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Thoughts on Inventory and 'NOS' Issue

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I can imagine affecting my best Andy Rooney voice as I type this, but did ya? ever notice how I tend to blog a lot more on Fridays? Well, the phone usually rings less and I am pulled into fewer meetings, so I try to squeeze in a few moments to blog.

At any rate, our internal newsletter, The Gazette, also publishes on Friday, and it provides me with a potential wealth of material.? It resides behind a staff firewall?as I often say, because most folks outside the Library aren?t interested in things like Metrochek distribution schedules?but occasionally there is a story that deserves a broader audience.

To wit, a Gazette article today called ?IG?s NOS Report Prompts Questions and Answers.?? Those appear to be a couple of inscrutable government acronyms.? But basically, the story is about a congressional hearing on Oct. 24 focusing on a report by the Library?s Inspector General (IG) on the ?not on shelf? (NOS) rate of our general collection.

The report resulted in a rather sensational (and rather misleading) headline in the Washington Post on the day of the hearing about ?missing? collections, prompting Deanna Marcum, our Associate Librarian for Library Services, to testify that the article ?did not correctly interpret? the IG report:

?What was not included in the article were these sentences from the executive summary, in which the Inspector General says, ?We performed a survey of the material retrieval service provided by Collections Management.? We initiated this project to determine if the division efficiently and effectively responds to requests to retrieve collection items.?? He concludes, ?We did not become aware of any material weaknesses in Collections Management?s operations during our survey and concluded that further audit work on this project is not necessary at this time.? Our survey indicated that Collections Management? is providing timely and accurate retrieval service, especially considering the volume of material it handles and the size of the Library?s general collections.??

In the interest of a more complete factual record, I am providing the entire Gazette story on the Oct. 24 hearing after the jump.

IG?s NOS Report Prompts Questions and Answers
By Gail Fineberg

The Librarian of Congress and the Library?s senior managers summoned to a House Administration Committee hearing on Oct. 24 countered members? suggestions that they take their cues from Wal-Mart, Target or UPS on how to control and track the Library?s collections inventory.

They also refuted a Washington Post headline and story, published the morning of the hearing, which said 17 percent of the Library?s general collections is ?missing.? The story was based on Inspector General Karl W. Schornagel?s March 2007 audit survey report, ?Survey of Collections Access, Loan, and Management Division Service,? which was also a subject of the congressional hearing. Schornagel is authorized by statute to operate independently of the Library and to report directly to Congress.

Nowhere in his survey report does Schornagel suggest that 17 percent of the Library?s general collections is ?missing? or unaccounted for. The 17 percent represents a not-on-shelf (NOS) rate for a population of 244,288 initial requests for items from the general collections during FY 2006. Of these requests, Schornagel estimated that 83 percent were filled on the first try and 4.3 percent of the items requested were found with subsequent searches. Schornagel said the collections management division believes ?quality assurance? searchers could not locate 12.7 percent of the items requested because of ?bibliographic errors and lack of inventory control.?

The inspector general gave several examples of errors and tracking problems, including the misshelving of items; the removal of items for conversion to other formats, such as digitization, without a corresponding change to the item?s inventory record; and item records that are illegible or incomplete.

Schornagel commended numerous efforts of the Collections Access, Loan and Management Division (CALM) to improve item retrieval service, and he recommended greater use of the Integrated Library System to automate the public?s item-retrieval requests and to generate and monitor performance statistics.

In his opening statement, Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., the ranking minority member on the committee, said: ?The Library?s own inspector general has found that at least 17 percent of the Library?s general collection cannot be located. When nearly two out of ten items in the Library?s most often used collection are unaccounted for, we must demand answers as to where these items are, and why they have not been captured in the Library?s efforts to catalog its items.?

He added, ?You might be well advised to consult with Wal-Mart or Target who track inventory every day,? an idea that Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., later endorsed. ?If UPS can track millions of items a day and not have a 10 percent loss, why can?t you?? Lungren asked.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum responded. ?We are a working library?not a storehouse of information to be locked down,? the Librarian said in his opening statement.

