Saturday, August 19, 2006

Successful Saturdays: A catalog fix or I found what I was looking for

As I was posting about catalogs this week, a funny thing happened to me. A patron complained that our catalog was horrible and that she could not find anything. What was she looking for? Integumentary System Information! The Integumentary system is your skin, hair, nails, and sensory system. Could you find that in your catalog? Probably not, search for it on the internet, the first hit answers enough for an essay. However she was instructed to find the information from a book. If she did not talk to a librarian, she would not have found her information. We had a Merck manual she could check out so she found what she was looking for. Sometimes you can solve a problem, but you can provide a fix that solves a part of the problem. Today's Successful Saturdays will cover how we improved the catalog through authority control and raised our successful browsing rates.

I had mentioned in the last post our implementation problems with our new ILS vendor. However, most of our problems with the catalog records were problems of neglect. We have had several different people catalog in our system with no formal training. This process has left the catalog a mess with some records just having and author and title, and some just having outdated information. To attempt to fix this problem we underwent a major weeding program and then performed an authority control.

The weeding ended up finding records for books that no longer existed and with the aggressive weed, we were able to get out all of the bad records. However, we still needed to fix the records that were still in the system, and this is where the Authority Control comes in.

Try to get funding from your authority and explain to them how Authority Control works. I am not sure how I phrased my proposal, but it ended up getting funded. Through my research I had discovered that the library had never undergone an authority control. In fact, a project attempted several years ago failed because all of the bids came in way over budget. I was able to fund my project fully by examining the costs of other projects and gathering information from vendors and other libraries. I was able to budget $5,000 for our project. In my proposal I explained that patrons will be able to find information they are looking for faster without having to contact staff. Patrons who cannot find information in the catalog will often turn to staff. If the patron had more successful searches, they will be able to find what they are looking for without having to rely upon staff to find their materials.

We have a way to track our catalog usage and successful searches. We do a survey during the last week of each month asking two questions. Did you have a good or excellent experience? Did you find what you were looking for? We always had a high good experience (in the 90% happy mark), but the successful searching was always low (in the 80% successful mark). We simply have a form at the desk and the patron just has to chicken scratch yes or no in both categories. If they feel the need to comment, there is a space for that too. After reviewing this information, I made the gamble that if we had authority control, the patrons would be directed to the right materials and the successful search rate would go up into the 90% mark.

I had attended a program on authority control at the last Arizona Library Association conference in the fall. I took my two catalogers as well. I understood the concept behind it. Authority control provides searches with the best terms to be successful. It will direct patrons to records that have the correct search terms from the incorrect term. For instance if I were to search for “bubblers” it would direct me to the agreed upon term, fountains. Another example is with the author J. A. Jance, some call her Judith A. Jance, some J.A. Jance, but we have to agree on one otherwise you will have a whole swath of records under J.A. Jance that may not be found because you did not use the correct search terms. I don't think my catalogers understood the concept the way the program was presented, but explaining it as I did above made it more clear to them. This is by no means an easy process. Next came writing the RFP.

Ever write an RFP for authority control? It is like writing another language. The City Attorney was asking what all the letters and squiggles were. Looking back I was surprised it was funded at all. Luckily when all of of my bids came in they were all under my budget mark.

The project began easily, give the company a sample, they provide it back and you make corrections. The funny thing about this project was that we had never done an authority control, so we HAD NO AUTHORITY RECORDS. Most of what the company ended up doing was changing our bibliographic records so that they have an accurate subject heading and information. It would be further backed by an authority control record that would re-direct patrons to the correct subject and book. Getting our records sent out and returned was not a big problem. Reloading them into the system was. It took six weeks to reload all of the records and then double check for errors. We still had some records that ended up being funky, but overall cleaner updated records. A lot of work, but would it pay off?

We completed the project at the end of May, we awaited our surveys at the end of the month. The catalog re-directed patrons and did what it was supposed to, but I had said that the successful searches would go up. In both June and July our circulation went through the roof, jumping 20 percent in both months and still hovering at the level for August. And the surveys? In the last two months we had a 98% successful search result. Very successful indeed.

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