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21-B100: How a collections-focused office learned to telework in a global pandemic

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How does a librarian work from home?

With the COVID-19 Pandemic sending workers home across the world, staff at the Library of Congress were faced with a difficult problem. While catalogers and administration can do much of their job on telework, there are hundreds whose job relies on serving the collections. The staff of the Processing and Preparation Section (PPS) was faced with this problem as 100% of the job required onsite access. After changes to our technology and refinement to our systems, we were able to take our home work with us, and will continue to going forward.

The standard work cycle within PPS begins with a locked security truck full of paperback books arriving from the various catalog and bibliographic divisions. A staff member sorts those books based on style, size, and collection. The separated items are placed on book trucks marked by style and staff then assign those trucks a lot number and begin the binding process. Each item is checked and ticketed for binding. The finished lot is packed in bins and sent by truck to the commercial bindery in Indiana and return complete about a month later. After they are unpacked and placed on another book truck, staff members complete quality assurance to make sure each item meets the Library’s standards. The books are then sent off to the various custodial divisions for long term storage and public access.


Collections in the Processing and Preparations Section
Collections in the Processing and Preparations Section. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin


The job in PPS is entirely collections focused, but opportunities did arise that would allow telework. First, staff must be assured of proper equipment at home. Second, IT security must be ensured so that no Library networks or software can be compromised by outside software. Third, a system must be created to allow staff to do some of their work without having the items in hand.

During the first year of the pandemic, staff learned to access library servers securely in order to receive email, complete timesheets, and take online training. With the rest of the Library halted and the bindery closed, it sufficed as backlogs weren’t being created, but over time that changed. It took several months to get setup but by June 2021, all staff in PPS had been issued Library laptops and instructed on how to access Library servers from home. This gave them all access to the integrated library cataloging system (ILS) as well as the binding software, ABLE. The first two conditions were met.


Processing and preparation card for item B100-001.
Binding Slip for item B100-001. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin


Lot 21-B100 was one of the first lots to be completed under this telework system, the lot number signifying Fiscal Year 2021, B for the binding office (our former name), and 100 for the 100th lot opened in that year. Each item has its own 11 digit barcode, which tracks it through the integrated library system, which was the bare minimum staff would need in order to create a binding record.

A PPS staff member scanned a total of 201 items into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. These items filled all three shelves, and both sides of the book truck of a B style lot, which means a glued or loose leaf binding thicker than ¼ inch spine. The first item scanned was a book for the Music Division, Historia del Cancionero folklorico contemporaneo de La Pampa.

Using our barcode scanners and the spreadsheet, each book was added to the lot for processing. Item 32 was a Law book, Trademark practice throughout the world. Item 40 was for the General Collection, Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Item 87 was another law book, Essential Facts: Employment. Item 123 was another music book, Leopold Mozart—Komponieren in einer Zeit stilistischen Wandels by Erich Broy. Item 184 was a Moon Handbooks travel guide to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket. The final item, Item 201 was a serial, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review, volume 91 from 2020.

With the Library-issued laptop properly setup and connected to the network, the PPS staffer was able to copy each barcode from the spreadsheet and run it through our binding process. First, a Library designed interface that compared the item, holdings, and bibliographic record, called PrepCheck. Then the ILS interface through Voyager Cataloging. The Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) for the item is then used in the Z-Link interface, connecting the ILS to the ABLE binding software. The processor made sure the author, title, call number were all correct, including any diacritic marks. They also checked the appropriate collection and any special instructions for the bindery. The item is added to the lot within the ABLE system and the print command pops up to print the binding ticket. At first Library staff created these tickets as a PDF to be printed onsite, but it was determined that the print tickets could sit spooling and they would print once the laptop was plugged in at the office. When back at their desk, the PPS staff member placed each ticket in the corresponding book, making sure there are no discrepancies, and that lot was sent off to the bindery.


PrepCheck screen, including item metadata.
Binding software, the internal library system, and PrepCheck software used to turn data into a bound book. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin


During the telework binding process that initial 201 books was decreased to 196 because of errors found. A typical lot can have up to 300 items. Two barcodes were not properly linked to their records in the ILS, and three items actually needed to be routed to reference collections, including item 32, Trademark Practice Throughout the World. At the bindery, item 40, Lot item 39, was not bound as the ticket information didn’t match the book. After the lot returned from the bindery, a different PPS staff member conducted a thorough quality assurance review of each item.

Unpacked lots await quality review in the PPS break room due to a backlog when staff returned to onsite duties. Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin


Item 1 was approved and sent to the Music Division. Item 87, now lot item 84, was a cataloging error, which has since been fixed and the item sent to the Law Library. Item 123, lot item 119, was marked as a Library (9L) error as the processor included the title and the subtitle on the spine rather than stopping at just the title, Leopold Mozart. That item has since been dealt with and sent to the Music Division. Item 184, lot item 179, was marked as a Bindery (9B) error as the call number was accidentally left off the spine. That item was labeled with the correct call number and sent to the General Collection. If it was a printing problem or more severe 9B error, it would be sent back to the bindery for repair. Item 201, lot item 196, was approved and now sits in the General Collection with nearly 90 years of fellow volumes.

Of 201 items scanned, five were not processed, one was returned unbound, and three returned as errors. That is a 2% error rate, which is considered the maximum allowable for PPS staff. With these items being approved and distributed to their custodial divisions and collections, they join the millions of items available to the public at large. The telework process takes longer to process each item, but allowed the PPS staff some telework time and for them and their families to stay safe and healthy. As we moved to a return to normal operations in mid-April 2022, PPS staff have been approved to continue to telework. With a year of implementation and testing, staff have improved their output well below the 2% maximum. This new system has become a part of the job and will allow PPS staff to be more nimble in scheduling and continue to process the Library’s collections, getting them into the readers’ hands as quickly as possible, and at the highest standard.


  1. Wow!

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