?Our mandate is to provide direct public access?often on a circulating basis?to our collections, [which] distinguishes us from most museums and other cultural institutions and requires a different approach to assessing what we hold and how to protect it,? he said.

Testified Marcum: ?The Library of Congress is not like a commercial warehouse that can close for a few days to take inventory,? she said. ?New materials come to us constantly [some 22,000 items arrive at the Library each day, and some 10,000 are added to the collections each day]. Therefore, controlling our inventory is not simply a project we can complete someday but is a continuous core activity.?

In his oral testimony, Schornagel said: ?It is important to recognize that, unlike Wal-Mart, which was designed from the ground up with inventory control in mind, the Library?as all libraries?was designed with access to the collections as its primary purpose. The systems that the Library had used since its inception are designed to create cataloging, not inventory records.?

Billington and Marcum also took issue with the insinuations of the Post report. The Librarian emphasized that the Library?s security office and the inspector general regularly inspect and review the collections and ?have found no significant deficiencies in our safeguards.?

?We have had no known instances of theft from the collections since the 1990s, when I implemented our expanded collections-security protocols, and our Library of Congress security program has been viewed as a model for some time now by national and international cultural institutions,? Billington said.

?Today?s article did not correctly interpret the IG?s audit report,? Marcum said. ?The headline?s misleading reference to 17 percent is not a number reflecting books that are ?missing.? As the IG report states, once we have identified that a book is not where we expect it to be, the more intensive search results in finding the item in all but about [12] percent of the time. This ?not-on-shelf? rate has been cut in half over the past few years.?

Marcum noted that the Post had failed to mention the inspector general?s conclusion, which he also stated in an executive summary of his report about the survey to determine if the Collections Access, Loan, and Management Division (CALM) ?efficiently and effectively responds to requests to retrieve collection items.?

Schornagel concluded: ?We did not become aware of any material weaknesses in CALM?s operations during our survey and concluded that further audit work on this project is not necessary at this time. Our survey assessment indicated that CALM is providing timely and accurate retrieval service, especially considering the volume of material it handles and the size of the Library?s general collections.?

Although initial item-retrieval requests generated not-on-shelf reports in 17 percent of the requests, ?most of these instances did not appear to be attributable to process or internal control failures,? the inspector general said.

The inspector general noted that CALM is taking several actions to address its goals and objectives and to improve its service. These actions include transferring the shelving function to contractors to allow deck attendants time to focus on retrieving items; improving quality-assurance procedures to initiate quicker follow-up searches in response to not-on-shelf reports; shifting second copies and infrequently requested items to off-site storage modules to reduce shelf overcrowding on Capitol Hill; and engaging in a Baseline Inventory Program (BIP) to ensure item records are accurate, legible and in agreement with the Library?s automated Integrated Library System (ILS).

Tracking Inventory

Ehlers said ?another area of concern is the failure of administrators to complete a comprehensive inventory of the Library?s items. The baseline inventory project started in 2002, and five years later, only 20 percent of the project has been completed. This is particularly troublesome given the pending merger between the Library of Congress Police and the Capitol Police.?

Ehlers said a complete inventory of all the Library?s assets is essential to measure the impact of changes resulting from the merger. The House Administration Committee soon will consider pending legislation that would effect the merger.

?Without a completed inventory, the nation?s most prestigious library is in danger of becoming little more than a neglected storage facility, rather than a standard-setter for best practices in collections administration,? Ehlers said.

Billington emphasized that bibliographic and inventory controls are but one facet of a strategic security plan developed in the 1990s to secure and preserve the collections. ?Protecting the collections requires a policing function, bibliographic and inventory controls and state-of-the-art preservation treatment,? he said.

The Integrated Library System (ILS), which made its debut in 2000, gave the Library the capability of item-level control for the first time in its history. A database is being populated with inventory data that is added to cataloging data.

