going to a dedicated expert can make life easy.
Supporting Your Initiative
The name “Backstage” comes from the idea that you and your collections take the stage everyday to make information and resources accessible to patrons. We exist to support libraries, museums, and archives around the world, to help make resources available to everyone. If by staying behind the scenes we can make your production just a little bit easier, then we will have done our job.