Concurrent with implementation of the ILS was the design and creation of the Baseline Inventory Program, which was to provide a sequential inventory of the 17 million books, journals and serials in the general collection. ?We estimated in 1998 that the BIP might be completed in eight years at an annual cost of $1.1 million,? the Librarian said in his written testimony. ?However, these goals for this never-before attempted project proved far more ambitious than originally foreseen. We have to date surveyed approximately 2.9 million items under the BIP, and we estimate it could take 10 more years to complete with available funds.?

In addition to those 2.9 million inventoried items, Marcum said, each of the nearly 2 million volumes moved to off-site storage at Ft. Meade can be tracked with bar codes and inventory records. Staff report a 100 percent retrieval rate for every item requested from Ft. Meade.

Marcum said the baseline inventory program will be enhanced by such ?use-driven? inventory controls applied to collections as they are moved and to special collections, such as the roughly 6 million audiovisual items that were moved to the Packard Campus in Culpeper, Va.

?Our current inventory efforts have no precedent in the world library community for a collection of this size,? Billington said. ?I am not aware of any other major research library or similar cultural institution that has even attempted to inventory its collections on this scale because of the inherent difficulties and costs.?

Schornagel testified that although progress on the BIP has been slow, ?I do not believe that this has significantly impaired the Library?s ability to secure its collections.?

He said he based that opinion on the Library?s comprehensive collections security program, which includes the work of the Collections Security Oversight Committee and on collections reviews his office has conducted in January 1999, December 2000, October 2001, October 2004 and March 2006. ?No significant issues have emerged as a result of those reviews. Therefore, on the whole, I believe that the current collections security controls are functioning effectively,? he said.

Law Library

Also on the agenda of the Oct. 24 House Administration hearing were Tedson J. Meyers, representing the American Bar Association (ABA); Ann T. Fessenden, representing the American Association of Law Libraries; and William H. Orton, a former member of the House and a member of the ABA Standing Committee of the Law Library since 1996.

All three came with complaints that the Law Library has not been sufficiently funded in recent years and, as a result, cataloging backlogs have occurred, some legal materials have not been kept current and service to constituents has suffered.

Law Librarian Rubens Medina testified at the hearing, but he did not address these witnesses? statements directly. In a general opening statement he said: ?The need for access to foreign and comparative law has never been greater or more immediate as demonstrated by the interest of Congress in their requests for studies as well as the requests we get from the legal and business community. At the same time, the questions are increasingly more complex and the sources more abundant than ever before. In this environment, the Law Library is challenged to meet rising expectations. These expectations include the capability to have immediately at hand current and complete legal resources.?

Medina noted that law libraries must acquire library resources in both digital and paper formats. ?Law libraries face some particular obstacles such as the need to continue to collect laws and other regulatory publications in their official form, which is still print,? he said.

The law librarian spoke specifically about the success of two electronic services, particularly GLIN (Global Legal Information Network), which provides Internet access to digitized legal information from 46 member countries. ?We appreciate the Congress?s support for GLIN over the last five years, and hope we can enjoy your continued support,? he said.

He also mentioned Global Legal Monitor, a monthly online publication that offers highlights of legal developments from countries around the world, and Law Library efforts to digitize legal materials, including some 70,000 volumes of congressional hearings, for online distribution.

The first ABA witness to testify about the Law Library, Meyers argued that, with 2.5 million volumes, the Law Library is the world?s largest law library and comprises at least 12 percent of the Library?s general collections, but receives less than 3 percent of the Library?s annual budget.

As a result, Meyers said, one-third of the Law Library?s volumes have remained uncataloged, ?accessible only to select Law Library staff,? and the turnover of senior staff members, especially experts in foreign law, has meant a drop in the efficiency of operations as new staff is trained.

Fessenden said the Law Library must have the funds necessary to maintain its law journal subscriptions, purchase new treatises, reclassify some 680,000 volumes according to the K (law) classification scheme created by Library staff, and to continue to microfilm a backlog of national official gazettes.

Orton said the Law Library has been under heavy budget constraints for more than 15 years and has lost full-time employees (FTEs) as the result of not replacing retirees. ?Without additional resources to hire and train new staff, the Library is facing a personnel crisis that could paralyze the mission and function of the Law Library,? he said.

A few years ago, in response to an ABA appeal, the House and Senate appropriators provided a $2 million earmark so the Law Library could post a backlog of between 1 million and 2 million pages of loose-leaf legal materials. This backlog had occurred because of years of budget shortages, Orton said.

?If a law library is to remain current in the law, it must acquire, catalog, classify and shelve new materials within days or weeks at the longest. However, since the Law Library is reliant upon the Library of Congress for cataloging and classification, the average time from acquisition to shelving of materials is years rather than days or weeks,? Orton said.

All three advocates for the Law Library asked the committee to give serious consideration to providing the Law Library its own independent line item in the federal budget. ?This would ensure that specific funding allocated to the Law Library is spent for the intended purpose. It would also make the Law Library directly accountable to Congress for its operations and service to the Congress,? Orton testified.

Although the Law Library appears as a separate unit in the Library?s budget, full-time employee positions (FTEs) and other expenses of the Law Library are supported by allocations from the Library?s large Salaries and Expenses account, and spending authority comes from the Librarian of Congress.

Representative Ehlers remarked that a line-item budget is ?no guarantee? that Congress would be able to give the Law Library the support it wants.

Noting that lawyers are the principal group using the Law Library, and that they use it to advance their business, Ehlers asked if it would be unreasonable to ask for a donation to pay for use.

Fessenden responded that Law Library information should be available free to the public.

Meyers suggested that if the Law Library had greater stature as an independent agency it could more easily attract private donations. Lawyers? perception of the Law Library, he said, is that ?This house is our house.?

?If it?s your house, we?d like some house payments,? Ehlers quipped.

American Library Association

Also appearing before the House Administration Committee was James Rettig, president-elect of the American Library Association.

Noting that a Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control was about to release a report, Rettig asked that the Library ?return to its former practice of broad and meaningful consultation prior to making significant changes to cataloging policy.?

He said ALA requests that:

1) the committee ?require the Library of Congress to consult broadly and meaningfully with the library community, including organizations central to bibliographic control, regarding all future decisions to substantively modify the character and quantity of bibliographic records?;

2) there be a meeting of representatives of the Library, ALA, the Online Computer Library Center, the Association of Research Libraries, the National Library of Agriculture, the National Library of Medicine and the Government Printing Office to discuss their future shared responsibilities and roles in setting standards for bibliographic control and access;

3) the Library?s leadership rededicate itself to cooperative cataloging programs, standards and training; and

4) the Library develop and implement a succession plan for its cataloging staff to address ?the current critical staffing shortage in the conventional cataloging and digital metadata areas? and to prepare for ?a tidal wave? of retirements.

Marcum had this response: ?The Library of Congress works with 694 other libraries in the Program for Cooperative Cataloging, which we staff and support.? We participate in literally dozens of committees and organizations that collaboratively set cataloging policies.? In addition, after ALA complained about a decision the Library made to streamline its cataloging processes by not creating series authority records, I responded by forming a Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control.? I invited ALA to appoint three members to this group ? it did, and joined representatives from all of the major library professional organizations.? The group has held open hearings in all regions of the country, including one at ALA headquarters in Chicago.? We maintain a Web site for this project so that anyone can make comments on the background papers in the process.?

As for ALA?s concerns about a reduction in the number of catalogers, Marcum said: ?I trust ALA and members of this committee will be pleased to learn that even though the number of catalogers has dropped from 650 in 1987 to just over 400 today, the productivity has increased dramatically; 200,000 books were cataloged each year in the late 1980s.? In 2007, our catalogers have produced records for 363,000 books. In addition, we are adding table of contents information in the bibliographic record, and in some cases, including digital copies of the full text.?

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